Discographically Speaking: Morrissey

Almost two years ago I went to see Morrissey at Wolf Trap and it was a life-changing experience. Up to that point I had never been much of a fan, and I will never forgive myself for my past transgressions. Over the past two years I've become a complete convert, gobbling up every album and compilation there is. Outside of a couple minor missteps his solo work is remarkably consistent for someone who theoretically already made his greatest artistic contributions with the Smiths. His lyrics -- hilarious, heartbreaking, brutally honest -- are always going to be worth hearing. I'd say that the top five here are all pretty essential. As long as his voice holds up, Moz will be in town for a sold-out show at Warner Theatre on Saturday; review will be here shortly after.

1. Your Arsenal (1992)
The first album featuring guitarist Boz Boorer moved Moz away from the wispier sound of his first couple efforts to a more full-on rock sound, and it was pretty revelatory. The surf rock of opener "You're Gonna Need Someone on Your Side" and the swaggering stomp of "Glamorous Glue" nicely set the tone, while "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" is still quintessential, hilarious Moz.

2. Vauxhall and I (1994)
It doesn't pack nearly the same punch as its predecessor, but that wasn't the goal. "Vauxhall" may not reach the high points that some of his other best efforts reach but taken song-by-song, it represents an artistic peak as there's not a weak song in the bunch. It would be another decade until he made a great album after this one.

3. Years of Refusal (2009)
The third album of Moz's late-career resurgence is the best of the trilogy. More than 25 years into his career his croon is still in shockingly fine form, while his ability to toss off memorable lyrics has never been in question. (One example: "You don't like me, but you love me/Either way you're wrong/You're gonna miss me when I'm gone.") "Something Is Squeezing My Skull," "All You Need Is Me" and "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore" make Morrissey sound like a young rocker on the rise, not the seasoned pro that he is. I cannot wait to hear these songs performed live this weekend.

(The rest after the jump.)

4. Viva Hate (1988)
The only problem with Morrissey's debut is that it sounds enough like a Smiths album in terms of songwriting and sound that it makes you say, "Well, this is nice, but it's not quite as good as a Smiths album." Considering how soon it was released after the band's demise it's not all that surprising and singles "Everyday Is Like Sunday" and "Suedehead" rank among his very best singles.

5. You Are the Quarry (2004)
You could tell his first new album in seven years was going to be a winner just based on the amazing cover image of a distinguished looking Moz in a suit, holding an old-school Tommy gun. He comes out swinging with "America Is Not the World" but leaves plenty of vitriol for England on "Irish Blood, English Heart." From there he stays on top of his lyrical game -- "I Have Forgiven Jesus," "I'm Not Sorry," "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores" and "How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?" are all as lyrically sharp as the song titles suggest.

6. Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)
"Quarry" was such a return to form that the fact that "Tormentors" is basically a not-quite-as-good version of the same thing makes it a slight disappointment when comparing the two. But the crisp alt-rock is plenty vibrant and this album gave him two albums worth of powerhouse songs that helped make his live shows the can't-miss affairs they currently are.

7. Southpaw Grammar (1995)
It begins with a meandering 11-minute track and ends with an equally drawn-out 10-minute tune, not exactly the kind of focused songwriting you'd expect from one of the great pop craftsmen of our time. It's a classic mid-career album in the sense that he steps out of his comfort zone and in the process alienates some longtime fans with a new direction. The presence of catchy, straightforward songs like "The Boy Racer" and "Dagenham Dave" only serves to make the rest of the album even more of a headscratcher, although it's not as bad as many make it out to be.

8. Kill Uncle (1991)
"Sing Your Life" finds Moz giving some of the best songwriting advice you'll ever hear ("Sing your life/Walk right up to the microphone/And name/All the things you love/All the things that you loathe") over some appealing, rolling rhythms, but besides that song and insistent, piano-pop of "Our Frank" there aren't too many songs that really grab you. It's the least distinctive vocal effort in his entire discography.

9. Maladjusted (1997)
This is the only album of the nine that I don't keep in my iTunes. No wonder he took seven years off after this one. Moz needed some time to get it back together. But hey, everyone's entitled to a clunker. Just ask Dylan.

By David Malitz |  March 13, 2009; 4:55 PM ET Discographically Speaking
Previous: Almost Famous with Clem Snide | Next: Live Last Night: 'Tradition/E-Novation'


Please email us to report offensive comments.

"Maladjusted" is one of my favorite Morrissey albums for some reason. The more you listen to it, the more you realize just how good it is.

"Ringleader of the Tormentors" is amazing and unexpectedly awesome.

Posted by: Arsenal2 | March 14, 2009 2:07 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company