Review Summary: A flawed re-issue of an underrated album.
Upon it's original release back in 1995, 'Southpaw Grammar' met with very mixed reviews. Over time the album has gained a reputation as one of Morrissey's weakest albums. I can kind of understand... Morrissey is a famed lyricist, and on Southpaw Grammar his lyrics were a bit run of the mill. Apart from the odd hilarious soundbite ("He's got the whole world in his hands / Stood at the urinal" and "He'd love to touch / But he's afraid that he might self combust / I could say more / But you get the general idea...") his words mostly existed to support the music and give you something catchy to sing along with. And that very fact is why I personally have never fully understood why 'Southpaw Grammar' is so underrated.
The biggest overall flaw of Morrissey's solo career is the lack of decent tunes to propell his lyrics. That flaw was fully addressed on this album to stunning effect. The music firmly ruled the roost, with each composition lovingly crafted, albeit in a very savage way. All of the tracks were really interesting, with quite a few spiraling away from their main riffs into frantic, punk-orientated freak outs. There was even an impressive two minute drum solo featured on the intro of 'The Operation'. Through and through, the music on 'Southpaw Grammar' was compelling, from the hard-rock anthemnics of 'Boy Racer', to the cascading riffs of 'Best Friend On The Payroll', to the turbo-charged discordant outro of 'Do Your Best And Don't Worry' and right through to the bitter-sweet acoustic vistas of the closing 'Southpaw'. Far from being a weak Morrissey album, I've always considered 'Southpaw Grammar' as one of his very strongest and most artistically satisfying efforts (even Morrissey himself has said that this is his favorite solo album on more than one occassion).
And so that brings us to the 'Legacy Edition'. Resequenced, remastered, with four new tracks and new artwork, this is 'Southpaw Grammar' as it was meant to be heard... Or maybe not.
I'll delve into the good stuff first. Aside from the excellent original tracks, three of the new additions are more than up to standard. The best of them is an outright Morrissey classic in the form of the giant ballad 'You Should Have Been Nice To Me'. Over an aching acoustic / e-bow backing, Morrissey weaves a tale of rejection and heartbreak, with his voice desparately pulling every iota of feeling out of his words. When he near sobs "And all the times I fell down / Just for you to say 'Oh, I told you so' / You should hve waited / You should have waited / You should have waited" over the slowly esculating swirl of weeping guitars, I swear I can feel my heart break. Quite why it wasn't on the original is completely beyond me, as it's a true highlight here.
'Nobody Loves Us', a previously released B-side from the 'Southpaw Grammar' sessions, is also excellent. A rallying call for the outsider in us all, the track thumps along in an achitypal yet anthemnic way, concluding with the truly classic line "Useless and shiftless and jobless / But we're all yours!". 'Honey, You Know Where To Find Me', meanwhile, has a nice throwaway autopilot glide that Morrissey has near perfected over the years. The track is softer and less distroted than most of the other tunes, making for a nice change in tone. It also features a couple of catchy guitar solos, the type of which have rarely been seen on a Morrissey album. It's yet another quality track.
But not everything runs smooth. The remaining new track 'Fantastic Bird' comes from the 1992 'Your Arsenal' sessions, and thus it's production sounds completely different to the rest of the record, ultimately ruining the albums' flow. That combined with the fact that it's a weak tune to begin with makes for a track that begs to be skipped, or better yet, left where they found it on the cutting room floor. The other major problem is the new sequencing. Whilst it is mostly good, the two epics from the original album ('The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils' & 'Southpaw') were specifically recorded to be the opening and closing tracks. Where I can clearly see that Morrissey wants to put his best foot forward here by opening strong with 'Boy Racer', the simple fact is that both 'Southpaw' and 'The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils' sound out of place and jarring in their new contexts, disrupting the flow of the LP just as much as 'Fantastic Bird'. I mean, come on, does 'Southpaw' placed in the middle of an album make any sense to anyone? Of course it doesn't!
These faults are such a shame, because the majority of the re-sequencing and new tracks work splendidly, and with a little bit more thought this new 'Southpaw Grammar' could have been a perfect canonical edition to Morrissey's catalog. Sadly, though, this legacy edition ultimately brings just as many annoyances as improvements. It feels like a story with it's sentence's all cut out and reassembled so it doesn't quite make sense anymore. This 'Southpaw Grammar' feels more like a compilation than a proper album which, frustratingly, still leaves the original version as the superior option.