Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.
Ahead of the release of his 10th solo album, I look back at one of the masters of music. Many admire and respect the man behind the songs, yet few are taking his influence on board.
WORLD Peace Is None of Your Business…
is probably an apt title for an album by Steven Patrick Morrissey. In fact, it IS going to be the title for the legend’s next album. The Mancunian is- according to reports- “beyond ecstatic” with the results of the L.P.- provisionally earmarked for release in June/July. Morrissey has had a bit of an eventful last year of so. Having suffered various illness and injury, his touring schedule has been somewhat erratic and inconsistent. It is not surprising given that the man is in his 50s, yet the legend does seems to have been particularly misfortune (lately). In spite of these setbacks, he did release his autobiography last year; a volume that gained fervent praise and regards from all critics. I have read only snippets but it contains all of the dry wit, poetry and cutting bite that you would expect from the icon. As well as a forthcoming album, Morrissey is going to be hitting the road and touring hard- taking Cliff Richard and Tom Jones with him. I smiled when I heard whom would be supporting him, as it is not so much a f***-you to public expectation, more a fond regard (the singer has) towards the established singers. Many young and fresh-faced fans will flock to see the gigs, but many middle-aged and elderly are sure to turn up as well- I wonder what they will make of Mr. Morrissey? I will get down to some analysis of the 54-year-old in due course, yet I will open with this: I am not sure Morrissey would approve of me as a human. Being a veracious and dedicated meat-eater, I feel that (if he were to learn of this fact) severe evisceration would be in order. I am not crazy about the royal family, yet (being a history graduate) want them to remain in place- for as long as possible. It would be incongruous to think that me and him would be mirror images of one another, yet there are some shared facets that are evident. Throughout Morrissey’s five decades-or-so our hero has experienced romance and passion, yet the inextricable heartache of ‘unwarranted’ celibacy is something he has had to go through. I am not sure in Morrissey’s case whether it was optional, but for me it certainly isn’t. I have tried to fathom whether it is because of a certain personality type- more introspective; quiet- that dictates sexual proclivity, but it has (like Morrissey) enforced some songwriting inspiration in me. I shall not dwell too much on my empty nights (if I were writing Never Had No One Ever it would be embarrassingly tragic). I am sure that our legend is enjoying romance at the moment- I hope- yet there are other elements of our lives that dovetail. Being someone whom has been craving to leave home and escape its confines and heartaches, I cannot relate to the time that Morrissey met Marr. It seems almost fairy-tale (albeit with a northern twist) that Marr arrived at Morrissey’s home in 1982, and the two formed an instant bond. The duo has a shared drive and determination, and it was only going to be a year after this meeting that the first (The) Smiths material was released. I have always felt an empathy with Morrissey and can appreciate how hard his road to glory has been. As someone whom has carried the beast’s burden of depression, anxiety and every other psychological parasite for the last several decades, it is a curse that inspires as well as cannibalize. It is curious whether personal circumstance and loneliness is purely responsible for Morrissey’s genius, or whether it is innate and inherent. Would we have witnessed so many memorable and witty songs if our hero were happier, more fulfilled and, well, frankly… boring? I don’t judge people whom have a family and are live life the way most do; yet it never makes you stand out. I have always felt that subjugating the humdrum predictability of the 9-5; two kids and a house in the country; retire and live happily ever after such a tedious and pointless outcome. Too many possess no ambition or drive past living to old age, and few actually leave any legacy behind. Morrissey has always been an idol as he has lived life the way he wants; dared to be different and inspiring- without getting bogged down in the quagmire of a ‘normal’ life. Of course, our hero is not someone whom I always agree with. Sometimes he can let his mouth