Thursday, 17 May 2012
78 Viva Hate - Morrissey
Purchased : March 1988
Tracks : Alsatian Cousin / Little Man What Now / Everyday Is Like Sunday / Bengali In Platforms / Angel, Angel, We Go Down Together / Late Night Maudlin Street / Suedehead / Break Up The Family / The Ordinary Boys / I Don't Mind If You Forget Me / Dial-A-Cliche / Margaret On The Guillotine
This was bought in either Ashton-under-Lyne or Manchester as soon as it came out.
I can't remember any other album generating such a mix of anticipation and apprehension as this one. Could Morrissey shrug off the split with Johnny Marr and still produce vital work or would he become another Roger Waters , a becalmed, increasingly irrelevant ranter without his former bandmates ? To be honest the jury's still out on that question so that , despite this coming out nearly a quarter of a century ago , it still seems in an odd sense a contemporary purchase.
The immediate question that concerned me at the time was whether it would be better than "Strangeways Here We Come" and so provide some sort of vindication for the split. I'll answer that at the end when I've listened to it through again which I suppose already gives away that it's a close call.
Morrissey didn't waste much time in returning to the studio after The Smiths split, this coming out within six months of the announcement. Perhaps EMI , fearful for their investment in a now-defunct group who never recorded a note for them, were pushing him hard though they indulged his wish to revive the old HMV imprint. The services of Stephen Street were retained to produce the album but he was also now credited as a co-writer on all tracks. Replacing Marr as guitarist was Durutti Column's Vini Reilly, a much-respected Mancunian musician but a complete stranger to any chart. Street brought in versatile drummer Andrew Paresi ( a Londoner ) and played the bass himself. Apart from half a dozen string players used on a couple of tracks that was the complete cast so that might partly account for the quick turnaround.
Morrissey delays his entrance for nearly a minute on the opening track, "Alsatian Cousin" while Reilly treats us to some Reeves Gabrel - style guitar abuse. Reilly later complained that Street didn't give him enough room on the LP but he's certainly given a generous proportion of this track, his squalling being used in place of a chorus. Lyrically we're back in "Handsome Devil" territory with Morrissey interrogating someone about their affair with a teacher and their antics in a tent and over a desk. Like the earlier song it's delivered in a condemnatory monotone. It's crudely effective in establishing that this isn't a Smiths album but it's let down by a very leaden bassline and clodhopping drums. The rhythm section is a recurring weakness on the LP and it's no coincidence that Mozza temporarily reunited with Rourke and Joyce ( and Craig Gannon for that matter ) on his next recordings.
"Little Man What Now" raises alarm bells with its brevity and a very uncomfortable marriage between Reilly's acoustic intricacies and Paresi's brutalist drum track ( sounding very like the one used on the Bee Gees recent chart topper You Win Again. The lyric raises a wry smile with its tale of a sixties child star appearing on a daytime quiz show now that has-beens have never been more in demand as cannon fodder for I'm A Celebrity... and the like. Otherwise the track is of little interest.
"Every Day Is Like Sunday" is deservedly one of solo Morrissey's best-loved songs. It became the second and last single from the LP in June reaching the Top 10 and winning some support from daytime jocks who'd previously shunned him. With a strong melody ( and there aren't many of those knocking about here ) and a gorgeous sweeping string arrangement behind him Mozza laments the decline of an old fashioned seaside resort ( no specifics but my money would be on New Brighton ) with genuine sympathy for those marooned there. There's a little nod to John Betjeman - "come, come, nuclear bomb" - and the video featured Cheryl Murray ( Suzie Birchill from Coronation Street ). What more could you want ?
Well a bit of racial controversy would do nicely and so along comes "Bengali In Platforms" wherein Morrissey advises a young Asian boy to give up attempting to integrate. This song was originally demo'ed by the short-lived Smiths mk 2 the previous summer and is one of the most Smiths-like tracks here with its melodic guitar hook. From the gentle arrangement and Morrissey's softest tones on the vocal it's plainly meant to be sympathetic but the p.c. brigade were never going to be happy with the line "Life is hard enouh when you belong here".
