Geek obsession: Morrissey
Why it’s daunting: To his fans, Steven Patrick Morrissey is a god, and for good reason. His output as frontman for The Smiths is damn near perfect, and that band has already been canonized, even though it’s only released four proper studio albums, all in the mid-’80s. Morrissey’s solo career is considerably harder to navigate for those who haven’t followed along. Think of it this way: He made records with The Smiths for about five years; he’s been making solo albums for 20. This episode of Geekery assumes that you’re already familiar with at least some of The Smiths’ catalog, which is a better place to start than most of Moz’s solo material.
Possible gateway: Bona Drag
Next steps: The first step forward from Bona Drag is one step back, to Morrissey’s first studio album, Viva Hate. Not at all dragged down by his band’s breakup, Morrissey blasted out of the gate with a disc that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with The Smiths’ best. For a better idea of what he would become, there’s 1992’s Your Arsenal, Morrissey’s giant step toward a bigger rock sound, produced by ’70s-rock god Mick Ronson (David Bowie, Lou Reed, etc.) and featuring the cats (and one Polecat) who would become his rockabilly-flavored backing band for many years. (Most have been replaced now, but Polecats guitarist Boz Boorer remains.) For those unimpressed by the loud guitars, there’s no shame in revisiting the unfairly maligned 1991 disc Kill Uncle, and most of Vauxhall And I is solid and underrated. 2004’s You Are The Quarry is rightfully hailed as Morrissey’s comeback.
Where not to start: Even Morrissey himself would probably warn you away from 1997’s Maladjusted, made during what seems to be a creative trench. There are a couple of bright spots—the single “Alma Matters” is decent, and “Ammunition” is quite good—but mostly Maladjusted is just dour, with lazy lyrics and uninspired arrangements. Then there’s “Sorrow Will Come In The End,” Morrissey’s spoken-word shot at Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, who sued Morrissey and Johnny Marr for royalties. It’s a silly threat made worse by the fact that it’s in such a terrible song, all dramatic strings and clarinet pips. Morrissey will apparently try to rectify Maladjusted’s maladjustment with a reissue due in May that scraps a couple of the weaker tracks in favor of B-sides. But it still includes “Sorrow Will Come In The End,” unfortunately.