The early 90s were a difficult time for Morrissey's career. An icon of the 80s, his first album of the new decade, Kill Uncle - released in 1991, was nothing short of a disaster. Eons below the quality of his solo debut Viva Hate
, and incomparable to his work with the Smiths. Fortunately things turned around in 1992 with the release of the phenomenal Your Arsenal.
There is probably one word that sums up Morrissey best: inconsistent. He's released what I consider to be in the running for one of the best songs of the 80s, if not serious contender for one of the better songs of all modern music, in the form of "There is a Light That Never Goes Out". He was also responsible for the steaming heap that was Kill Uncle
. So naysayers weren't being unrealistic when they predicted the end of Morrissey's career, or at least popularity, in 1991. But Morrissey's inconsistency proved true: for every valley, there is an equally large mountain.
In 1992, Morrissey was back. 1990 and 91 were transitional years. Morrissey had just severed his songwriting ties with composer/producer Stephen Street (whose proficient songwriting is displayed on Viva Hate
), and it wasn't until '92 that he began working with a "young rockabilly band". The result of the creative spark spurred by the new music source (namely guitarist Alain Whyte at this time) was Your Arsenal
, which rivals Vauxhall and I
as Morrissey's best album. Perhaps Vauxhall and I
is "better", but Arsenal
is certainly more fun to listen to.
From the opening roar of "You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side" to the gentle piano fadeout of "Tomorrow", Your Arsenal
is a solid record through and through. Pre-You are the Quarry
, this is likely Morrissey's most successful album, at least in America. Partial credit can be given to certain publicity "scandals" that were spurred by this album's release, namely the infamous NME article on Morrissey's supposed racism and neo-Nazism. I won't detail it here as it has more to do with Morrissey than Your Arsenal
, but the negative publicity prompted both interest in the album, and disinterest in anything associated with Morrissey. Some of these complaints and accusations are absolutely truthful, if you take his lyrics to heart. In "We'll Let You Know", Morrissey proclaims, "We may seem cold, or we may even be the most depressing people you've ever known. At heart, what's left, we sadly know, that we are the last truly British people you'll ever know.
Nationalistic lyrics? It's undeniable. Morrissey further extends these sentiments with the song "National Front Disco". The title is indication enough of its lyrics - the line "England for the English" expands on this. Some defend his lyrics as being just that - lyrics. Tales of characters, like David in "National Front Disco". Others state that these are Morrissey's opinions. In England he was shunned; in America, he was a hit. This was a pretty big deal at the time. Now it will probably merit no more than a mere mention, if that, in most reviews or articles on Morrissey. Additionally, Morrissey promoted this album moreso than any of his albums, Smiths or otherwise, pre-Quarry
. 5 music videos from a 10-song album is quite impressive, especially for an artist who avoided videos throughout his career with the Smiths.
So the buzz around the album was significant, the publicity surrounding both Morrissey and Your Arsenal
was at a peak. And Morrissey did not disappoint, though he had ample opportunity to. He gave fans most of what they wanted - interviews, concert and festival appearances, music videos. He gave critics most of what they wanted: a catchy, fillerless album with good lyrics. Of course he couldn't do what he has yet to do to this day, and never will - surpass the Smiths. But it was a fair attempt.
On to the album itself. At least than 40 minutes, it is hardly an epic record, but it is concise. Unlike future albums like Southpaw Grammar
, whose songs were padded to the brim, Your Arsenal
keeps the listener entertained throughout 10 songs, any of which would easily be at home on the radio. Even on the first listen, it is evident that songs such as "Tomorrow" and "We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful" are instant classics.
Even with a new musical style miles from the jangle-pop of Johnny Marr with the Smiths, and the attempt at neo-doowop/rockabilly (which Morrissey and his band perfect in later years) on Kill Uncle
, it is evident that this is Morrissey. An unmistakable voice certainly helps, but the lyrics and even titles scream Morrissey's ownership. "You're the One For Me, Fatty" - who could a title like that come from but him? It is undoubtedly Morrissey's greatest strength, his lyrics. And though this is another area in which he is unfortunately known to be inconsistent, he doesn't disappoint on this record (though "Seasick, Yet Still Docked" has some iffy areas, the vocal line compensates): "you're the one for me, fatty, you're the one I really, really love. And I will stay/Promise you'll say
If I'm ever in your way
." Simple? Absolutely. But great nonetheless, or perhaps because
of its simplicity. I could quote any one of these songs with genius lines found within, but it's probably best if you heard them for yourself. ;)
The only complaint I would have about the album is the track order. The ballads (or at least slower songs) are all found at the end of the album, and the higher energy tracks are found on the first half. This can leave it feeling like the album drags, if only so slightly. It hurts the album's feel as a whole, but individual every track is excellent.
This is recommended for Smiths fans who are still unfamiliar with Morrissey's material. I consider it to be more accessible than Vauxhall and I
, at least it was for me. Once you are familiar with a few Morrissey tracks at least, then you can delve into the other albums safely. But Your Arsenal is a sure bet for anyone who Morrissey doesn't grate.
For Morrissey fans, this is a 5/5. Get this album, you will not be disappointed. If you have a greatest hits collection, you likely already have a few tracks from this album, and have a great preview of the album. If you like his other material, this will suit as well.
For fans of the genre, 4/5. Not essential, but a great, accessible introduction to Morrissey's career. Some of his best solo lyrics, undoubtedly some of the best songs, some of which rival and even surpass Smiths songs.
For fans outside the genre 3/5. Not essential, I would love to see you pick up some Smiths work before Morrissey. But a great album nonetheless, just not a classic.
One of the first Morrissey songs I heard, and it just as ear-catching today. One of the best breakdowns (?) I've ever heard, and it is simple beyond belief. A brilliant pop track.
We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful
Another fantastic pop song, whose title takes too long to type. Funny, truthful, and catchy as hell.
The title indicates the neo-glam sound found on this album. Another track which echoes Morrissey's nationalistic themes and loss of British culture, very interesting both musically and lyrically.