Morrissey is one of Britain’s most thought-provoking and controversial pop stars. Starting out as a minor player in the late 1970s Manchester music scene, he became lead singer in one of the best British groups of the 1980s, before moving on to solo success and international recognition. It has not always been a smooth ride, but Morrissey seems to have the ability to inspire a level of devotion in his fans that is only matched by the derision of his detractors.
When Johnny Marr left The Smiths in 1987, many people wondered whether Morrissey would ever find another collaborator as compatible, or as gifted. Fortunately, sometime Smiths’ producer Stephen Street proved to be a fine replacement, writing the tunes for Morrissey’s debut solo album, ‘Viva Hate’. Released in early 1988, the album was produced by Street, and featured Vini Reilly (of Manchester’s Durutti Column) on guitar. Although similar to The Smiths in places, the album was no mere reproduction of past glories, with keyboards, drum machines and innovate song structures creating a fresh musical backdrop for Morrissey’s lyrics, which explored his youth in 1970s Manchester (and managed to avoid the self-parody of some of his later Smiths’ work). However, a dispute over royalties ended the partnership with Street after only one further single, 1989’s ‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’.
Morrissey turned to producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley for a series of singles, but no new album (apart from the compilation ‘Bona Drag’) emerged until 1991, when he teamed up with co-writer Mark Nevin (ex-Fairground Attraction) for ‘Kill Uncle’, a rather transitional work. Nevertheless, Morrissey soon formed a full-time band, including new co-writers Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, with whom he went on to make two widely-acclaimed albums, ‘Your Arsenal’ (1992) and ‘Vauxhall and I’ (1994).
‘Your Arsenal’ introduced a tougher sound, with hints of rockabilly, but also incited controversy with the song ‘The National Front Disco’ which, combined with a live performance in which Morrissey wrapped himself in the Union Flag, resulted in accusations of racism. (In retrospect, the song seems more in the tradition of lyrics like ‘Bengali in Platforms’ (on ‘Viva Hate’) or ‘Asian Rut’ (on ‘Kill Uncle’) which might have been clumsy and (deliberately) ambiguous, but certainly weren’t racist.)
‘Vauxhall and I’ was gentler, and more introspective, becoming a favourite of many fans (and, apparently, of the singer himself, who claimed it was the best album he’d ever made!).
However, 1995’s ‘Southpaw Grammar’ and 1997’s ‘Maladjusted’ were less well received, and Morrissey ended the millennium without a record contract, living in Los Angeles and seemingly happy - if the notoriously miserable singer could ever be accused of having such an emotion! - to let his career drift. It was only in 2004 that he re-emerged, rejuvenated, with ‘You Are the Quarry’, a return to form and to chart success. The follow-up, ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors’ (2006) was also a triumph, and saw Morrissey cementing his reputation as one of Britain’s most interesting and provocative pop stars.