Morrissey - Viva Hate
As far as indie is concerned, The Smiths owned the 80s. Each of their albums is considered a classic, and on the back of them, the Morrissey/Marr songwriting partnership is considered one of the greatest of all time. Morrissey himself is considered an icon for outsiders, and his legacy can be found in Ryan Adams, The Killers, The Ordinary Boys, The Libertines, Radiohead, Oasis....the list is huge.
Looking back, it can be hard to fathom just how important The Smiths were. It's easy to dismiss them as flowery, pretentious, and overly depressive - yet, the bands they left in their wake are anything but (we'll ignore Ryan Adams for now). It's even easier for Americans to dismiss them - Morrissey is a uniquely British wordsmith, and things tend to get lost in translation. But, to understand them, you need context.
Before The Smiths, the 80s was a horrible time to be a British student. College and university are the times when a person cares about music the most; yet, they had nobody to care about. The last British indie icon, Ian Curtis, was dead (and he was a Tory, anyway). The best indie bands - REM and Husker Du - were making waves in America. It was too distant. Then, in a whirlwind of galdioli, came THAT quiff. The Smiths represented everything the nation's students wanted in a band.
Then, 4 albums later, they split up. Johnny Marr (a shockingly under-rated guitarist) told the rest of The Smiths that he wasn't interested any more. Some have described this as 'like a death in the family'. That's an exceptionally melodramatic way of putting it, but it was a killer blow.
Soon enough, there was speculation over what would happen next. Johnny Marr disappeared completely (it took him 15 years to make a solo album). Morrissey, though, was quick o strike out on his own. The result was Viva Hate.
There've certainly been worse ways to start a career. Songs like Everyday Is Like Sunday, Suedehead, and Late Night, Maudlin Street stood up well to The Smiths' catalogue, and sounded enough like them to please those fans who'd simply wanted a new Smiths album. They still sound excellent today.
Smiths comparisons were, of course, inevitable. And that's where the album falters. It's just too much like The Smiths, and you can't ignore the fact that Johnny Marr was an essential part of that band. Without him, it just feels like an inferior carbon copy. Take, for instance, Break Up The Family. Johnny Marr was often fond of using calypso stylings in his music. Here, an attempt to emulate that translates to dated, corny percussion, not a million miles away from something like Copa Cabana. Yes, it's that
Nowadays, we can look back on Viva Hate and compare it to Morrissey's later albums, too. This reveals another flaw in this album - it's too soft, too middle of the road. Morrissey's finest moments as a solo artist - Your Arsenal and You Are The Quarry, specifically - show us that he's at his best when tackling hard rock; or, at least, stuff with a bit more balls than this. Even the album's peaks, when compared to something like Irish Blood, English Heart, show up the fact that Morrissey's not playing to his strengths here.
Still, there's a lot right with Viva Hate. The lyrics, of course, are solid, with moments of sheer genius, and you'd expect from Morrissey. His voice retains all its majesty, too, when tackling the sort of melody only he could write on Suedehead.
Overall, Viva Hate is something of a difficult album. It's a snapshot of a great talent, taken at a time when he was most unsure of what he was and what he would become. He's taking his first tentative steps towards his own identity here, making it an album that fans of The Smiths and Morrissey will find fascinating, but that anyone else will probably be disinterested by.
Within The Genre - 3/5
Outside The Genre - 2/5
Everyday is Like Sunday
One of Morrissey's most blatantly Anglocentric lyrics, this song is the story of 'the coastal down they forgot to close down'. The tale of living out boredom, day to day, amongst annoying tourists, will strike a chord with anyone who's ever lived in such a place.
Morrissey's first single as a solo artist. The music recalls Strangeways, Here We Come (it's the best Marr imitation on the album, without a doubt). The lyrics are fairly simple and mundane by Morrissey's standards, but the melody and the vocal make up for it.
Late Night, Maudlin Street
The longest track on the album at 7.40, Late Night, Maudlin Street is an epic, and it boasts the album's finest lyric. It could, perhaps, have made it onto The Queen Is Dead, if Johnny Marr had got his hands on it. It has all the requisite Morrissey themes; it speaks of loneliness, of emotional confusion, of gentle self-deprecation, and of an almost childish naivety, and crucially, it speaks of them directly and sincerely. (Fans of Weezer's first two albums, especially Pinkerton, really need to check out Morrissey and The Smiths.) Brilliantly, it boasts one of Morrissey's best lines - 'Complaining, women only like me for my mind'.
Morrissey - You Are The Quarry
Weezer - Pinkerton
Pulp - Different Class