1 May 2012
listen: morrissey – a retrospective
Andrew Reinholds takes a look at the highlights of one of rock’s most unique and enduring front men.
So Morrissey isn’t making it down to either Australia or New Zealand for his 2012 global tour. As a result, I am taking the plunge and heading up to Singapore to see him live for the second, and most probably last time in my lifetime. My first Mozza experience was in Manchester 2004, during his triumphant return to form with the excellent ‘You Are The Quarry’ album. For many, their relationship with Morrissey ended with the demise of The Smiths. Unlike his great song writing partner Johnny Marr – who has popped up with any number of different bands since – Morrissey has continued on a very clear and single-minded career path since the disintegration of The Smiths in 1987. So let’s take a quick look back at the highlights of what has at times been a chequered solo career of one of rock’s most unique and enduring front men.
Released following his first two solo albums (the excellent ‘Viva Hate’ and the not-so-excellent ‘Kill Uncle’), ‘Bona Drag’ is a collection that brings together his first seven singles as well as a selection of seven B-sides and is the one Morrissey album everyone needs to own. It’s a reminder of just what a great writer Morrissey is. At a time when Manchester had morphed into Madchester due to the introduction of ecstasy via The Happy Mondays and The Hacienda, Morrissey was still lamenting England’s past with the brilliant ‘Every day Is Like Sunday’, ‘Piccadilly Palare’ and ‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’. The B-sides are very strong too – most notably the ironic humour of ‘Disappointed’, ‘Hairdresser on Fire’ and the (edited) ‘Will Never Marry’.
Coming on the back of the nationalistic rockabilly of ‘Your Arsenal’ and some highly controversial live shows that flirted with the National Front, 1994’s ‘Vauxhall & I’ was released following the death of close friend (and ‘Your Arsenal’ producer) Mick Ronson and manager Nigel Thomas. The result is an album that at times feels like a final hurrah, yet at the same time soars with great hope and joy. With the glam-rock guitars turned down and far more laid back, Morrissey is in full confessional mode with “Now My Heart is Full, “Hold on to Your Friends” and “Now My Heart id Full” all pull at the heart strings while the scathing “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself” sees Mozza’s distaste for the music industry given centre stage.
Sophisticated and more refined than anything he released before or after, ‘Vauxhall & I’ remains a powerful testament to Morrissey’s solo career without Johnny Marr.
After the disappointment of 1997’s ‘Maladjusted’ Morrissey went into exile for seven years only to emerge out of nowhere with ‘You Are The Quarry’ and his highest ever UK chart position (at #3) with “Irish Blood, English Heart”.
A triumphant two finger salute, he returned with his razor sharp wit and no-one escapes his tongue lashing – be it his adopted homeland (Morrissey by this time has relocated to Los Angeles) “you wonder why in Estonia they say, ‘Hey, you, you big fat pig, you big fat pig’” the legal profession “evil legal eagles” and the police “uniformed whores”. Album closer again aims at the paper thin talent that passes for pop stars and the warning “the teenagers who love you, they will wake up, yawn, and kill you”.
Effortlessly brilliant and with his voice never sounding better, ‘You Are The Quarry’ set the scene for a consistently high quality output over the rest of the decade.
Criminally overlooked, 1995’s ‘Southpaw Grammar’ remains the dark horse of Morrissey’s solo career. Following on from the critical and commercial success of ‘Vauxhall & I’, it represented an incredibly brave artistic statement of intent. Bristling with more aggressive characters than ever before, the eleven minute film noir that is “The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils” is a chillingly violent representation of the moment when carefree child becomes wild-eyed adolescent and is worth owning for this track alone.
Elsewhere, “The Boy Racer” and “Dagenham Dave” breeze in on street wise guitars that simply drag the songs along the gutter and up onto the curb. Aurally ‘Southpaw Grammar’ was like a punch to the solar plexus, and as a result confounded and confused critics and fans alike. It is well worth a listen if you are feeling curious.