Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
Not that he’ll have Trades Description on his back, mind. Moz is the Blingleader Of The Compilors – since the release of his first solo album ‘Viva Hate’ in 1988 he’s produced a total of five compilation albums from his eight studio albums, each with a specific motive and purpose. The sublime ‘Bona Drag’ (1990) was a gathering of non-album singles and B-sides in the vein of The Smiths’ ‘Hatful Of Hollow’; ‘World Of Morrissey’ (1995) and ‘My Early Burglary Years’ (1998) were completists’ wet dreams (featuring crackly live takes of ‘Sister I’m A Poet’ and ‘Moon River’). Meanwhile, the two different UK and US ‘The Best Of Morrissey’ comps, in 1997 and 2001, made their own noble, if flawed, attempts to encapsulate Moz’s mic-whipping, shirt-shredding, bold pop sweeps into 20 subjectively selected tracks from the most über-subjective of all musical canons (what do you mean ‘Mute Witness’ isn’t on either? I WILL KILL YOU ALL!!!).
Honestly, there are dead rappers who’ve put out fewer compilation albums than Morrissey in the last 15 years, so ‘Greatest Hits’ needs to inhabit a particularly well-carved niche in order to justify its arrival on an already overcrowded Moz Best Of market. While you can only marginally question the maths – these are, for the most part, the 15 highest-charting Morrissey singles – there’s clearly an ulterior motive at work. There are four songs each from 2004’s ‘You Are The Quarry’ and 2006’s ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’, a grand total of four tracks from the previous six (!) solo albums, one live track and two new ones to rope in the collectors. By overlooking ‘Interesting Drug’ (Number 9 in 1989) and ‘November Spawned A Monster’ (Number 12 in 1990) in favour of lower-charting cuts from his last two albums, ‘Greatest Hits’ has been precision-tooled to send out the message that, after a six-year mid-career hiccup and a couple of below-par studio records (‘Southpaw Grammar’ and ‘Maladjusted’), Morrissey is now back bigger, better and more bankable than ever.
The Queen is what? Vauxhall and who? Oh no, Moz’s last two albums are like majestic blue whales in comparison to such puny musical minnows, um, right…?
So while there can be no quibble with the inclusion of classics such as ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ (Moz’s string-kissed masterpiece of saccharine seaside alienation), ‘The Last Of The Famous International Playboys’ (his sparkling stomp-pop highpoint), ‘Suedehead’, ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ and ‘Vauxhall & I’’s elegiac, Oasis-ish stormer ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get’ (the only song here released in the ’90s), it smacks of stubborn self-righteousness for Moz to include what he has. Namely the rather indistinctive ‘The Youngest Was The Most Loved’ and
‘I Just Want To See The Boy Happy’ over lower-charting earlier singles such as ‘Now My Heart Is Full’ and ‘Hold Onto Your Friends’, both of which could burst a bull’s heart at 500 paces.
Fanboy foibles aside, however, ‘Greatest Hits’ does give us the chance to step back and evaluate Mozzer Phase 2. What’s apparent is that ‘You Are The Quarry’ packed the big comeback pop punches while ‘Ringleader…’ worked brilliantly as a unified collection of dark-hearted atmospherica – a new dawning of personal and political frankness in Morrissey’s solo work – but was as much of a ‘singles album’ as ‘The Mars Volta Live At Rotherham Abattoir’. Fending for itself alongside ‘…International Playboys’ and ‘Irish Blood…’, ‘You Have Killed Me’ is another thoroughly pleasant Moz-by-numbers chug almost indistinguishable from ‘Alma Matters’ or ‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful’. Only ‘In The Future When All’s Well’ has enough fizz to show some pugilistic sparkle in the ring against the ‘Suedehead’ heavyweights.
And the two new tracks? A bag none-more mixed. ‘All You Need Is Me’ is a revelation; a taut, tight, tremulous punk rock titan of a tune bulging with the brute force of ‘National Front Disco’. It comes complete with a hefty dose of Moz’s trademark they’ve-all-got-it-in-for-me neurosis: “There is so much destruction all over the world/And all you can do is complain about me… you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone”. ‘That’s How People Grow Up’, on the other hand, is easily the worst Morrissey single since ‘Dagenham Dave’, heralded with a painful operatic aria and boasting a chorus so underfed it could find work as a paparazzi diversion for Amy Winehouse.
A cracking set of tunes undoubtedly, but in epitomising what’s great about Morrissey and his music ‘Greatest Hits’ falls far short, too one-sided and celebratory of his current revival to properly plunder Moz’s mighty tune troves. Do yourself a huge favour and buy the last two albums plus ‘Vauxhall & I’ and ‘Bona Drag’ – you’ll get pretty much everything on here plus the truly ‘greatest’ bits on top.
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