Monday, April 19, 2010

Album Review: Morrissey – Viva Hate

This was Morrissey’s first solo album, released in the aftermath of the Smiths’ split. In these pre-internet days of 1988 I was somewhat taken aback that he had regrouped so quickly and was a little worried about the quality of the writing.

I needn’t have bothered worrying, the album is stronger than it has any right to be. He had been working with erstwhile Smiths producer Stephen Street, and guitar genius Vini Reilly (of Durutti Column). The album kicks off with the heavy Alsatian Cousin, which followed on nicely from heavier Smiths tracks like I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish. There is some wonderful imagery here – “leather elbows on a tweed coat, oh is THAT the best you can do?” After the vaguely Spanish sounding ode to a forgotten TV star Little Man, What Now? (Morrissey loves to throw in commas in his song titles!) came one of his most popular and enduring singles, Everyday Is Like Sunday, with soaring strings and an uplifting melody, sort of in the vein of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Bengali in Platforms was criticised at the time for some semi-racist overtones but the tune itself is pleasant enough, and following track Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together is a pleasing bit of melodrama that some interpreted as an ode to Johnny Marr. Not that Morrissey would ever admit it.

Album centrepiece Late Night, Maudlin Street is a seven minute epic tale of growing up, late night brushes with the law, and moving house. It features classic self-loathing Morrissey lyrics (“when the world’s ugliest boy became what you see, here I am, the ugliest man”, amongst many others) and some lovely piano (Street) and guitar touches from Reilly. When this was released, I actually was “moving house” and did feel like “a half-life was disappearing.”

After the poppy single Suedehead the album takes a bit of a dip in quality. Break Up the Family is quite pleasing though with some nice guitar over some bongos and a great vocal performance by Morrissey. Here shades of optimism take over in the lyrics – “I’m so glad to grow older, to move away from those darker years.” The next 2 tracks are comparably weak, The Ordinary Boys being a piano-led song without a very good tune basically, while I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me is basically a watered down version of the Smiths’ You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby.

Dial-A-Cliché is great, with some lovely guitar lines and a nice bit of French horn, while closing track Margaret On the Guillotine brings Morrissey’s loathing of Thatcher to its logical conclusion. It’s a simple enough tune and lyrics that leave nothing to the imagination (“when will you die”). The song continues for a bit with some nice guitar touches before ending abruptly with the aforementioned guillotine.