When it comes to influential recording artists, Morrissey is hardly the first to come to mind. Even the Smiths, Morrissey's former band, lack recognition outside of England. In Morrissey's case, this unawareness has been argued to be justified. As was stated in my review of Your Arsenal
, Morrissey is a highly inconsistent artist. He has written and recorded songs which can be judged to be no less than classics; he has also written highly questionable material. Fortunately, Vauxhall and I
fits comfortably into the former category. Critically it is almost universally regarded as his best solo work, and fans tend to feel the same way.
When this album was recorded in 1993, Morrissey was at the peak of his career. The highly successful Your Arsenal
catapulted him into fame in North America, and controversy surrounding Morrissey's character in Britain kept him in the public eye. And as the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity. Your Arsenal
was a highly nationalistic album, and lyrically it focused more on Britain's plight than on personal, universally relatable subjects. Lyrically Morrissey has always rotated between the two settings: political/social matters and human emotions. On Vauxhall and I
, he returns to writing more universally relatable lyrics.
It has been stated that Vauxhall
feels and sounds like it was intended to be a swansong. A final, epic recording, after which Morrissey could go out on top. Evidently we know now that this was not the case, but the album's honest, confessional lyrics hint towards it.
Like most Morrissey/Smiths recordings, this album is short and sweet. It clocks in at less than 40 minutes, but the individual songs add an epic feel to the album. The album begins with the classic "Now My Heart is Full", which is the first step in a recurring theme on the album: the importance of friends. If one didn't know any better, you would assume that "Darrow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt
" were friends of Morrissey's. In a sense it's ironic; Morrissey's ode to his friends is actually an ode to a novel (Graham Greene's Brighton Rock
), which he probably spent his youth reading, rather than socializing with others. It should be noted that the song could just as easily elude to the 60s cult film of the same name and origin, but the result is the same. Our favourite loner didn't turn on us, he's just as lonely (and literary) as we always knew him to be. It's unintentionally humorous, but brilliant just the same. This might have been the highlight of the album, but Morrissey's writing skills were just as sharp as ever.
Every song on this album has an interesting backstory, if you're willing to pay attention to the lyrics. Most pop songs don't offer that, and it's a unique aspect to this album that even Morrissey himself doesn't include on most of his compositions. It also helps if you know Morrissey's history and character. Most of the people reading this review are too young to remember much of his character, other than to acknowledge that he is an undeniable prat. Morrissey himself doesn't even deny public perception of him, as noted on the fantastic album closer, "Speedway". ("all of the rumours keeping me grounded/I never said they were completely unfounded
"). By the end of the song, he plays the martyr ("I could have mentioned your name/I could have dragged you in
"). It may not mean much to us now, but when you understand where he is coming from, and what he is trying to say, it's quite an interesting lyric. As said in the review of Your Arsenal
, Morrissey was highly out of public favour in Britain at the time. Yet despite everything, he still held himself in the highest regard.
As stated, this is a highly confessional album. Morrissey (almost) apologises for his character, he tries to repent his wrongs. It is just brutally honest, and it would have been a fitting end to a rocky career. About a good portion of the songs on the album cover this topic: "Now My Heart is Full", "Hold on to Your Friends", "Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself", "Speedway", and others could be construed to be related.
Musically, this is Boz Boorer's show. Alain Whyte (the main co-writer for Your Arsenal) still wrote about half the songs, but the ones that stick out are Boorer's. It's a much more calm and laid-back album musically, toned down from the neo-glam of Your Arsenal
All in all it's a fantastic album. Once again I think it's the lyrics which bring Morrissey's work above most material, but musically it is also interesting. I'm always undecided on which one I should recommend to listeners as a starter album, this one or Your Arsenal
. I suppose the easiest recommendation is to purchase Vauxhall
if you like the calmer material, Arsenal
if you prefer more energetic music. Both have a mix, but also have a distinct sound.
For fans of Morrissey, 5/5. This is the Holy Grail of Morrissey's career. Your Arsenal
is more fun, Viva Hate
is more closely related to Smiths music, but Vauxhall and I
was Morrissey at his peak.
For fans of the genre, 3.5/5. Nearly essential, especially for the lyrics.
For fans outside of the genre 3/5. Not the best starter album. This is probably his closest to You Are the Quarry
, if you are familiar with it. That should give a general idea.
The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get
Another contender for longest Morrissey song title, this was the infectious lead single to the album. Great guitar pop, a brilliant track. Clever lyrics as well.
Another great pop song, nothing great lyrically, but it is good fun to listen to.
Now My Heart is Full
To call it anything short of a classic would be an understatement. Required listening, even if you download only this one song.