Sunday, March 06, 2005

Morrissey: on his own

1988: Viva Hate
Not twelve months after the Smiths' final studio album (Strangeways, Here We Come) came the Mozzer's solo debut, which made it clear from its first note that he was still a mighty musical force. Durutti Column's Vini Reilly wasn't understudying the role of Johnny Marr; he was assisting M in forging a new way, and in grand fashion. This album is strong throughout - save perhaps the misguided "Bengali In Platforms" - and blinding at its best ("Everyday Is Like Sunday," "Late Night, Maudlin Street"). A

1991: Kill Uncle
Shockingly, this is by and large the sound of Moz - so soon? - running out of ideas. This is worse than uneven - it's mediocre. "Driving Your Girlfriend Home" is quiet and lovely, and the piano-driven "Mute Witness" is positively, delightfully jaunty. But too much here (exemplified by "Found Found Found") is unfocused and, generally, just a drag. His poorest studio set. C+

1992: Your Arsenal
Wherein our hero finds the ideas he lost circa Kill Uncle, thanks in no small part to produced Mick Ronson. The proceedings commence with the great lost '60s spy theme, "You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side," and for the most part, things don't let up from there. Arsenal proves that Mozzer would've made a genius glam frontman, and that's no happy accident. B+

1994: Vauxhall and I
Possibly his definitive solo work, this is Morrissey's best collections of songs supported by a sterling band. Every one of his positives, and precious few of his negatives, can be found here. Bonus points for including his finest single ever (and sole U.S. top 40 hit), "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get." A

1995: Southpaw Grammar
He followed up the unapologetically fey Vauxhall with an amped-up effort, as close to hard rock as the Moz is ever likely to get. Unfortunately, the focus and clarity of the previous album's songs are somewhat lacking here, starting with the 11-minute-plus opener - but not ending there. It's a kick, however, hearing his ever-sturdier voice atop howling guitar licks; amazingly, it works. "The Boy Racer" and particularly "Dagenham Dave" (nearly Morrissey fronting T.Rex!) are clear highlights. On the flipside, opening "The Operation" with what's essentially a two-minute drum solo is not such a good idea. This is a tricky elpee to sum up; it's probably better than you think/recall, but still not wholly up to snuff. In a word, uneven. B

1997: Maladjusted
"Roy's Keen" bristles with life, and "Alma Matters" is a typically Moz-like play-on-words (with a great tune attached), but that's about it from this flat effort. B-

2004: You Are The Quarry
It's all about focus, and what you've heard is true: Morrissey's regained his. Opening with the 1-2 punch of "America Is Not the World" and "Irish Blood, English Heart" would make a tough act for most artists to follow, but most artists arent' the Mozzer. The songs here are consistently good, and his band (together now longer than the Smiths were) is tough and battle-tested, and attuned to the vagaries of their leader. Who, by the way, really does sound (ahem) older and wiser here than he ever has. 2004's comeback of the year? Indubitably. A-

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