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Great lost albums – Viva Hate

Viva HateMorrissey was both blessed and cursed when The Smiths split in 1987. After an abortive attempt to keep the band going – Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame was reportedly asked to consider replacing Johnny Marr – interest in Mozz the solo star was massive. Indeed, his debut single ‘Suedehead’ immediately went top 10 (when that mattered), surpassing the highest chart position of his old band. But with that buzz came expectation. And there are few things in music which can be more corrosive than hype. Initially greeted with an inevitable ‘is that it?’, Viva Hate has slowly but surely built up the following it deserves. It is a properly great album and, given where he was coming from, probably its creator’s bravest artistic statement.

It must have been awfully tempting to recruit a Marr-lite guitarist from the many hundreds who had sprung up in his wake. Indeed, many an indie act wholesale pinched – or at least attempted to pinch – his ringing guitar lines and pass it off as their own. But instead Morrissey chose to work with producer Stephen Street, who brought a darker yet simultaneously poppier feel to the proceedings. Most importantly, Street wanted to try new technology and things like keyboards – which had been verboten in The Smiths – were increasingly prevalent on the record which emerged.

The album’s most famous tracks are the afore-metioned ‘Suedehead’, which is simply a wonderful piece of pop music, and the elegiac ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’, where Morrissey lambasts the dull sterility of an English seaside town that you suspect he secretly loves. ‘I Don’t Mind if You Forget Me’ is the single that never was, where Moz tells fans he’ll understand if they leave now the Smiths are no more. He was clearly lying, but it’s an outstanding song.

There were darker moments here, though; the appositely-growling opener ‘Alsatian Cousin’, with its rumbling synth and robust sexual allusions let you know that things had changed on Morrissey mountain. Closer ‘Margaret on a Guillotine’ asked when the eponymous Mrs.Thatcher would die, an example of the famous Wildean subtlety we came to know and, ahem, love.

Speaking of which, we come to ‘Bengali in Platforms’, a song which seemingly suggests that the protagonist – an immigrant in the 70s – does not belong in the UK. Mozfans have long tried an awkward defence based around him referencing 70s imagery and suggesting that Morrissey is satirising the attitudes prevalent in that decade. This seems faintly desperate, and subsequent songs have added fuel to the fire. Likely the most realistic appraisal is that he is not a racist but enjoys flirting with the concept, savouring the flammability of the whole subject. Let’s be honest, you can claim that the line ‘life is hard enough when you belong here’ is ironic, but it would still go down pretty well at a BNP meeting.

The album’s centrepiece is the stunning ‘Late Night, Maudlin Street’, which is as definitive a statement of who he is as anything on The Queen is Dead. ‘The world’s ugliest boy became what you see, here I am…the ugliest man’ is so beautifully Morrithetic that it almost makes you punch the air in celebration. Lost, yearning, morose…and yet with a tongue wedged firmly into cheek. It’s him being him, having his cake and eating it the way only he could. It’s a fitting high point for an album which now stands as one of the decade’s finest, and certainly the best Morrissey ever made. When he was playful, when he was himself…well, he was peerless.

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