Posts Tagged Morrissey

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Everything that you said rings true

I have a bit of history with The Last Of The International Playboys, more so than with any other Morrissey song.

I received Now That’s What I Call Music 14 for my 10th birthday (a quick note for non-UK readers, the ‘Now…’ series were compilations of popular songs in the charts, and started off as (I believe) annual issues, becoming more frequent over time. I’m writing in the past tense although I believe they still come out semi-regularly, but I’ve paid little or no attention to them for many, many years, because they say nothing to me about my life (as someone once sang)).

I had to check to be sure, and it must have been my 10th birthday as the compilation went on sale about a fortnight before the big day (double figures and everything).

Oddly, I can vividly remember listening and re-listening and re-re-listening to the first tape time after time, and almost all those songs stick with me today, but remember pretty much nothing about tape two. I also remember the cover art, and how it came in one of those two-tape boxes which had a hinge in the middle, opening up like some kind of cheap, communist-era eastern European aeroplane toy… Ah, nostalgia…

But worry not about my limited memory of the complete opus, for tape one contained, yes, The Last Of The International Playboys by Morrissey.

The 10-year-old me picked up on two of Mozzer’s cultural references in particular. I didn’t really get what a ‘playboy’ was (international or domestic), but my mate Darren who lived over the road had bedcovers emblazoned with the Playboy logo and name (what the hell were his parents thinking?), not that I had the slightest inkling who Hugh Hefner was, nor how the bunny logo was reflected back in real life. Of course, I did know what ‘famous’ meant, and seem to remember cobbling together an assumption that a ‘playboy’ must be a man who had a good time of things.

But what really stood out for me were the following passages:

Reggie Kray, do you know my name?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do…

Ronnie Kray, do you know my face?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do

Even at that tender age I had somewhere picked up the awareness that the Kray twins were Very Bad Men. I even remember being aware of the ‘but they looked after their old mum’ line that often seemed to suffix tales about them (and I might be imagining this, but I’m pretty sure I already saw this line as being idiotic in the extreme).

So who was this Morrissey bloke, and why did he seem to want recognition from a couple of nasty men, while at the same time boasting about being the last swinger in town? Also, why had he ended up in prison?

In our lifetime those who kill
The news world hands them stardom
And these are the ways
On which I was raised…

I never wanted to kill
I am not naturally evil
Such things I do
Just to make myself more attractive to you
Have I failed?

Ah. That’s why.

I didn’t fully appreciate the attempts at social commentary and derision of the media, and the homosexual undertones passed me by, but the desperate, blame-ducking self-justification seemed to strike a chord. As did the bold, strident guitars and drums, and squiggly keyboards.

I can’t say I loved it, but it certainly intrigued the hell out of me for as long as I listened to Now…14 tape 1 on near-permanent loop.

About 10 years later I had plunged head-long into the complete oeuvre of The Smiths and Morrissey and re-discovered this song. It all came back to me, and, by now much better acquainted with Moz’s worldview, I loved it (I even managed to find the tape at the bottom of my old wardrobe in my Mum and Dad’s house). It’s still one of my all-time favourites of Morrissey’s, and I can now recognise it as the pop-tastic, playful, cheeky, slightly edgy record it was all along.

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Watch out for the puppets

I watched a lot of ‘Wide Awake Club’ as a lad (back in the days of just three, then, glory be, four channels), but never saw ‘Data Run’, its predecessor in the Saturday morning kids’ TV slot. As such, I saw plenty of Mallet’s Mallet, but not this little gem.

The children of 1984 meet The Smiths – or ‘Paul’ Morrissey (his own fault for gadding about by surname only) and Johnny Marr at least. Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke are reduced to being off-handedly referred to by Marr, appropriately enough given the legal structure of the band which saw Joyce and Rourke reduced to, in effect, session players. Towards the end of the clip, in a weird coincidence, images of two puppets fighting intertwine with shots of Mike Joyce drumming (and grinning inanely), as if foretelling the end of the Smiths and subsequent legal battles.

We see lots of coquettish pointing between Moz and Marr, some half-arsed answers to the kids’ questions (despite it being clear they were never in the same place at the same time), a muddy rehearsal of ‘Hand In Glove’, and a curiously awkward acoustic version of ‘This Charming Man’. Morrissey describes how many of his songs were inspired by “horrible teachers who made life miserable for me” and warns how current pupils may one day sign up to record companies and “get their revolting revenge”. Not too much later, Moz would hammer this point home with The Headmaster Ritual (later, as I’ve already wittered on about, painting a more modern view of the classroom).

