“The Queen is dead, boys,” Morrisesy famously sang on the title track of The Smiths’ seminal third album, a record that has gone down in history as one of music’s all time best. Though nowadays it’s regarded as a modern masterpiece, back in 1986, it was making headlines for its polemic, inflammatory title. Though the Queen and the royals are viewed largely favourably by the British public today, this mild fondness is nothing compared to the deference they received in those heady post-war pre-Diana years. So much so, in fact, that Smiths bassist Andy Rourke recalls that when Morrissey proudly displayed a placard reading ‘The Queen Is Dead’, his mother’s friend “nearly fell off her chair.”
Although it had already been done almost ten years before with The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In The UK’, displaying such a flagrant antipathy towards the royal family was still somewhat revolutionary. That The Smiths were able to be so anti-monarchy in such an elegant, dandyish way was also novel in itself. Never had the sentiment been expressed in such a poised, poetic manner that was also both accessible to and embraced by the masses.
Now, over 30 years later, Morrissey is still no fan of the Windsors. The album art for his upcoming record Low In High School depicts a young boy outside the gates of Buckingham Palace holding a sign that reads ‘Axe The Monarchy’. In true obtuse Morrissey style, the lad is wielding an axe too.
If this album cover were unveiled in the mid 80s, we can imagine the uproar it would cause. Shops would refuse to sell it, and those that did would obscure the cover. The newspapers would be overrun with anti-Morrissey think pieces and the parents of the poor cover model would be hounded from all corners. In 2017 however, the album art is unlikely to inspire more than an eye roll.
As much as Morrissey would hate to admit it, the role of the monarchy has diminished greatly since the 80s. It is an institution that is ultimately powerless, serving as little more than decoration on the UK’s mantelpiece. The notion of a royal family is undoubtedly outdated and one that symbolises Britain’s immortal obsession with class, but modern royals are little more than tabloid fodder, no longer held up as aspirational examples. Even most republicans – Jeremy Corbyn, for instance – recognise that the monarchy is ultimately a fairly harmless institution and not one that deserves much attention.
But Morrissey still appears fixated on the idea that the monarchy must be abolished. And it’s hard to disagree with him. This is a year in which one royal sprog began attending a £17,000 a year private school and his mother announced there was another royal bun in the royal oven ready to drain some more public resources. It’s easy to see why Morrissey is still annoyed at the royals, but his anger is ultimately misplaced.
What is frustrating is that, in today’s world, there are so many things to be angry about. There are literal Nazis pounding the pavements, the world is on the brink of nuclear war and climate change is edging us ever closer to ecological disaster. Closer to home, austerity is continuing to cripple communities, racism is running rampant in the wake of the Brexit vote and Theresa May is still intent on culling all those badgers. Morrissey’s hatred of the royals has always been rooted in feelings of injustice and inequality, but there are far more potent examples of this in modern society than one ultra-privileged family. There are countless things to be outraged by, but the Queen isn’t one of them.
But then again, perhaps Morrissey just isn’t aware of the dire state of things. If his latest track, ‘Spent The Day In Bed‘, is anything to go by, he’s been spending the last few years hiding from the news beneath his duvet. What the cover of his new album unintentionally does is evoke rather fond memories of a time when the monarchy was something worth moaning about. Nowadays, there are far more serious issues at hand, issues that Morrissey seems unwilling to engage in.
Although this is only partly true. His new album features a track titled ‘Who Will Protect Us from the Police?’ demonstrating an awareness of some critical social issues. What remains unclear is why it’s not this far more relevant message spearheading the album instead of the same dead horse he was peddling over thirty years ago. If the monarchy belongs to a bygone era – which it certainly does – perhaps Morrissey belongs with it. Because while the monarchy has changed a great deal in that time, making efforts to modernise and adapt, it’s Morrissey who has become stuck very much in the rose-tinted past.
Read our full review of Low In High School here.