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- Morrissey »
As natural as rain he dances again.
Pulling at his shirt, ducking and reeling across the stage, whip-cracking the microphone lead, Morrissey is in full flow in this his 2002 ‘comback special’
But the question is: is Morrissey still relevant? Ha, no. But then again, was he ever?
Morrissey always did cut an awkward figure, even in his heyday as the nabob of sob in the 1980s. It’s remarkable, I think, that he ever became a star at all (outside of his imagination/bedsit/etc that is), he was just too odd, and his looks, his loves, his reference points (50s/60s ‘kitchen sink’ nostalgia and so on) were naff and out of date even when The Smiths emerged during the neon-lit, synth dominated world of the early ‘80s. And his songs, the floridly overwrought, sexually ambiguous melodramas, how did they ever fit into the prevailing culture?
Well that’s it, they didn’t and neither did he, and this wilful cutting against the grain partially goes to explaining just why he made such an impact amongst disillusioned souls almost twenty years ago and, without even having had a record deal in five years, why he’s packing out the Brum Academy on a sell-out tour in 2002. If you exist outside of fashion you can never go out of fashion - once the outsider, always the outsider, that kind of thing - and if your songs are enormously affecting and beautiful and wounded and perverse and mighty and hoping and hoping and always hoping, then, hey, that‘s always going to stand you in good stead as well.
So here we are then, the crowd are getting restless and push is already beginning to turn to shove. “Come OOOOONNN” someone yells at the empty stage, the 'Mor-ri-ssey, Mor-ri-ssey, Mor-ri-ssey' chant picks up, drowning out the recording of a John Betjamin poem. “Thir-ty quid, thir-ty quid, thir-ty quid” someone calls, referring to the extortionate price paid to get here. Expectation is running high, the past decade has just been one disappointment, let-down and embarrassment after another for the average Moz fan. This had better be good.
Here he is. The crowd rush and push forward as ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’ starts up. This is nuts, he’s being greeted with an almost religious fervour, someone is creaming “Morrrrriiiisssseeeeeeyyyyyyy” at the top of their voice, strangest thing is: that someone appears to be me. So much for a journalistic distance from subject. But still, it’s turning out to be that kinda night
Unlike in, say, the sterile environment of the Royal Albert Hall there’s an intimacy about the venue that suits a Morrissey gig and so Moz, the band and the crowd are on terrific form, lively and enthusiastic.
And so ‘Suedehead’, ‘Alsatian Cousin’ and ‘Speedway’ are blistering, jagged-edged clarion calls that signal near riots, ‘_Everyday Is Like Sunday’ is the curiously celebratory epic it always was, and ’November Spawned A Monster_’, whilst highlighting just how Morrissey is in really fine voice tonight, is simply fucking immense.
A couple of let downs, here ‘Meat Is Murder’, already one of his worst songs, is a drawn out dirge (and the line “_the meat in your mouth as you savour the flavour of murder” only succeeds in making my stomach hungrily rumble). ‘Viva Hate’s curio album filler, ‘Little Man What Now?’, is bafflingly given a dust off and ancient b-side, ‘Sister I’m A Poet_’, is given yet another airing - why on Earth does he persist with this half-formed, nothingy song? - but otherwise, it’s all good.
And Mozzer is in ebullient, chatty mood this evening, dishing out bon mots between each song. ‘_Jack The Ripper’ is introduced thusly: “**If you were to meet me hanging around the Bull Ring, late on a Tuesday night - and you might - then this is what you might say to me..._ **‘Oh you look so pale/mouth slack and wide...’
Oh dear, what Moz doesn’t realise is that the Bull Ring is no more - another 60s, working class Morrissey-world edifice that has been chipped away, no wonder he feels alienated. And he still can’t get a record deal, though he pretends not to be bothered, “we don’t even want a record deal” he shrugs at one point, “I mean, who wants to buy into all that, y’know?”. A smattering of half-hearted cheers from the audience, and then he shouts: “_I DO! I‘m a complete prostitute!_”
Well he’s gonna attract few clients if his new songs are anything to go by, not that they are bad necessarily, they’re okay, just nothing special, nothing new, nothing we haven’t had the pleasure of before. ‘_First Of The Gang To Die_’ is punchy enough and would fit neatly onto ‘Your Arsenal’ or ‘Bona Drag’, but the likes of ‘I Like You’ and ‘_The World Is Full of Crashing Bores_’ lie as limp as Mozzer's quiff does these days (though I do get to shake the man's hand during ‘I Like You’, so that’s alright).
The last train outta the city is about to leave and I mean to be on it. I’ve been crushed to within an inch of my life anyway: caught up in a pandemonium that would have the average Raging Speedhorn fan reduced to a quivering wreck, booted in the head by some crowdsurfing nutter, helped the (over zealous) security heave one of a few unconscious girls out of the mosh-pit, and generally got my moneys worth, so I stagger through the crowd to the doors.
Hang about, they’re doing ‘Hand In Glove’! What, one of the greatest love songs in the history of recorded sound, you mean? Oh go on then, I’ll stay for one more. And I tell you, what glory! What majesty! What an utterly unabashed, joyously unifying moment it is, every past moment of self-doubt and sadness and failure swept away in a glorious, sweeping tsunami of triumph, “_This one is different because it’s US”, and defiance “yes we may be hidden by rags/but we’ve something THEY’LL NEVER HAVE_”. Someone is singing with happy tears in their eyes. Not me again, is it?
My watch says I have to go. Yeah, that’ll do. Last thing I hear from the stage as I head out is Morrissey repeatedly calling “I’ll probably never see you again/I’ll probably never see you again/I’ll probably never see... you... again”, and I have to dry my eyes.
Is Morrissey relevant? Maybe not, but perhaps there’s a reason for him still being here, a reason why he holds his fans in a vice-like grip, after all this time, a reason why he’s constantly attracting new fans the world over even when he’s become a virtual pariah in the (UK) music press for the past ten years. Simply put: Morrissey matters.
Hip, young rock acts can make as much noise as they like, they can smash up as many hotel rooms as they like, they can throw as many studied ‘rock-rebel’ shapes as they like, but the reason why Morrissey still walks among them is that they haven’t replaced him. No-one has managed to fill that awkward, ridiculous shaped hole where we seem to need a Morrissey. And maybe every generation needs a Morrissey
- even if they don’t get one - a genuine outsider, untroubled by passing fashions, forever on the outer-edges, throwing stones from the borders and, unlike [name of YOUR FAVOURITE BAND here] one who is never, ever willing to compromise.
Aye, there’s the rub, the fact that Morrissey would rather see his career reduced to nothing than to bend to the will of others is staggering, absurd, completely unique and, as we have seen, ultimately ruinous.
But, in his sick, sorry way, it's also brave, he will stand his ground and will go down fighting if he has to. And that's why, despite his many, many flaws, and the fact that he has made many, many mistakes, he remains, even now, the most important songwriter/popstar to emerge in my lifetime. That’s enough.
No more apologies.
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