Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Viva Meh: On Morrissey's Second Sustained Battle With Mediocrity

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 1:26 PM

Photo by Travis Shinn
  • Photo by Travis Shinn
On August 29th, I’m going to see Morrissey 25: Live, the Pope of Mope’s first concert film since Who Put the M in Manchester? On August 29th, I promise you, I will be disappointed, and not in an immediately direct way that compliments the Mozzer. I’m legitimately going to be disappointed, and I’m going to be totally OK with it. In fact, I think it’s going to strengthen my love for Morrissey. He’s just going through something—the second major artistic slump of his 25-year recording career.

I’m too much of a fan. I don’t want to get into why I defend a man who occasionally becomes a flaming racist. These things definitely get the aging indie rock mainstay into trouble, but what they also do is show us the ebb and flow of Morrissey’s career. I want to talk about why Morrissey’s current slump won’t stop him, but might force him into trying other things. He might—gasp—grow up a little.

Morrissey underwent a much-needed rejuvenation after 1991’s largely disappointing Kill Uncle. The stand-out tracks, rockabilly-flecked “King Leer” and “Sing Your Life,” were precursors to Morrissey’s golden period; the Kill Uncle sessions led him to Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer, mainstays in England’s rockabilly scene, who would ultimately help Morrissey write his two best records of the ‘90s: 1992’s glam-infused Your Arsenal and 1994’s ballad-heavy Vauxhall and I.

Cue disappointment. 1995’s Southpaw Grammar is an overcompensated muscle-flex next to Vauxhall and I’s ethereal delicacy. Southpaw has Morrissey experimenting with, well, prog rock? I’m not so sure. “The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils” opens with a sample from Dimitri Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, two tracks run past the 10-minute mark, and its his only record with a two-minute drum solo. The more conventional songs? They’re certainly lacking in lyrical quality and clever songwriting.

I don’t want to get into 1997’s Maladjusted, but I have to. This is probably the worst Morrissey record next to Kill Uncle. Maladjusted mixes Vauxhall’s somber, confessional lyrics with a blanket of blah over Your Arsenal-like umph, resulting in a dull bread knife of a guitar sound. Morrissey was also embroiled in a royalty dispute with ex-Smiths members Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke while he was making this record, which is painfully and obnoxiously obvious by the record’s end, the thinly veiled threat “Sorrow Will Come in the End.” And, please, let’s not talk about “Roy’s Keen.”

But I’ll defend Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted to the ends of the earth, past thousands of bad Morrissey tattoos. I’ve spent a lot of time with these records, and I will tell you that there are good things about them. Morrissey tries something new on each of them, and you’ve got to commend the man for staying on his toes. You’ll be surprised at how similar 2006’s “The Youngest Was The Most Loved” is to 1995’s “Do Your Best and Don’t Worry.” I thought You Are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors were, while good, pretty boring efforts from Morrissey. It’s because I’ve already heard him mix the torch song with indie muscle flex. He pumped up his mid-90’s slump in his mid ‘00s comeback. And one wonders why Morrissey didn’t include the stellar b-side “I Can Have Both” on the original release of Maladjusted. Or “Honey You Know Where to Find Me” on Southpaw. For how mid-career these albums are, there’s classic Morrissey here. I always argue with fans about these two records. They’re great, despite many persuasive faults.

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