Review Summary: Quite frankly one of the best albums of all time.
'Viva Hate' is, in my opinion, the best album that Morrissey has ever been a part of (yes, that includes The Smiths)... But I must admit that it's partly (or maybe even mostly) due to my own personal experiences and troubled youth. You see, like a lot of people, the ages of 15-18 (1996-1999 in my case) were a really difficult time for me, and I went through a very dark period of family-related strife and a severe case of heartbreak via a nasty break up with my first 'proper' girlfriend. Oh the tears I cried....
But in all that darkness and dispair there was one lone beacon of true comfort. And that was my first ever taste of Morrissey in the form of 'Viva Hate'.
Words cannot describe how much this LP meant to me. It was like someone was there in my room beside me, holding me and whispering that everything was going to be alright. This album hit my heart like an arrow and changed everything; the way I dressed, the music I listened to, my goals for the future... I even sported a giant quiff for a few ill-advised months. I did, of course, go digging through the Morrissey archives, discovering the joys of The Smiths and 'Vauxhall & I', but I never found another Morrissey album that contained as much catharsism as 'Viva Hate'.
But then that's probably how Morrissey meant it. 'Viva Hate' was his first solo record, and one which was recorded a mere six months after The Smiths hit the bricks. He was hurt and betrayed, hence the album's title 'Viva Hate'... But rather than fill the record with spite, Morrissey instead retreated into his past, back to his own poverty-stricken teenage years in 1970's Manchester. Because of this, the whole album seeps with nostalgia and the sepia visions of a long lost verdant England.
Being an Englishman myself, this was both very alluring and oh-so-true. The album's great single and undoubted highlight 'Everyday Is Like Sunday', with it's breezing synth strings and references to "cheap trays" and "grease tea" feels comfortingly familiar to anyone who has ever had the misfortune to spend a family weekend at Bognor Regis. Likewise, the seven minute moan of sadness that is 'Late Night, Maudlin Street' perfectly drags up images of the uniform rows of terraced council houses that make up the urban greys of England's bigger cities.
Elsewhere, the sadness becomes universal, devoid of location but still aching from every pour. 'Break Up The Family' is obviously about The Smiths, with Morrissey concluding "Let me see all my old friends / Let me put my arms around them / Because I really do love them / Now does that sound mad?", which makes for a stark contrast to his later, bitter lyrics on the subject. But the song can very easily be connected with on a personal level. We all have old friends. We all have overbearing gym teachers. We all have crazy car rides through hailstorms with no brakes... Actually, scratch that last one. But what I'm getting at here, is the ease of first-person connection. 'Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together' is about star-crossed lovers and disaproving parents. 'Suedehead' is about diary stealing romantic obsession. 'Dial A Cliche' touches on sexual confusion and (once again) disaproving parents, and 'Margret On A Guillotine' is about how much of a c**t Margret Thatcher was. All universal topics.
And the musical contributions suit the album perfectly. They're simple and basic, yet still embrace the very same monochrome feeling as the words they frame. A lot of them feel like they've been ripped strait from a sixties pop record, with the likes of 'Little Man, What Now?', 'The Ordinary Boys' and 'Dial A Cliche' all bristling with retro cool. There are even some great flourishes here and there, with 'Bengali In Platforms' having a delicious accoustic backing (no... I'm not going THERE), whilst 'Margret On A Guillotine' features some beautiful spanish trills running all through it's outro. The only musical mis-step on the whole record is the psychotic hair metal guitar riff that rampages all over 'I Don't Mind If You Forget Me' to annyoing effect.
In the end, 'Viva Hate' is Morrissey's most moving album, made when he was at his saddest and most unsure of himself. It's a brilliant, towering classic and an album that will forever sit in my top ten albums of all time.