Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Morrissey — Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted Deluxe Editions

Well, let's be honest right off the bat, I am so much more excited for these new deluxe editions than I am for Years of Refusal. While that album continues in the line of the latest Morrissey studio album revival —that is to say, overproduced batches of some of his best and worst material— these new deluxe editions are the real deal: misunderstood middle period works, now revised to unveil the undoubtedly definitive versions of the albums as the man originally intended them.

Let's just get right into it: I hated Southpaw Grammar for a long time. It was, unconditionally, my least favorite Moz album. I mean, even Kill Uncle had 'Sing Your Life' and Maladjusted had 'Alma Matters.' But this album had nothing. The long-ass downtrodden first track that —in a super cynical move, even suspicious when Moz is saying it— declares "To be finished would be a relief." I mean, how is that ok?

But guess what?

The sticker on the album packaging advertises this as the album 'as Morrissey intended it' and, after a few listens, it feels like the way it should have been all along. Truly, I never knew that, in that tangled mess of drum solos, overtly crunchy guitars and superfluous buildups there was a damn fine Morrissey record looming.

First of all, as this was supposed to be a real noisy rock and roll album in the same vein as Your Arsenal (Moz' best album; Smiths or otherwise), on this new deluxe edition, there's an outtake from that album called 'Fantastic Bird.' Sure, it may have been a second tier track at the time, but in 2009, that doesn't matter. Now it's from a period in Morrissey's career that can be properly assigned as his most productive, and thus, his most analysis-worthy. Its Mick Ronson-produced crunchiness was the perfect pre-cursor for what was to become Southpaw Grammar. Not only does it fit in perfectly here, it exposes that, contrary to my opinion all these years, the album did not, in fact, come from out of nowhere.

The re-sequencing does wonders for the album, placing its catchiest moments up front and burying the deeper cuts for later on when things have settled for a bit. In other words, the new sequencing actually has a grasp on what album sequencing should be. The first three tracks, hands down, are right on par with anything he'd done previously. It's just that the original sequencing would never have you know this, placing these tracks in the most awkward places on the record. And man, is it just me, or does 'Nobody Loves Me' just completely kick total ass as the closer? Makes it sound as epic a closer as 'Speedway' or 'Margaret On the Guillotine.'

I still love 'The Operation' despite the completely pointless two minute drum intro. But again, this edition of the album rectifies even that, as Moz articulately defends his reasoning behind its inclusion in the brilliant liner notes. Seriously, if you thought his lyrics were literary, just wait until you read what he has to say in prose. I absolutely cherished reading every syllable of these newly composed liner notes. I know it shouldn't matter, but hearing the artist's reasoning and back experiences behind the music really helps me view it in an entirely new light and achieve a new appreciation for it.

The Maladjusted issue differs slightly, as I never really disliked the album all along. I've always thought it was too samey, hits that 'distortionary melodic swirl' a little too consistently. But this new version, with its "new" songs randomly inserted into a revamped running order, once again, rectifies its original version through sequencing. The "new" songs —all of which are nowhere near as loud and raucous— are inserted perfectly into (mostly) the album's second half, reviving the affair and making it over from a previously hazy and samey swirl into a dynamic and ambitious second half. The new highlight and centerpiece of the album is revealed in 'This Is Not Your Country.' A meditative rant (if such a thing exists) grows into a poignant melodic statement. It not only makes you wonder what else Moz has in his vaults of equal prestige, it makes you agressively wonder why this was held back so long.

My only complaint is the exclusion of 'Roy's Keen' and 'Papa Jack' —two moments that provided some much needed quiter melodicism— and the further inclusion of Moz' ridiculous anti-Mike Joyce rant 'Sorrow Will Come in the End.'

This revision does improve the album, but not nearly as much as the Southpaw Grammar's new revision does. Still, an improvement is an improvement.

Truly, if this current bombardment of deluxe and expanded editions was supposed to make us go back re-evaluate the music —and most of those by other artists failing miserably, only being a a mere cash-in to get us to buy the albums again with sporadically worthwhile extras— these deluxe editions have truly succeeded. I have a new found respect for these albums; once written off and disregarded. I look forward to listening to them —and reacquainting myself with them all over again— throughout the summer, and perhaps longer.

Well done, Patrick.


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