As a Morrissey LP has become something of an
event, I decided to savour it before reviewing it. And, as it
took him so long to follow up Maladjusted, I certainly
don't feel bad about taking time to gather my thoughts. As he
took seven years, what are a few months between friends? And
the verdict? Well, Moz has not just come back with any old album,
he's released his best since Vauxhall and I. OK,
that's not such a huge statement, cynics might sneer. His last
one, 1997's Maladjusted was - the mighty Alma
Matters apart - pretty darn poor even for the converted,
but Southpaw Grammar (1995) is an album that has
definitely grown in stature over the years.
Opening with America Is Not The World, Morrissey immediately sets the tone with its strong melody, great arrangements, and vintage Moz crooning. Yep. Not only is he back, he's back with a big, defiant vengeance. Indeed, the opening line on the album is "America, your head is too big". Talk about pandering to your adopted homeland! And, although he may have only played the odd tour and radio session over the intervening years, he's certainly not wasted that time. You Are The Quarry contains some of the best lyrics Morrissey's written in years. The UK top three single Irish Blood English Heart follows and this Brechtian-like number is already sounding like a classic 45 with its excellent finger-picking intro, a Hawkwind-like noise that drops in from nowhere, and the most bizarre pronunciation of Oliver Cromwell possible. It's also where Morrissey finally answers those NME racist slurs with "I'm dreaming of the day when to be English is not to be baneful, to be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial". Yes, this is the Manchester bard at his most defiant, with a Jerry Finn production that has added a metallic sheen to his new steely persona.
The next track, I Have Forgiven Jesus, however, is even
better with what sounds like Morrissey's take on Craig David's
Seven Days. But instead of bragging about supposed conquests,
Monday through Wednesday consist of humiliation, suffocation
and condescension, whilst Thursday, well, quite simply, "Thursday
is pathetic!" But, when Morrissey asks "Jesus do you hate me?"
towards the close, it's spine-tingling stuff, and might just
be his best vocal performance since I Know It's Over.
Other highlights include I Like You, described elsewhere as "the trip hop one" (hardly!), with a classic "I like you because you're not right in the head" chorus. How Can Anyone Possibly Know How I Feel features some great grinding riffs care of stalwarts Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte. And then there's the second UK single, The First Of The Gang To Die which, a la There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and Girlfriend In A Coma, features Moz indulging in his love of Leader of the Pack-like tragedies, and coming up with what is quite possibly the poppiest thing he's ever done. And there are lots of typical Morrissey lines everywhere from "The woman of my dreams, well there never was one" in I'm Not Sorry to "More lock-jawed pop stars, thicker than pig shit…so scared to show intelligence, it might smear their lovely career" in The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores.
The album ends with You Know I Couldn't Last, a title that shows Moz hasn't lost his sense of humour. Because, twenty odd years after Hand In Glove, he's still here, greying at the sides admittedly, but sounding better than he has in a very long time. As he says on How Can Anyone Possibly Know How I Feel, "The only one around here who is me is me". And there is only one. Cherish him…