Morrissey & Smiths Triology

It’s been an interesting second half of the year for Morrissey fans. Firstly there was the England Is Mine biopic. Not the worst film I’ve seen this year but it stands the same chance of ending up in my best of 2017 list as Morrissey deciding to serve up a platter of halal meat at his next birthday bash followed by a tray of Chicken McNuggets.

More recently there’s been the super-dooper deluxe re-release of The Queen is Dead which I decided to fork out for despite already owning it firstly as a cassette then as an LP and then CD, as well as owning the four B-sides featured on the second disc here.

There are three versions on this package of the title track. Obviously the original from the 1986 album, a demo without the opening sample but with added instrumental interplay with Rourke’s powerhouse bass sharking round some Johnny Marr guitar that call to mind Lou Reed’s choogling style. There’s also a version performed in Boston which sounds like the band have been snorting line after line of the only sulph in the world that hasn’t been cut to fuck. Very unlikely in the case of Morrissey I know. Its breakneck speed even made me think of punk.

The original kicks off with a snippet of the jingoistic Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty lifted from The L-Shaped Room, one of those early ’60s kitchen sink dramas that Morrissey so adores. Me too.

Of course you really know the party is getting started when someone strikes up Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty. Fun and frivolity surely beckon.

Well, maybe not. The lead character, who’s pregnant, collapses during it, hence the song trailing off unexpectedly.

Cue a slow ooze of feedback and Mike Joyce’s furious tribal drumbeat, those thundering tom-tom thumps sounding like they want a square go. Maybe the whole song does. And by the time Andy Rourke’s muscular bassline joins in and Johnny Marr adds some ninja guitar lines you know this would pulverise just about any potential opponent.

Listening to the song now makes me wish I could hear it fresh for the first time again. It must have been thrilling wondering where Morrissey was going to go with these lyrics – and at this point he was undoubtedly penning some of the most imaginative, unpredictable lyrical content I have ever come across (apart from the six minute didactic dirge that had given his last album its title). Here on the Queen he surpasses himself, mixing surreal Joe Orton-esque fantasy with music hall comedy; Carry On comedy with Hubert Selby Jr’s subversive Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Johnny Marr is at the top of his game too, supplying some amazingly inventive guitar to those idiosyncratic words and making it sound utterly effortless.

Here, I’ll air what might be seen as a controversial viewpoint myself. A controversial musical viewpoint that is regarding the best guitar work heard on a record accompanying Morrissey’s voice. For a long time now I’ve cited Vini Reilly’s contribution to Suedehead but when Marr launches into a wah-wah frenzy here I do at least raise an eyebrow at this opinion.

Smiths - The Queen is Dead Deluxe Edition Tracklisting

By turns emotionally charged and exhilarating, absurdist and adventurous, th entire album remains a very special listen. Granted, no matter how many painstaking tweaks and tinkering go into any remastering, I’ll never truly love Frankly, Mr Shankly and Vicar in a Tutu. After all his pessimism and past provocations, though, it was pleasing to hear Morrissey giving way just occasionally to some carefree kicks, even if those two tracks ensure for me that the album just misses out on belonging in the absolute classics category along with The Velvet Underground and Nico, Berlin, Never Mind the Bollocks and Loveless.

Am I glad that I got my hands on a copy?

Hell yeah. Johnny’s glimmering guitar on a demo of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is a joy; the remastered Boy With the Boy with the Thorn in His Side sparkles beautifully as does I Know It’s Over. Listening to the latter pulsing ballad with my Sennhausers on instantly re-ignited my infatuation with this devastating tale of unrequited love. And I did play it over and over and over and over again. Morrissey’s finest ever vocal performance I reckon and a melancholic masterpiece.

Oh, and the demo of Never Had No One Ever with the jazzy trumpet prompted a very different response. It made me laugh. And Morrissey too towards the end of the track.

And at least two of those remastered B-sides, Asleep and Unloveable, are as good as any A-side singles I’ve heard in 2017.

The soundboard recording of the 1986 Boston show is of a pretty high quality too albeit I’ll likely only listen to it sporadically at best. I think too that ditching the British racing green and pink artwork is a mistake but I’m already hoping that my own favourite Smiths album Strangeways receives the same kind of treatment ASAP. Go on Rhino. Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!

Here’s the impressionistic three track promo featuring The Queen, The Boy With the Boy with the Thorn in His Side and Panic directed by Derek Jarman:

Morrissey has also made the headlines this year, especially in the wake of some comments made regarding the Manchester bombing.

Keeping your fingers crossed that this arch contrarian won’t stray into some controversy or other is as daft as hoping that the next series of Game of Thrones might cut out the brutality.

Reviews of his forthcoming album Low in High School haven’t been too enthusiastic. In Uncut Stephen Trousse gave it 5/10 and banged on about his politics as much as his music while Mojo‘s Pat Gilbert awarded it B+ for music but C- for attitude. Yes, marked on his attitude.

I’ll let you make your own mind about recent Morrissey controversies but I do suspect if Bigmouth hadn’t struck again, these reviews would have been much more favourable. The first taster for the new album was definitely promising.

This is Spent the Day in Bed:

Recorded at La Fabrique Studios in France and at Ennio Morricone’s Forum Studios in Rome, Low in High School comes out on November 17 via BMG.

Morrissey will tour the UK and Ireland early next year including a date at the Hydro in Glasgow on February 17.

Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage

New single Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage is out today, the cover being a (cropped) photo by Miron Zownir. Which I like a lot but which Twitter doesn’t.

What the story behind the picture is I have no idea although I do know that it was taken in New York in the 1980s and that the sign says SOHO IS FULL OF SHIT.

Here is Morrissey performing the track live for BBC 6 Music:

For more on the album: