06-14 Morrissey performs new songs
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Morrissey is one of the greatest singers and lyricists of our time. I know it's customary not to feed the trolls/gorillas, but for all his self-indulgence he's actually got better justification than most. As leader of the Smiths, Morrissey helped revolutionise British alternative rock, paving the way for bands like the Stone Roses and, later on, the Britpop era. In the post-disco era of pseudo-disco, the Smiths and their kin were a breath of fresh air, a genuine guitar-based rock band with their own veritable guitar hero in Johnny Marr and the type of enigmatic, troubled frontman for which th ...read more
Morrissey is one of the greatest singers and lyricists of our time. I know it's customary not to feed the trolls/gorillas, but for all his self-indulgence he's actually got better justification than most. As leader of the Smiths, Morrissey helped revolutionise British alternative rock, paving the way for bands like the Stone Roses and, later on, the Britpop era. In the post-disco era of pseudo-disco, the Smiths and their kin were a breath of fresh air, a genuine guitar-based rock band with their own veritable guitar hero in Johnny Marr and the type of enigmatic, troubled frontman for which the very term "stereotype" was coined. Morrissey had everything: big hair, a big head (in both - often in all three senses), all the wit in the world; he wasn't afraid to tackle a controversial issue head on and, most importantly, for all his flaws he was somebody teenagers could relate to.
At the time of the band's formation, Morrissey was an unemployed writer and founder of the UK branch of the New York Dolls fan club. He'd previously tasted brief success with the Nosebleeds, a punk band that also included future guitarist with Southern Death Cult (later The Cult), Billy Duffy. He was also a closet homosexual, but that's nobody's business but his own; and Elton's, apparently. Johnny Marr, on the other hand, was of a similarly shy and retiring demeanour, but instead channelled his energy into becoming a guitar virtuoso and a talented songwriter. The one thing they had in common was Irish parentage, which anyone will tell you is a necessary pre-requisite for being from Manchester and a musical success. Together they began writing songs, or at least Morrissey began applying his poetry to Marr's music. They recruited drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke and began gigging around Manchester.
1982: The Smiths are born.
Though many theories exist as to the origins of the name, the most plausible is that offered by Morrissey: "Smith" is the most ordinary name going, and they just wanted to emphasise their ordinariness. They signed to indie label Rough Trade and issued a couple of singles (and not just any singles; they released "Hand In Glove" and "This Charming Man") which piqued the interest of DJ John Peel, renowned for giving breaks to future stars, including the Undertones, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division and the Cure and is considered to have contributed immensely to the development of punk, reggae and dance music in Britain. By 1983, their profile had risen to the point where a full-length album was commissioned. They would release four studio albums in all, plus a number of live and compilation albums as the label resolved to squeeze every penny from the band's catalogue.
The Smiths, released in February of 1984, was on the whole a more sombre affair musically to the singles which preceded it. Lyrically, Morrissey didn't shy away from controversial social and political topics, causing uproar over perceived promotion of paedophilia ("Reel Around the Fountain" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle") and "Suffer Little Children," a song he wrote in sympathy for the child victims of the notorious Moors Murders. The same year saw the release of Hatful of Hollow, a vastly superior collection of re-recordings, b-sides and those Peel sessions, including b-side to "William, It Was Really Nothing," the now legendary "How Soon Is Now?" The latter was re-released as an A-side in preparation for the release of Meat Is Murder in 1985. Although a more accomplished affair all-round, Meat Is Murder only warranted the release of one single, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore".
Inner tensions began to mount hard and fast at this point. Morrissey developed a romantic case of alcoholism and Rourke's heroin dependency resulted in his sacking from the band, which Morrissey in typical Morrissey fashion relayed to the bassist via a Post-it note pasted to his car windscreen. He was reinstated soon after and recorded The Queen Is Dead, generally acknowledged as their crowning achievement, harbouring the classic title track and the suicidal love song "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out." A couple more compilations followed before 1987's Strangeways, Here We Come was unleashed, the band's last album together. Truly an album of two halves: the first includes "Girlfriend in a Coma" and the second doesn't.
1988: The Smiths Is Dea.
After the demise of the band at what was arguably their peak (commercially, anyway), Morrissey intended to capitalise on that success with his first solo release. He retained Smiths producer Stephen Street and brought in Durutti Column guitarist Vini Reilly, perhaps the only guitarist of the era skilled enough to match Marr, and produced Viva Hate; essentially a Smiths record for Smiths fans. It spawned the classics "Suedehead" and "Everyday Is Like Sunday" and earned himself a police raid (for real this time) after penning the anti-Thatcher (then Prime Minister) anthem "Margaret on the Guillotine," which contained the priceless lyric: "When will you die?" The fact it was released just six months after the final Smiths album suggests he may have anticipated the group's demise and held back his best material, a notion certainly backed up by the lacklustre display, but it's all just idle speculation. In any case, Viva Hate was a success for Morrissey, proving he was capable of both success and critical acclaim without Marr to back him up.
Never one to hold back on releasing a compilation album when the option of not releasing one comes up, Morrissey released Bona Drag, a critically acclaimed collection of four hit singles, b-sides and new material. In addition, the album helped Morrissey achieve his first taste of success in the US. It was now that Morrissey would embark on his divine calling never to give consistency two fingers wherever it dare appear before him, and 1991's Kill Uncle suitably borders on the worst thing to happen since the CIA began persecuting Mancunians. Thankfully, 1992's Your Arsenal redressed the balance somewhat, spawning the delightfully provocative "National Front Disco," which brought with it accusations that he was a white-supremacists (Morrissey's flirtations with irony/seriousness inevitably seem to outflank mainstream thought and land him in hot water), the unsurpassably-titled "You're The One For Me, Fatty" and "Tomorrow".
The excellent Vauxhall And I became Morrissey's most successful release in 1994, containing an opening track ("Now My Heart Is Full") so unbelievably brilliant that I won't even use words to describe it. Please just take five minutes out to visualise me sitting in front of the computer with my hand on my heart, beaming. It's one of the few albums where Morrissey's musical input seems to surpass the effort he puts into his song titles, and it shows as this is considered by most his best solo release. And thought it hardly needs it, the Withnail & I reference in the title is enough to tip it over the edge should a misguided judge screw up his scoring card somehow. Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted followed as Morrissey turned his attention from saving endangered Malaysian oxen calves to engage in the second arena of his war with consistency. As ever, Morrissey came out on top and music was defiant in defeat.
In the late 1990s, Morrissey left the notorious tax-haven of Dublin for another tax haven, Los Angeles, where he reportedly connected with the Latino community while he devoted every other to not getting a record deal. In 2003, he returned to fold, signing with reggae label Attack Records and the following year released the smash hit You Are The Quarry, which at times gave the impression he'd never left with already-classics "Irish Blood, English Heart" and "First of the Gang to Die". Rediscovering his love of attention and controversy, Morrissey patched things up with the NME and became politically involved in another country's election when he endorsed John Kerry in the US presidential race of 2004 and showed off his beautifully cliched hatred of George Bush.
Ringleader of the Tormentors is Morrissey's eight studio solo album and the third to debut at #1 in the British charts. It was led by the hit single "You Have Killed Me" and follows in roughly the same vein as Viva Hate and You Are The Quarry without matching either in terms of musical or lyrical quality. Opening track "I Will See You In Far-Off Places" is an (intentionally?) Eastern-tinged tirade against America and its war on terror, apparently expressing sympathy for victims of western bombing campaigns. Although as blunt as ever, the lyrics here and on the album as a whole are sadly bland and derivative, typified by the line: "If your god bestows protection upon you/And if the USA doesn't bomb you/I believe I will see you somewhere safe".
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Similar Bands: Billy Bragg, Aztec Camera, The Smiths
Contributors: iGuter, OscarWilde1900, Mikesn, RandyfromPennywise, Two-Headed Boy, morrissey, Dave de Sylvia, Alex101, Iai, Havey, Titan50, jamiecoughlan,