Morrissey - Swords
“Up from the depths, thirty stories high, breathing fire, his quiff in the sky, MOZILLA! Dun dun dun urr! MOZILLA! Dun dun dun durr! MOZILLA! (...and Godzuki)”...Yes here it comes again, another year, another Mozzer compilation. Like the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter we sternly face the tricky challenge of either getting our mind blown ie. Bona Drag or well, just wasting some brains (and a bit of hair) on the floor, ie. World of Morrissey. Roll out the barrel and spin that silver wheel of justice...
Swords mops up the bequiffed genius' noughty b-sides – well, 20 of 'em – and despite the odd clanger (the dreary The Slum Mums) it's in many ways a more listenable, enjoyable album than the last two studio efforts. You Are The Quarry was a phenomenal return to glory. An eleventh-hour comeback from a hero long thought drowned at sea. Like its author it carried some new found weight and swung plenty of haymakers. It sounded vital, alive, hungry. By comparison the frosty Ringleader and the choppy Refusal were a bit of a slog to wade through despite the rewards (yes, we'll always have Paris).
But as far back as the early '80s, fans of SPM knew the B-Sides were where the gold was hidden. Does anyone else even bother with B-sides now? Surely it's eight mixes of the same song or ropey live versions of middling album tracks? Oh no, Mozzarella does things differently. From great Smiths' B-sides (How Soon Is Now, Asleep, etc etc) to the solo stuff (Will Never Marry, Lost, yada yada) it's a given that the best stuff is often slipped inside the 45s and there's plenty of evidence to support that on Swords.
We're also free from the overindulgence that occasionally stain the proper albums. There are no seven-minute tune-free confessions about carrying “explosive kegs between my legs”, we're mostly talking four minute hit n' run jobs here. A good dozen of the tracks - such as It's Hard To Walk Tall When You're Small, I Knew I Was Next, Teenage Dad On His Estate – maybe pretty generic rock n' roll but they're saved from the So-So by The Mozfather's wonderful wordplay, voice and dazzling personality. There is some freakiness though, the haunting Sweetie Pie is like the radiator song from Eraserhead, opiate dreams and angels singing in reverse. “Sweetie Pie, I'm ending my life, because I've fallen in love”. Someone put the kettle on, this could be a long night.
Yes, like most latter day Moztradamus, the lyrical obsession is patiently anticipating the final bow, the last sunset. My Life Is A Succession of People Saying Goodbye sounds like a vintage John Barry Bond theme “All of the best things in life are behind glass - money, jewellery and flesh”. Ditto the rich velvets and tiaras of Because Of My Poor Education; all brokenhearted chanteuse “just leave the bottle, thanks” reflection and elevates the melodrama to Shirley Bassey highs 'n' sighs and beyond, “A ship lost inches from the bay”.
The crown jewel for me is The Never Played Symphonies (from the Quarry-era). Heart stopping, lump-in-throat magic and as good as anything he's done this decade. “Reflecting from my death bed, I'm balancing life's riches against the ditches, and the flat grey years in between”. Sounds depressing as hell on paper, but trust me it's like the last night of the proms, bloodied 'n' heroic and frankly, it's goodbye dry eyes [swoons]... “and you slipped right through my fingers. No not literally, but metaphorically”. Seriously, how can anyone fail to love someone who writes like that? Who else could make you smile as they break your heart?
Love him or loathe him there will only ever be one Il Mozillini. He is the closest thing us Brits (and our generation) will ever have to our own Elvis. Like The King, Moz doesn't have fans, he has a religion. Followers look the other way when he screws up, carry him home when he's overdone it and cheer him on when the vultures are circling. But like Elvis with the Colonel and the 'Memphis Mafia', there is always the nagging feeling he is being caged by loyalty to his workable, but uninspired band of brothers. Can you imagine where he would be, what he would become, working with musicians who could match his talent for words? It would be a crime (but perhaps inevitable) that we reflect on Mozzer's September years as we did Elvis' lost '60s wondering what if? Now that would truly be a tragic ending.
But the general outlook for Swords is spots of towering, majestic Mozilla's marred only by the occasional shower of Godzukis. Although – and I may be 86'd from the Salford Lads Club for saying this - is it wrong that I'm secretly jonesing more for the oft-promised autobiography than the next studio album? There is a compelling case for our Esteban being the UK's greatest living lyricist, but most of us know what his next record will sound like. But for most of us that's OK, it's never just the music, it's the brains and heart we want. The truly unique stuff. The stuff they could never teach you or take away. The stuff of legends.