run away with him. Over various gigs he has lectured the crowd about the ‘evils’ of a carnivorous lifestyles; the tyranny of McDonald’s and other franchises- as well as stating how wrong meat-eaters are. I respect his beliefs and his middle-aged curmudgeonly spirit, yet there is a time and place for these views. He is a songwriter and musical icon and should be spending his bile and energy rallying against musical issues- and not matters that are none of his business. It is part of his charm- as well as weaknesses- that he is so passionate about his causes. Would we want Morrissey any other way? Whatever you think of the man, and however you view his music, the fact of the matter is this: he is someone who we should treasure. I believe he is one of the few sane people on earth that offers nothing but hatred and venom to horrid shows like The Voice– and their ilk. The day Morrissey performs on The X Factor or lets one of the nauseating cretins cover one of his songs, is the day I give in. It may have already happened, but I would like to think that such an intelligent man, whom has so much respect for honest and real music, would rather cut his own face off. Anyway, I digress…
Part of the reason for this feature is because of a young lady called Katie Snooks; a fascinating goddess of a woman whom I have never met. I have been following her- on and off- through Twitter, and am always fascinating and charmed by her love of Morrissey. There are few people my/her age whom have such a love of Steven Patrick. I know in Katie’s case she has one of Morrissey’s lyrics tattooed on her body; has been following his career and trajectory for some years- and is one of his most loyal fans. As well as being a man whom I can relate to and, to me, is the epitome of a ‘alternative hero’, I have always connected with the human side of Morrissey- as well as his music. My first experience of Morrissey came when I heard the words below:
“And if the day came when I felt a
I’d get such a shock I’d probably jump
In the ocean“.
These lyrics are from the song Nowhere Fast, from The Smiths’ 1985 album, Meat Is Murder. A lot of attention and credence is given to last two albums by the band, yet I feel that their first two albums are of equal importance. Recently I wrote this lyric: “If I were to put into words/My innermost emotions/They couldn’t ever fill the void/Between the heavens and the ocean“. I came away from writing that (as part of my song Vanity Mirror) somewhat pleased. It was only after re-listening to Nowehere Fast that it was Morrissey whom pretty much wrote the words. The Smiths’ debut, as well as Meat Is Murder, contain so many songs that inspire songwriters- even today. Everybody knows about This Charming Man (from The Smiths), yet that L.P. contains the magnificent Hand In Glove (with its standout line: “I’ll probably never see you again“). It (the song) is a paen to doomed happiness and is one of the strongest songs the band recorded (to that date). This particular song demonstrates Morrissey’s love of literature and poetry; his fascination with writers such as Shelagh Delnay and Leonard Cohen- he paraphrased a line from the latter for that track (“Everything depends upon how near you stand next to me“). The debut was a solid connection that showed the strong connection between Marr and Morrissey. The compositions were mesmeric and tight, and allowed Morrissey to let his mind inspire and pervade. Although a number of the songs dealt with darker subjects and inner turmoil, there were glimmers of wit and light throughout. By the time Meat Is Murder arrived a couple of years later, our hero was an even stronger songwriter. Many critics- and fans- consider this to be the band’s weakest album, yet is housed some of their best songs. It is true that tracks such as the title cut and What She Said could have probably been left out, but the quality is hard to deny. How Soon Is Now? (which originally did not appear on the U.K. version of the album;- only the U.S. one) is a swirling masterpiece where our young hero draws influence from Middlemarch, the Manchester gay scene as well as his own loneliness. The track contains some of my favourite lyrics (“I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar/I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular“) and it is a track that marked a departure for the band. It was stylistically diverse from their previous work and sounded unlike anything else. The song contained some of Morrissey’s best vitriol