AUSTIN HOOD ’21 | STAFF WRITER• It’s no secret, student life at Wabash College can be stressful. Between rigorous classwork, clubs, jobs and obligations to living units, many Wallies find themselves in need of a break for simple relaxation every once in awhile. For many, this relaxation comes in the form of listening to music.
This week, The Bachelor sat down with Prof. Ivette Wilson, Assistant Professor of
Spanish, as part of the ongoing Taking Notes series which profiles faculty of The College based on their favorite album. For Wilson, that album is The Smiths’ 1986 release The Queen is Dead. The album, released through Sire Records in the U.S., is the English alternative rock group’s third full-length project. Upon its release, The Queen is Dead was met with widespread critical acclaim and was a relative commercial success, peaking at No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 70 on Billboard 200. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA, signifying 500,000 units sold, in 1990.
For Wilson, however, the album was much more of an underground endeavour than the popular music that surrounded her at the time of its release. “I was first introduced to the album in the late ‘80s while I was in college in Brazil,” Wilson said. “I tended to hang around a more-nerdy group who all shared a similar taste in music and art. It was through them that I first heard it.”
Musically, The Queen is Dead features guitar-driven pop songs, echoing the simple rhythms and verse-bridge-chorus format of 60s British Invasion acts. This allows for a more accessible sound than the avant-garde post-punk tracks found on The Smiths’ previous two releases. Steven Morrissey, the lead singer and main songwriter for the group, maintained a particular fascination with these groups during the creation of the album. It’s certainly not hard to hear the influence of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in whimsical tunes like the bass-driven “Frankly, Mr. Shankly,” itself a foil to the gritty, fast-paced opening track “The Queen is Dead.”
For Wilson, it was these simple, yet intriguing rhythms which originally sparked her interest in the album. “At first what appealed to me was the sound and the rhythm,” Wilson said. “When I first listened to the album, I began to fall in love with the way the music itself made me feel.”
Perhaps even more intriguing than the unusual sound of the album are its lyrics, which have been praised by critics abound for their profound poetic qualities. Morrissey, credited alongside guitarist Johnny Marr as the songwriter for all 10 tracks on the album, borrowed heavily from authors including the mid-20th century Canadian novelist Elizabeth Smart and the late-19th century English playwright Oscar Wilde. These lyrics, riddled with literary references and expressions of existential frustration, play a central role in Wilson’s emotional connection to the album.
“In many of the songs you can really appreciate the poetry and thought that go into the lyrics,” Wilson said. “The lyrics have a meat to them. They’re not just rhyming whichever word fits. There’s a meaning behind them that make you just boil with emotion.”
Wilson points to one song in particular, “I Know It’s Over,” as carrying a great deal of personal significance to her, and is one of two tracks which she names as her favorite on The Queen is Dead. This song, the third track on the album, is a melancholy ballad which centers around themes of loneliness and despair.
“The moment of life where I met the album seems to project a lot of the personal emotion that I associate it with, especially ‘I Know It’s Over,” Wilson said. “There was a lot of chaos going on with me at the time: an emotional, internal chaos. I felt really isolated from the world. I was going through a lot of things that made me think, but there was also a heavy presence of sadness and nostalgia in my life at that point. The total lack of power in the situations I was facing was reflected through the song.”
The second song which Wilson cites as her favorite is the album’s fifth track, “Cemetry Gates.” Set against a flowering upbeat rhythm, the lyrics poke fun at the allegations of plagiarism which had followed the band since the release of their sophomore effort, Meat is Murder. Additionally, the song addresses dark literary themes and how they relate to the everyday lives of their audiences.
“‘Cemetery Gates’ certainly connects the most with my current life out of any of the songs,” Wilson said. “There’s a certain death associated with literature. When you write something down and give it to a reader, you have given a certain amount of power to the reader. It’s concrete, the lines are on the page and there’s no taking it back. [The song] encapsulates this idea very well, and in a really fascinating and unusual way.”