Thursday, 30 April 2009

Dab hands at trouble with four days of stubble, we are...

MORRISSEY "SOUTHPAW GRAMMAR" and "MALADJUSTED" (RCA, 1995/1997 - reissued 2009)

"The choice I have made may seem strange to you..." Morrissey 'Alma Matters'

In the wake of his recent Years of Refusal album - a commercial success, but one that left this fan cold - Morrissey is reclaiming his past. Smiths tracks, untouched for decades, have made live appearances - though anyone who saw his charmless bludgeoning of 'This Charming Man' on Jonathan Ross may wish they hadn't - and last month, he reissued two of his more 'difficult' and 'underappreciated' efforts for reappraisal.

Following on from 1994's perfect Vauxhall & I, 1995's Southpaw Grammar and 1997's Maladjusted marked the generally-accepted nadir of his solo career, respectively spurning, and embracing, the then-booming Britpop scene; both have their champions, but these reissues (or as Morrissey describes them, 're-presentations') of these albums are allegedly less a money-grabbing venture than an effort to rewrite history. The artwork and tracklists of both have been drastically redesigned; Southpaw, which originally opened with 'The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils', a chorusless, Shostakovich-sampling dirge (in which you can practically see Morrissey's shit-eating grin as he intones "To be finished would be relief" into the song's ninth and tenth minutes), now starts with one of its punchiest tracks, while Maladjusted has its lead-off single, the glorious 'Roy's Keen', cruelly excised - while both are given additional tracks, though Morrissey himself has already dismissed one, the lovably goofy 'Fantastic Bird' as "throwaway".

In its original guise, Southpaw Grammar was a scant eight songs long, bookended by two ten-minute epics; the redux clusters these in the middle, certainly a blessing for the impatient listener. Indeed, for all accusations of tampering with history, everything on Southpaw 2.0 arguably works better than the original highlighting instead its goldmine of three-minute gems, including the spry 'Reader Meet Author’. Even the glam-rocking "The Operation", frequently maligned for its two-minute drum intro, sounds positively effervescent here, and although the spiralling 'Southpaw' remains one of his best album closers (especially its cryptic references to "run[ning] back to Ma", which sound suspiciously like running back to Marr, and its 'Bigmouth'-cribbing outro), the choice to end with one of Morrissey's greatest songs, 'Nobody Loves Us' is inspired. Previously - inexplicably - relegated to b-side status, it's a masterful display of guitarist Alain Whyte's unheralded melodic chops, and Moz's wonderful way with words.

Maladjusted has always been a dark horse; often derided as Morrissey on autopilot, it's still home to some of his most affecting ballads (especially the stately 'Trouble Loves Me' and 'Perfect Day'-aping 'Wide to Receive') and, in 'Satan Rejected My Soul' and 'Ammunition', two of his most likeable pop songs. Still, while 'Sorrow Will Come in the End', his unintentionally hilarious riposte to losing a royalties lawsuit to ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce ("A man who slits throats has time on his hands, and I'm gonna get you!") has definite curiosity value, the new tracks add nothing to the experience.

Morrissey's obsessive fanbase will relish the chance to argue over these revisions, but the changes will be of little interest to the recently-converted. Likewise, the man's own newly-written sleevenotes are consistently insightful and amusing, but are hardly going to have casual fans reaching for their wallets. Which begs the question: when should an artist relinquish control over his back catalogue?

"...but who asked you anyway? It's my life to ruin my own way." Morrissey 'Alma Matters'

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