and poetry, and vistas of self-doubt and loneliness. As much as Morrissey started to cement his reputation as a phenomenal lyricist, his voice itself was capturing attention. The way that Morrissey phrases and intones was rare- sharing more in common with the crooners of the ’50s and ’60s rather than the modern scene- and set him apart from his contemporaries. He could go from a falsetto through to a throaty growl; hold notes and words, as well as bend lines and phrases to unleash maximum potential. Tracks such as Barbarism Begins At Home contain cutting insight and barbs, yet demonstrate his vocal prowess. With yelps and barks, Morrissey mixed idiosyncrasy with tender and attention-grabbing force. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore told the story of a suicidal figure, our hero empathizing with his plight. The vocal is one of Morrissey’s greatest ever, and mixed tragic lyrics with liaisons “on cold leather seats“. I feel the album is pivotal as it contains some of Morrissey’s best words and vocals. The young man let his heart and soul talk, and the album contains some of the most affecting and inspiring lyrics ever penned. It is the final duo of albums (from The Smiths) that garners most attention. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was the first single from The Queen Is Dead, and allegorically dealt with the band’s experience of the music industry. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, the track looked at the struggle our hero had with being understood and respected (as a genuine article). Lines such as “If they don’t believe me now, will they ever believe me?” are pivotal questions that highlighted a real miasma and anxiety for Morrissey. I Know It’s Over is a haunting tale, where our hero feels “the soil falling over (my) head“; and was a song written during a marathon writing session in the summer of 1985. The album is so special for me as it galvanizes Morrissey’s gorgeous words and beautiful voice. I Know It’s Over is a passionate and tender vocal that scores some of his most traumatic lyrics. The title cut shows our hero in rampant mood; bold and galloping of voice. The title track demonstrate Morrissey’s views of the royal family and their purposes; he mixes stochastic wit with humorous imagery (“I say Charles don’t you ever crave/To appear on the front of the Daily Mail/Dressed in your Mother’s bridal veil?“). Bigmouth Strikes Again casts Morrissey as Joan of Arc, tied to a stake and facing imminent destruction. It is a witty and memorable track that talks of: “Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking/When I said by rights you should be/Bludgeoned in your bed“. The entire album was a testament to Morrissey genius and diversity. Songs like Bigmouth’ highlighted our hero’s cutting bite; Cemetery Gates mixed literary reference with funereal scenes; Never Had No One Ever looked at sexual frustration There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is a tale that draws everything together. Here our hero yearns to escape home; inside a car with an unnamed girl he feels that being killed in a vehicular fireball would be preferable; stating that “To die by your side/Well the pleasure, the privilege is mine“. The album is my favourite (from The Smiths) as the range on offer is startling. Marr provided brilliant and compelling arrangements, yet Morrissey is the star of the show. His voice takes my breathe, as it is consistently ear-grabbing. As well as it being tonally different and unique, the phrasing and wording is tremendous; the emotional breadth is incredible- Morrissey’s emotional range goes from merry abandon to suicidal consideration, yet each mood draws you in. By the time Strangeways, Here We Come arrived in 1987, tensions were evident within the band. In spite of the fact that it was a fractious experience (Marr dissolved the band during recording), the songwriting duo consider it to be (the band’s) best. The L.P. was a fitting end to Morrissey’s initial career stage, and shows our hero in fervent and inspired mood. I feel the second half is weaker than it should be; songs like Paint A Vulgar Picture and Unhappy Birthday are not up to par, yet you cannot deny the quality. Many critics are not overjoyed with I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish, yet I adore the song. The way Morrissey pronounces ‘something’; the manner in which he rattles “typical me, typical me, typical me“; the imagery laid out- all wonderful! I could imagine Morrissey strutting and dancing by the mic.; the manly growls; even during the famous outtake (where he asked Stephen Street whether he wanted another take) I could imagine a sly grin on his face. Girlfriend In A Coma is one of the album’s best songs; telling of our heroine being near death. In the song, Morrissey explains how it is “really serious“; recounting times there are times where “I could have murdered her“. By the end of the track, our hero has to say his goodbyes, knowing she will not pull through. A perfect distillation of Marr’s overly-cheery juxtaposed composition and Morrissey’s perfect lyrics, it is one of the band’s finest songs without a date. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me was the lead duo’s favourite song from the album, and can be interpreted as a song from Morrissey’s heart to Marr’s. Its words of “No hope, no harm/Just another false alarm” resonate strongly, and are backed by one of Morrissey’s most focused and memorable vocals. The album has everything; comatose beaus; Morrissey on piano; ill-fated bicycle rides- the whole shebang! As the final words to the album are elicited (“I’ll see you somewhere/I’ll see you sometime /Darling…“) The Smiths were no more; our hero was a man alone…
When the smouldering pyre of The Smiths had dissipated, Morrissey was roaming solo. Rather than wallow of take a break, he was soon back recording. Eight months after the disablement of the band, Viva Hate was released. Stephen Street took on compositional duties, and between the duo a mini-masterpiece was created. Those whom assumed Morrissey would struggled sans Marr, were surprised and assured when the L.P. came out in 1987. The wonderful prose of Everyday Is Like Sunday was inspired by the novel On The Beach, and tells of a grey and damp English town, awaiting a- much-needed- nuclear apocalypse. Songs like Angel, Angel Down We Go Together had elements of The Smiths darker moments (and Morrissey’s most poignant words); whilst Margaret on a Guillotine focused on political tirade. The album showed a tremendous lyrical quality, and was accompanied by strong music. Although the music suffered from the lack of Marr’s invention, it is Suedehead that remains my favourite Morrissey number. I love the vocal performance, the melody; lyrics, the music- everything. It is a perfect storm of queasy delight and jangling subtle orchestration. Kill Uncle perhaps demonstrated a backwards step for Morrissey, and it was not an album well-received. However, the following year (in 1992), my favourite Morrissey solo album was released: Your Arsenal. The Grammy-nominated album is a filler-free joyride, that sees Morrissey hit the strides of The Queen Is Dead/Strangeways’ dynasty. The opening number, You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side is Morrissey’s heaviest number since the days of The Smiths, and is a hard-swinging message to someone with “the world’s weight resting on (your) shoulder“. Mozza came out of the blocks like a demonic greyhound, getting his messages across right from the first song. The National Front Disco looked at a central figure (David) and the National Front- a far-right nationalist organisation. The lyrics describe how the friends and relatives of David, watch him drift away into racist extremism. Rockabily and ’70s Glam Rock were covered after the first few tracks, and it is an album that constantly surprises. The Ride A White Swan-influenced Certain People I Know swung with a kick and stomp, Morrissey having a ball with the lyrics: phonies and pretenders are given a sharp slap, and it is a delight to listen to. You’re The One For Me, Fatty and We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful are piled high with wit and humour: the latter concentrating on the cut-throat nature of the (then) Manchester music scene. To many, it is Your Arsenal’s predecessor which shines brightest. Vauxhall and I is rife with mesmeric and sombre mood. It is a departure from previous albums and shows Morrissey in funereal mood: unsurprising given the events leading up to its release. Spring-Heeled Jim parodies English folklore and is interspersed with snippets from the 1959 documentary We Are the Lambeth Boys. Songs like The More You Ignore Me, The Closer You Get are obvious hits, and display wit and paranoia in equal measure. Many hate it, but I love Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning. The mostly whispered vocal performance is entrancing; the almost upbeat composition beautifully contrasts a bleak tale: a girl screaming; drowning; destined to die as a lifeguard sleeps, unaware. The album is a huge triumph and impressive given the tragedy and disruption present in Morrissey’s life in the months leading up to its release. Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted can be seen as mid-career stagnates, yet still contain some stonewall classics. Dagenham Dave and Reader Meet Author are two standouts from Southpaw Grammar: an album that saw Morrissey experiment more with song length and nature. Torch songs were more in evidence throughout 1997’s Maladjusted. Although critics were lukewarm, songs such as Alma Matters and Trouble Loves Me can be ranked amongst the best from Vauxhall and I. Business as normal on You Are The Quarry? Hell yeah! To be fair Morrissey never dropped a step, but a seven-year respite between albums had seen our hero re-gather and relaunch. The L.P. is a treasure chest of personal tracks including one of his finest ‘recent’ efforts, Irish Blood, English Heart. It sees Morrissey reconcile the explain the themes of contention and the relationship between Ireland and England. The song is packed with biting and political lines, including: “And spit upon the name Oliver Cromwell/And denounce this royal line that still salutes him. And will salute him, forever“. First of the Gang to Die focuses on Hector, “With a gun in his hand/And the first to do time/The first of the gang to die“. Poetic and stark images that spoke of: “You have never been in love/Until you’ve seen the stars/Reflect in the reservoirs” made the song such a triumph, and was one of the strongest tracks from the album. With Ringleader of the Tormentors, Morrissey incorporated influences of guitarist Jesse Tobias. The L.P. has a heavier, rock-driven sound and opened with a bang. Vocal gymnastics and an incredible composition augmented I Will See You in Far-off Places; Italian influence and lines about prostitution in the streets of Rome (“Pasolini is me/Accattone you’ll be“) are to be found in lead-off single, You Have Killed Me. The album sees Morrissey in fine voice and matching the often pulverizing and intense musical backdrop. Perhaps the wit-o-meter was ranging between 5-6 (not up to his usual highs), but songs such as Dear God Please Help Me and At Last I Am Born are gems. Our hero- at this time- was apparently happily in love whilst living in Rome, and a lot of the album’s tracks reflect this. Three years later, 2009’s Years of Refusal signalled an about-face. Writing duties were split between long-term collaborators Baz Boorer and Alain Whyte; as well as newcomer Jesse Tobias. Alan Whyte was off guitar duties, and the band lineup rotated. Like Queens of the Stone Age the only constant is the frontman: musicians had come and gone, and new ones taken their place. This transition and re-staffing did not hamper the quality of the album- far from it. Pitchfork Media reviewed it thus: “Years of Refusal comes as a gratifying shock: It’s his most vital, entertaining, and savage record since 1994’s Vauxhall and I. Rather than try to reinvent himself, Morrissey has rediscovered himself, finding new potency in his familiar arsenal. Morrissey’s rejuvenation is most obvious in the renewed strength of his vocals“. The staggering voice and unique turn of phrase were all up to their peak; the swing and drive of albums such as Your Arsenal were back: Morrissey mixes muscular rock and depression with outward venom and solitary wandering. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris and Something Is Squeezing My Skull highlighted how Morrissey’s voice was as emphatic as it has ever been, with I’m Throwing’ offering up insights such as “Only stone and steel accept my love“. The compositions were consistitenly brilliant and mobile; filled with delight. That’s How People Grow Up is one of the finest cuts, and contains a fantastic melody and composition. Morrissey tells how he was wasting his time looking for love: “Praying for love/For a love that never comes/From someone who does not exist“. You Were Good In Your Time displays is a poignant and thought-provoking song, where our hero offers up lines like: “You made me feel not quite so deformed, uninformed and hunchbacked“. In the ensuing years between Years of Refusal and now- autobiography-writing aside- Morrissey has been touring and dealing with illness. With a new album due in a few months, it seems that whatever is contained within will be a wonder to behold.