The presenter tells us to “watch out for the puppets”, although to be honest I’d rather just ignore them because, taken out of context, they’re a little too sinister for comfort. I suspect they were equally sinister in context to be honest. Why things are kicked off with a shot of Sinister Puppet #1 raising and lowering a newspaper from his face I really don’t know. And this over background audio of ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ which attracted (fairly laughable) tabloid accusations of paedophilia at the time (“It’s time the tale were told / Of how you took a child and made him old”).

If I ever get into TV, that’s how I intend to introduce every item from a primary school.

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What the world’s been waiting for

Wow.

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I’ve lost my will, but still I see some hope

Every now and then I indulge myself with a trip back into the music of the mid-1990s. Revealingly, I rarely listen to the stuff I listened to contemporaneously. Gene are one such example: heralded as The New Smiths they never really cut the mustard. At the time I was aware of Olympian and Fighting Fit (this video is a treat for that niche market of fans of both Gene and Star Trek), but have since fallen in love with their first single, For The Dead.

Frankly, they needn’t have made another song after this, they squeezed it all into this one – a healthy dose of misanthropy, Mozzerian growls in the chorus, allusions to suicide shot through with a lack of conviction disguised as gallows humour (“give me a rope, I’ll take it gladly / find me a tree and make it snappy”), and a wonderful sense of kitchen sink melodrama (“goodbye ma! It’s my time to go”).

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August à la française

In homage to perhaps my true calling in life, that of being a French civil servant (working for a majority French-state-owned company, as I do, doesn’t count. Not if you work for said majority French state-owned company in Nottinghamshire), I’m taking August off.

I need to recover from the Tour de France for a start: 1 hour highlights every night for three weeks, with only two rest days thrown in? Forget about it…

Who knows, I might return invigorated, upbeat, and a real go-getter. Chances are it’ll be more of the same old jaded, cynical tat, but for your sake I’m hoping not. See you on 1st September.

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When your profession is humiliation

And so from the acclaimed ‘best’ Morrissey album to perhaps his most widely disliked album. Southpaw Grammar (meaning “the school of hard knocks” says Moz, rather neatly combining his interest in education and boxing) sticks out like a sore thumb from Morrissey’s oeuvre in so many ways – the lack of the man himself on the cover (we have a (sadly muddy) photo of boxer Kenny Lane instead); only eight tracks, two of which are over 10 minutes long; a track with a two-minute drum solo intro; production to further accentuate the already heavy weight of the music…

Amid all this singularity, a coherence emerges as the album is symmetrically bookended by its two longest songs, the resolute adherence to ‘heavy’ instrumentation makes it feel joined-up musically (and seems to suit the musicians themselves), and Morrissey has a solid platform for songs which are almost exclusively about dysfunctional individuals and relationships.

So we see a series of caricatures: strings darken the tone for a harassed, threatened teacher in The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils (which itself represents a nice reversal of the premise of The Headmaster Ritual); a pair of Jack-the-lads with, first, the Boy Racer who, brilliantly, “thinks he’s got the whole world in his hands / stood at the urinal” and then the often-lamented (unfairly) Dagenham Dave; a tiresome acquaintance (The Operation, featuring that drum solo intro).

Affairs closer to home are considered in probably the album’s most auto-biographical song, Best Friend On The Payroll, in which a close friend gets a little too comfortable chez Morrissey, rumoured to be based on Moz’s long-time confidant, chauffeur, and former boxer (hmmm…), Jake, and Do Your Best And Don’t Worry.

Particular standout tracks include strings returning to lighten the mood in the marvellous Reader Meet Author (allegedly based on a meeting with Julie Burchill, but I suspect there’s more of Morrissey in it than anyone else), and the closing track, Southpaw: a rangey, vaguely discordant, jarring, but rousing finale, in which Morrissey teases and torments “a sick boy” with the revelation that the girl of their dreams is “here all alone” (presumably alone with Morrissey that is, but quite what outcome he’s suggesting is left up to the listener to decide).

Defy convention, and make this, arguably his most ‘raw’ piece of work, the first Morrissey album you listen to. Personally, it’s my favourite of his albums, and recommendations don’t come much higher than that.

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Guilt by association

Vauxhall and I (1994) is generally put forward as the high point of Morrissey’s solo career (insert your own ‘damning it with faint praise’ gag here, haters).

Coming off the back of the glam-rockish and well-received Your Arsenal, the musical differences from its predecessor are quickly apparent, with its darker, more serious tone (the songs deal with introspection, retrospection, and regret; menace and scorn), and increased number of ballads. At the time of its release, Morrissey ventured that it was his best album to date (doesn’t he always?) and (less common, this) possibly his last.

