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Where things went right and wrong,
This review is from: Your Arsenal (Audio CD)
The debut, 'Viva Hate' was mostly a dissapointment- the follow-up 'Kill Uncle' was worse. However, there had been some great songs- 'Hairdresser on Fire', 'Sister I'm a Poet', 'He Knows I'd Love to see Him', 'The Loop'. The band Morrissey assembled around himself on the 'Kill Uncle' tour became the gang-nucleas that would record this album.
The great, late Mick Ronson- cruelly ditched by Bowie- produces the album. His most obvious input is in the Morrissey/Nevin 'I Know it's Gonna Happen Someday'- where 'Rock'n'Roll Suicide' is invoked (though the song continues the theme of 'How Soon is Now?' and 'Last Night I Dreamt').
This is the best Morrissey-guitar implosion since 'The Queen is Dead'-'Shoplifters'-era. The Smiths precedents are T-Rex- 'Panic' was 'Metal Guru'; 'Your Arsenal' takes 'Cosmic Dancer', 'Ride a White Swan' etc. as a prime influence on songs like 'Certain People I Know' & 'Glamorous Glue'...The single 'We Hate It...' (rumoured to be about James) heralded a great comeback; though follow-up 'You're the One...' is a throwaway dud in the mode of 'Death at One's Elbow'.
The music has guts- the riffs of 'You're Gonna Need Someone on Your Side', 'Glamorous Glue' ("London is dead!") and 'Tomorrow' are somewhere between prime Jam and 'Queen'-Smiths. 'Tomorrow' is even, a love song...
The highlight for me is the dreamy ballad, 'Seasick, Yet Still Docked'- which is a precursor of Radiohead's 'Exit Music'. "So far from where I intended to go"- it's the ultimate resigned ballad and as otherwordly as Bonnie Prince Billy's 'I See a Darkness'.
The problems with 'Your Arsenal'?. Well, the Union Jack flirtation with Nationalism in (pseudo)PC-times. Morrissey played the ambiguous card- which he had done in the Eighties ('Reggae is vile'). He should have done it earlier- both The Jam and The Who posed with the Union Jack; while a few years later Britpop would do much the same: Blur circa 'Modern Life' and Noel Gallagher's silly guitar. Right-on journos would take Morrissey to task- as if he were Jacques Le Pen or Albert Speer. The 'problem' started with a simplistic interpretation of 'Viva Hate's 'Bengali in Platforms'- which appeared to be an 'outsider' identification with ethnic groups- in the mode of Hanif Kureshi's 'The Buddha of Suburbia'. Yoko Ono, Patti Smith and The Stranglers had done it in the Seventies- with songs like 'Woman is Nigger of the World', 'Rock N Roll Nigger' and 'I Feel Like a Wog'. 'Kill Uncle' offered the strange (and crap) 'Asian Rut' and here we have 'The National Front Disco' and 'We'll Let You Know'. The former has one of the best riffs Morrissey has ever sung to- and is lyrically VERY similar to XTC's 'No Thugs in Our House' (from 'English Settlement'). It captures the glam world of the 70's- the backdrop of Bowie, Bolan, Reed to the Ska-Skinhead collision- the language of Teddy-Boys and Rockers. The old Engerland dreaming. If only he'd printed the lyrics- which would have been encased in " " to signify an ironic, dramatic use- as the dialogue of writers like David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino. "England for the English" reads "England for the English?"- why do writers take Morrissey so literally? Did he really advocate his gender on songs like 'William, It Was Really Nothing', 'Half a Person' and 'These Things Take Time'? Sure, there were tubthumping style songs- 'Panic', 'Meat is Murder', 'Suffer Little Children'- but there were just as many oblique songs: 'Some Girls are Bigger Than Others', 'Reel Around the Fountain'. And this continues the themes of songs like 'Sweet & Tender Hooligan', 'Rusholme Ruffians', through to 'Picadilly Palare' and 'The Ordinary Boys'. 'We'll Let You Know' is of a similar theme- written from the perspective of the Engerlish football-racist hooligan. Morrissey- as with most significant artists- attempted to say the unsayable. Was there uproar at the reissue of 'Naked Lunch' in the Early 90's?- which uses racist language. "The songs we sing/there not supposed to mean a thing"- Morrissey taps into the 'Clockwork Orange'-mentality of the UK. The nationalist-jingosim present to this day; the reason why we can't form a coherent National Identity. Look back to the Empire, to World War II, to 1966. Look at the treatment meted out to asylum seekers and ethnic groups- by the Cambridge educated head of the BNP. With 'We'll Let You Know' Morrissey presents people who believe there the end of the pure Anglo-Saxon line- that those that follow are diluted. The view of many MP's and Lords. Would Morrissey, a fan of gospel music, Spector soul, Shirley Bassey, Prince Naseem, Echobelly etc- be a racist in actuality?
So, due to a combination of kneejerk journalism (did the same NME/MM writers not adore 'La Haine' and 'Romper Stomper'?) and the disease of contoversy, 'Your Arsenal' was overlooked. It's the strongest work he'd released since 'Strangeways...' and along with 'Vauxhall & I' is his best solo work.