Sunday, October 24, 2010

Morrissey - Bona Drag

01 piccadilly dalare
02 interesting drug
03 november spawned a monster
04 will never marry
05 such a little thing makes such a big difference
06 the last of the famous international playboys
07 ouija board, ouija board
08 hairdresser on fire
09 everyday is like sunday
10 he knows i’d love to see him
11 yes, i am blind
12 lucky lisp
13 suedehead
14 disappointed
15 happy lovers a last united
16 lifeguard on duty
17 please help the cause against loneliness
18 oh phoney
19 the bed took fire
20 let the right on slip in

Bona Drag, the most enduring success of Morrissey's solo career, was built on his first true taste of failure. After the dissolution of the Smiths, Moz was, quite oddly, tipped by many to struggle without his longtime songwriting partner and bandmate Johnny Marr; he wasted no time proving them wrong, releasing his debut solo single, "Suedehead", just over two months after the final Smiths single. It became his biggest hit to that point, the first of four consecutive UK top-10 singles, and, with "Everyday Is Like Sunday", one of the tentpoles of his outstanding solo debut, Viva Hate.

And then the wheels fell off. Morrissey began what was to be his follow-up album, Bona Drag, surrounded by acrimony and litigation. He had fallen out with producer Stephen Street, plus former Smiths bandmates Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke-- all of whom had played key roles in that successful string of hits. The breakup of his partnership with Street was the most devastating: He had co-written all of Viva Hate and served as an unofficial mentor for Morrissey's early solo years, performing on records and playing several instruments.

Amidst the rubble of these personal relationships, Morrissey issued his fifth single, "Ouija Board, Ouija Board", a relative commercial failure that was so critically savaged that Bona Drag's progress was abruptly halted. When Morrissey did finally return to recording, he contrasted the trifling, almost-novel morbidity of "Ouija Board" with two dark, excellent, descriptive, and quite underrated singles about outsiders-- "November Spawned a Monster" (about a disabled girl) and "Piccadilly Palare" (a young male prostitute). It was a brief recovery: Morrissey's second proper album, 1991's Kill Uncle, still turned out to be a dud. (A move to L.A. and into more muscular rock thankfully soon kickstarted the second phase of his solo career.)

As a title, if not a studio creation, Bona Drag was rescued in 1990 and issued as a compilation record piecing together that first run of seven singles-- six of the m rich and eclectic and rightly beloved, one of them the song that derailed his progress. And without the weight of being an A-side, buried in the middle of the record, even "Ouija Board" comes off as charming. The seven B-sides chosen from the era were well-selected, too. Five are as good as their A-sides: the elegant (albeit edited version of) "Will Never Marry", "Yes, I Am Blind" (ironically introspective considering its title), "Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference" (not surprisingly well-detailed considering its title), and the archly humorous "Disappointed" and "Hairdresser on Fire".

The compilation was a reminder of how fruitful this period of Morrissey's career had been when he needed it most. Despite a brilliant three-year solo run, coming right off the back of his seminal work with the Smiths, Bona Drag was issued into a rapidly shifting UK music scene. Mancunian music in particular was drastically changing, going from the miserablism, soul-searching, and spikiness of post-punk and the Smiths to the rolling rhythms and textures of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. The years covered by Bona Drag coincided directly with the crossover of acid house and subsequent emergence of Madchester, a hopeful injection of youth, optimism, and hedonism, traits met with suspicion if not outright hostility in Morrissey's worldview. Moz was instead often writing songs about England's past-- whether the dissolution of key facets of its national identity in "Everyday Is Like Sunday", decades-old gangsters in "The Last of the Famous International Playboys", or out-of-fashion slang in "Piccadilly Palare"-- while the generation behind him was re-writing UK indie's future.

The hook on this reissue of Bona Drag is the addition of six previously unreleased tracks (though three-- an early version of "At Amber" called "The Bed Took Fire"; "Let the Right One Slip In"; and "Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness", given to Sandie Shaw-- have been issued in other forms.) In sum, the songs are a nice addition to the Morrissey catalog, all worth hearing though none perhaps necessary. In a career of odd reissues and collections, however, they at least make a welcome addition to this 20th anniversary release-- all genuine curiosities for completists that will please non-fans.

Even without those additions, this would be one of the most complete and necessary compilations in rock history, working both as a functional and utilitarian way to catch up with Morrissey outside of the UK and as a way to re-assess him within it. That the latter needed doing in the face of these songs is frankly

1 comment:

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