Being born in 1983, I feel my life began when Morrissey’s did. Our hero was making music before I was an embryo, yet pretty much the moment The Smiths’ debut was being dropped… so was I. I am writing this piece, because the man behind all of the (wonderful) music, has inspired me more than anything. I have left my job this week to pursue songwriting. There are many music idols I adore, including Kate Bush and Jeff Buckley; Freddie Mercury and Bob Dylan, yet it is Morrissey that I connect with most. In terms of personality; looks, loneliness and everything in-between I resonate most with him. Instead of sombrely hide himself amongst four bedroom walls, he has turned his introspective doubts and unhappiness into some of the great music we have ever heard. Many talk of Bob Dylan and Neil Young when we think of the all-time greatest lyricists, yet I feel that Morrissey should not be overlooked. He has directly influenced Alex Turner (whether he admits it or not), and I feel that too many are overlooking his (Morrissey’s genius). Perhaps too many see Morrissey as a miserablist and consider his work too morbid and mordant to truly inspire; this is myopic and naive. I know that Katie (and others too) have Morrissey’s words imprinted on their body to remain for the rest of their life- I am not surprised. The ’80s music scene was salvaged and made respectable by the man’s words. Morrissey’s keen intelligence and well-read mind have been pioneering unabated for 30 years now, and we should all be watching harder. The Smiths’ back catalogue were awash with stunning tales of frustrated love; bizarre and fascinating scenes as well as fractured depression. I have heard too many boring and aimless songwriters working away in modern music: where the hell has the flair and ambition gone? You do not have to plagiarise Morrissey, but learn from him. There is no shame with being lonely or depressed; with not having sex or wanting it- put it on the damn page! I feel that, away from the likes of Turner, there are few witty and intelligent lyricists that have the potential to rival Morrissey. Maybe times have changed or the talent is not out there, but I think there is a gap that needs exploiting. I myself have written enough lyrics ‘inspired’ by Morrissey and work every day to try to get to within touching distance. To me, Morrissey is more than mere words. His voice is one of the most distinct ever. There is no modern-day fakery; no The Voice-style copycatting- the instrument is emphatically his. It has elements of crooners of decades past, yet a distinct accent and tone of the streets of Manchester. It is honest, bold, diverse; filled with nuance and power; capable of unleashing gravitational force as well as heartbreaking emotion. As much as I adore the likes of Bush, Yorke (Thom), Buckley and Mercury, Morrissey is one of those voices whom has not been equalled. It is clear that he influenced scores of bands and singers, yet I feel that more people should be following in his footsteps. Ahead of the release of World Peace Is None of Your Business, there is going to be huge anticipation and fervour. Our hero has not released since 2009’s Years of Refusal– it will be interesting to see what is imminent. It is true that due to controversy and certain beliefs, Morrissey may not relate directly to everyone, but you know what: he is human, just like everybody else. There is sourness to his disposition; frank remarks, but is not something that should be prone to exculpatory regard. Our hero is an honest and inspirational figure whom speaks his mind. I cannot relate to him as a human and respect him hugely- I feel that he gets short shrift. If you do not connect with Morrissey The Man, then listen to Morrissey The Songwriter. The modern music scene is okay, but has been on a terminal path to obscurity since the heydays of the ’90s. There are some true pioneers and originators out there, but they are being buried in a sea of retarded mediocrity and tweeness. Through my retrospective investigation I have been compelled to replay all my favourite Morrissey moments- I have compiled a list below. We all will have our all-time personal favourites, and it will be interesting to see what other people’s are. As much as anything I hope that Morrissey keeps making music through his 50s and into his 60s. If he stays healthy and focused I am sure we will be seeing several more albums before last call. Our legends are slowing down and dying away, and one day will be inscribed in stone- rather than in hearts. I feel that too many are losing touch with the musicians who got us this far; those whom have inspired generations. Morrissey’s final days are decades away, yet I hope that people are compelled to listen to the man’s music- either as a way to feel good or to inspire their own music. It would be a damn shame if this were not to happen. Anyway, the sun is shining and I am spinning Suedehead (for the fifth time this hour); so I shall bid farewell as…
I have some lyrics to write…
The Best of Steven Patrick Morrissey:
Suedehead (Viva Hate):
You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side (Your Arsenal):
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me (Strangeways, Here We Come):
Something Is Squeezing My Skull (Years of Refusal):
Girlfriend In A Coma (Strangeways, Here We Come):
The National Front Disco (Your Arsenal):
The Queen Is Dead (The Queen Is Dead):
Let Me Kiss You (You Are The Quarry):
Spring-Heeled Jim (Vauxhall and I):
Hand In Glove (The Smiths):
True To You:
Morrissey’s autobiography is available via: