There’s no doubt Morrissey is special.
A true icon, Morrissey’s words defined a generation and gave hope to the disaffected and displaced. However, he’s also a maddening mess of contradictions and frustrations. This sometimes made for beautiful and compelling music but more frequently made for stubborn, bleating and the sort of pig-headed arrogance/ignorance that led to the judge in The Smiths’ 1997 court case infamously labelling him as ‘Devious, truculent and unreliable”.
In recent years he seems to have become even more of a grumpy caricature as problematic outburst after problematic outburst on what he sees as society’s ills appear on a regular basis.
As we approach the release of his 11th official studio album ‘Low in High School” Morrisey’s worldview seems narrower than ever despite his musical pallet expanding. This leads to some interesting music but an inescapable feeling of sorrow that this is a once towering artist that has lost his way.
Perhaps he can find it again on the new album but we thought we’d look at some of his solo highlights and remind you of how good he once was and, maybe, just maybe, could be again.
- - -
'Everyday Is Like Sunday' ('Viva Hate', 1988)
Morrissey’s second solo single from his debut album ‘Viva Hate’ is the kind of soaring melancholy that he excels at. Nobody does this sort of thing better. Grandiose, sweeping and full of tiny evocative details Morrissey paints a picture of a lost, idealistic Britain of wet sandy beaches, postcards and drinking greasy tea by the seaside.
There’s none of the hectoring heavy handedness that he employs now just a simple wistful sadness and one of the best melodies of his entire career. A single that stands with the very best of The Smiths.
- - -
'The Last Of The Famous International Playboys' ('Bona Drag', 1990)
While not an official album 1990’s singles compilation Bona Drag is perhaps the best loved Morrissey album and from it comes one of Morrissey’s best bangers. He’s always had a fascination with London and the murkier side of gangster culture and here he explores it to wildly comic effect.
A love letter to London’s notorious Kray twins it’s playful, hilarious and supremely confident. It rocks too, full of hip swinging swagger and glorious effervescence. Also, it’s one of a few Morrissey solo songs to feature the rhythm section of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. You may have heard of them.
- - -
'There’s A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends' ('Kill Uncle', 1991)
Morrissey’s discography is massive. 47 singles, 11 albums, countless compilations and bonus tracks. As such, there’s a lot of hidden, underappreciated gems and this one from his often unfairly derided 1991 album ‘Kill Uncle’ is one of them.
A wonderfully simple piano ballad this is Morrissey as torch singer. He knows his fate and it resigned to it. One of his most touching songs.
- - -
'I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday' ('Your Arsenal', 1992)
Good enough to be covered by David Bowie no less on his 1993 ‘Black Tie, White Noise” album. ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’ is one of Morrissey’s finest moments. For fans Morrissey and his music was comforting. For many, it was everything. This is a song for them. Optimistic, reassuring and heartfelt this was Morrissey saying he understands, he’s with us and things will get better.
“Don’t lose faith” he pleads. 25 years later, it’s a song that takes on a whole new relevance for disaffected Morrissey fans but loses none of its power.
- - -
'Now My Heart Is Full' ('Vauxhall and I', 1994)
The opening track to his greatest album. ‘Now My Heart Is Full’ is his finest moment. A rare exultation of pure joy, this is Morrissey at peace with himself and his place in the world. In an interview at the time he stated that, “This song was the definitive expression of my change to adulthood, of my maturity.”
Musically, it’s a grand swelling ballad full of crescendos and flourishes. All the hallmarks of Morrissey are there; the eulogising of old stars of the silver screen, Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie and Cubitt from Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ to the tragic figure of Patrick Doonan. This is quintessential Morrissey and a masterful piece of work.
- - -
'Irish Blood, English Heart' ('You Are The Quarry', 2004)
After years of relative wilderness and some underwhelming albums ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ represented Morrissey’s big comeback. This is a statement. Undeniably one of his most powerful and rocking songs it’s a big blast of confidence and bravado from a man newly energised.
A riposte of sorts to accusations of flag waving nationalism that dogged him throughout the 90’s this is Morrissey planting a metaphorical flag into the ground and stating his case proudly and decisively, he wants to stand behind the flag, “not feeling shameful, racist or partial”.
An interesting song to look back on in the context of his present day UKIP supporting, Brexit blethering self but nonetheless you won’t find a more thrilling Morrissey song than this.
- - -
'It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore' ('Years Of Refusal', 2009)
There comes a time in every great artists career when they release one last truly great song. One final gasp of transcendent joy. While there have been highlights over the last two albums this might just be Morrissey’s.
One of the last songs written with Alan Whyte, Morrissey’s long-time musical partner throughout the peak years of his solo career it’s a soaring ballad that features a remarkable vocal with ebbs and flows and sounds like nothing else anybody could possible match. If even the man himself hasn’t matched it yet then that’s no shame. This is untouchable.
- - -
Morrissey's new album 'Low In High School' is out tomorrow (November 17th).
Words: Martyn Young
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.