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.