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.