Among the highlights, Now My Heart Is Full, where love meets despair, Spring-Heeled Jim’s swaggering threat bleeding into impotence (with its tantalising snatches of conversation from Cockney scallywags), the obsession-cum-stalking of The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get, and (rarely for Moz) an elegant railing against the music industry in Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself.

What stops me from getting fully behind this album is the change in pace, both lyrically and musically, towards the end of the album. We see a little too much self-pity, and outright derision of others, and yet, and yet… he saves it at the end, with the towering, defiant, pseudo-confessional Speedway.

Characteristically, what he’s confessing to is left unclear but used as a stick with which to beat a perceived ingrate, the message being “just think how easily I could have brought you down with me” (as a side note, his recent live gig in Grimsby (oh yes) saw his current band struggle to avoid butchering much of his back catalogue; this song, however, they nailed).

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You did your best, but…

 

After his sojourn in Los Angeles, which produced You Are The Quarry, his first album in seven years, Morrissey buggered off to Italy for a bit, living and recording in Rome.

The resulting album, Ringleader Of The Tormentors, was written with collborators old and new, in Alain Whyte and Jesse Tobias respectively, and roped in some bloke called Ennio Morricone to do a few strings. Tony Visconti, perhaps deciding there was no real future in T. Rex or David Bowie records any more, produced.

Thematically, one thing is particularly noticeable on this album: sex. It’s comfortably the most direct Morrissey has been about matters of the flesh, most notably on Dear God Please Help Me (featuring Morricone’s arrangement) which, inevitably, led to all kinds of conjecture about the exact nature of the relationship described. Similarly, At Last I Am Born, the, um, climax of the album, rounds things off with a crash, a bang, and a throwing-off off life’s worries.

Don’t worry, it’s not all bedroom frolics. Life Is A Pigsty begins with a Well I Wonder-esque drizzly intro, and rises above the sum of its parts to become a spectral, thumping, gripping, but ultimately simple presentation of life as a disappointment. Meanwhile, given the subject matter, The Father Who Must Be Killed is a surprisingly touching song: Morrissey both observes and directs a girl’s actions against her abusive step-father, before she turns the knife on herself, set to a rousing musical backdrop and a children’s choir.

The album highlight is You Have Killed Me, beginning with a growl of guitars and a clash of cymbals and ending with rising strings. Morrissey’s love of his adopted home comes to the fore, with liberal references to both the city (“Piazza Cavore / What’s my life for?”) and the country’s cinematic heritage, singing of himself, his love interest, actors and directors, in a lustrous mix of sexual desires. And the crowd goes wild.

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I sense something more

To mark the end of the latest theme week, allow me to indulge myself a little more in something else Mozzerian.

Facebook, for all its faults (no, I don’t want to help you build a farm, or further your Mafia empire, and I don’t care about your thoughts on the weather – I didn’t really like you at school in the first place, to be honest), occasionally sparkles. A friend recently posted a video of The Smiths playing Handsome Devil live in concert in Spain, the kind of unexpected exposure to a song which made me remember just how utterly fantastic it is.
 
One of their earliest tracks, and best captured as part of their ever-productive sessions with John Peel, it bursts into life with an explosion of drums and guitar, setting the tone for a stripped-down sound which nevertheless squeezes every drop of aural impact out of an arresting 2 minutes 44 seconds.
 
Morrissey himself is on strident, lustful form, addressing matters of the flesh in a strikingly direct way. His lyrics are full of ambiguity and suggestion around the gender, age, and reciprocation of the object of his affections. Talk of mammary glands, boys in the bush, swallowing in scholarly rooms, and getting onto the conjugal bed is somehow both explicit and equivocal at the same time: this is Morrissey at his polemic best, inevitably inviting all kinds of questions to be raised, and the odd article of outrage to be included in the early-to-mid-80s tabloids too.
 
This is of the era where it seemed every line Morrissey sang was instantly memorable (or possibly just memorised from one of Shelagh Delaney’s works, but anyway…), including most of this song, but especially the following, one of my all-time favourites:
 
“There’s more to life than books, you know / But not much more”
 
What this heady mix of tight, fraught instrumentation, and provocative, intriguing lyrics gives us is a song that is as thrilling as it is enthralling. It also gives the listener is an early example of Morrissey’s et ceterisation (which, thanks to Gavin Hopps, I now completely understand), as he sings “Oh, let me get my hands on your mammary glands / And let me get your head on the conjugal bed / I say, I say, I sa-a-a-y” – a glorious mix of Kenneth Williams’ faux-outrage and music-hall joke intro. As if tired of his elaborate allusions, Morrissey ends with a yelped “ow!” of, depending on your interpretation, pain, pleasure, or damned frustration.

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