On "Angel Angel We Go Down Together" he invokes the spirit of Colin Blunstone by singing directly over a string arrangement ( with echoes of Kate Bush's Cloudbusting in there). Morrissey urges the object of his devotion not to commit suicide after being stripped bare by freeloaders because he is still there for him/her. It's quite impressive but ends after 1 minute and 40 seconds and the spectre of Waters begins to rise.
But maybe it was only to make room for the full seven and a half minutes of " Late Night, Maudlin Street " with Mozza on the point of leaving his childhood home and remembering all the unhappy times he had there. You imagine that if this song had been presented to The Smiths JM would have told him to rein it in a bit but here he wails ( in and out of key ) on and on, verging on self-parody - "Here I am ,the ugliest man". There's no relief in the music either with no tune to speak of and another crushingly unsuitable electronic drum track . Street provides some nice piano fills halfway through but they're not nearly enough to stop the track being terminally boring.
It's thus a great relief to tip the record over to "Suedehead" the bouncy first single which introduced him to the Top 5 in a chart otherwise clogged up with anonymous dance acts and teen pop muppets - many of them tied to the terrible trio of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. It's a strong safe debut not wandering too far away from the Smiths sound but containing enough new features such as the bar-room piano keeping pace with the guitar and the string synth punctuations. Lyrically it seems to be Morissey politely asking one of his fans to back off a bit ( perhaps the rather embarrassing Shaun Duggan who'd found his way into the South Bank Show programme to gush about the band ) .
After that's faded out it has to be said the rest of the second side is pretty forgettable bearing all the signs of a rush-job. "Break Up The Family " is notable for the hints of a more optimistic frame of mind in the lyric "-I'm so glad to be older " but the music is very uninspiring being built around a dated drum machine pattern.
Morrissey should have known that "ordinary " is the last word you put in the title of a pop song. "The Ordinary Boys" is just that despite its lyric championing a figure who stood above the hoi-polloi. It lumbers along frequently threatening to turn into That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore " until apparently realising that the key ingredient is missing.
Who just happens to be the subject of the next song. "I Don't Mind If You Forget Me" is surprisingly unambiguous in its lyric but the arrows fall well short with "Rejection is one thing but rejection by a fool is cruel" the most cutting line. The music's even less inspired just another thudding, unsympathetic contribution from Paresi, a bit of guitar abuse from Reilly and Morrissey trying out a different unmemorable melody on each line. The whole song is irredeemably half-baked ; I can't see Marr losing any sleep over it.
"Dial-A-Cliche" again has similarities to "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" in the acoustic guitar line and one or two nicely phrased lines but otherwise sounds even more incomplete than the one before, a melange of unrelated lyrical snippets and no sense of where it wants to go musically. Reilly blows some French horn over it to no useful effect.
Which leaves us with the pseudo-controversial "Margaret On The Guillotine" which was surely recorded with the express purpose of getting local rent-a-gob MP Geoffrey Dickens to give the album some free publicity. Mission accomplished there of course but there's liitle song, just a two verse acoustic poem that could have come straight from The Final Cut ending with the line "When will you die ?". Now I hate the bitch as much as anyone and mean to party when she finally does shuffle off but you expect a bit more from this man. He buggers off halfway through leaving Reilly to talk to himself for a couple of minutes before the blade falls and the album is over.
EMI's marketing muscle took this straight in at number one but it didn't hang around long and exited the Top 40 after 5 weeks failing to make it back even when "Everyday Is Like Sunday" was in the Top 10. Reviewed well at the time I don't think anyone will claim it's a classic now. Certainly Morrissey didn't seem keen to repeat the experience releasing only singles for the next three years ( eventually collected together as the " Bona Drag" album ) and seeing all career momentum drain away as a result. We'll return to that many posts in the future.
For now, was it better than "Strangeways". Well there are two excellent singles here and you can't say that about the trio from the group's last effort. However at no point does that album sound as uninspired as the second side here once "Suedehead" has gone by. So let's call it a draw.