This is my first real time spent with Morrissey (though I did review (positively) a disc by The Smiths a while back). And, yeah, the guy’s a total caricature of militant bleeding-heartness crossed with sexual ambiguity (hell just ambiguity in general) and a heavy, heavy dose of Britishness. Mopey, broody, self-absorbed. Whether he’s singing “London is dead” six times in a row “Glamorous Glue,” singing about being “the last truly British people you will ever know” in “We’ll Let You Know,” or making the phrase “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” the centerpiece of the album’s centerpiece and giving that track that phrase as it’s title, the guy is just one eye roll after another. And that’s even before we get to the laughter lyrics (“ah ha ha ha ha…”) in “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.”
But. And this is a big but. I’m pissed at all of you for not telling me that he could be like this and be awesome at the same time. I mean, even in 1992, when I was wound as tight as girls crossed their legs when I was near, I think I would have loved this. I mean, musically, it’s almost a metal album. It begins with two heavy songs that feature muscular, swaggering guitar riffs, the first with a title basically threatening the interlocutor into friendship (“You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side”).
Lyrically, Morrissey is just working on a different plane from the rest of us. Take “The National Front Disco,” whose controversy Wikipedia summarizes nicely. Moz asks the interviewers to tell him what’s racist, hateful, etc. about the song and they can’t. But I can. It’s that it’s this gorgeously beautiful song about friends and family feeling like they’re losing the son and friend to the racist, hateful National Front. And it’s purely out of love and doesn’t condemn and it’s told from the a-hole’s point of view. And it’s beautiful. And we don’t know how to make sense of that juxtaposition. And there is Morrissey’s genius right there.
And then there’s “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” and “You’re The One For Me, Fatty.” The former sounds just bonkers because, while I may be envious of their things sometimes, I don’t hate my friends’ success. And the latter is just, like, what is this, some kind of weird abusive relationship? But then you find out the former is about Morrissey’s feelings himself when his friends were successful and you realize that kind of competitiveness is inseparable from his genius and the latter is kind of a silly inside joke he wrote about a friend and you’re just like oh my god how come we take this guy so seriously let’s relax but it’s obvious why we take him seriously because just listen to him. I mean, the guy’s brilliant, but I don’t think I’d ever want to hang with him.
This album’s perfect from start to finish. Every note, every sound melded in (there’s a pretty clear line through here from The Wall to The Bends) is perfectly crafted, in the right order, at the right volume. Take Jeff Buckley’s voice, put it in the head of a genius and you’ve got Morrissey. Put that guy in a room with a couple of rockabilly and glam rock guitar geniuses, and you get Your Arsenal, an entrancing album that defies you to turn it off or stop paying attention. I can’t.
Mix: “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side,” “Glamorous Glue,” “The National Front Disco,” “Tomorrow”
Really Like: “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful,” “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday”
Like: “We’ll Let You Know,” “Certain People I Know,” “You’re The One For Me, Fatty,” “Seasick, Yet Still Docked”
Song Notes: After the jump
- You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side – so muscular, what a strong guitar riff. and that threat of a title.
- Glamorous Glue – He is saying “jar” there. What does that mean? This is just flat out heavy. great guitar.
- We’ll Let You Know – have to think this influenced Radiohead. Pretty clear line through here from The Wall to The Bends.
- The National Front Disco – what is offensive is how beautiful this song is about a terrible racist.
- Certain People I Know – it’s rockabilly in the bass/guitar sound and the shuffle featured most prominently in the rhythm section, but a little slower than that in the tempo
- We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful – the “when they’re Northern it makes it even worse” line is awesome
- You’re The One For Me, Fatty
- Seasick, Yet Still Docked – “Wish I had the charm to attract the one I love/But you can see I’ve got no charm”
- I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday – some radio sound effects, talking in tongues, etc.
- Tomorrow – fab album ender