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Morrissey
Your Arsenal (Reissue) Matthew Foster , February 24th, 2014 07:55

To put out of my mind for the next six paragraphs: a near endorsement of UKIP, a call to scrap the foreign aid budget, labelling the Chinese as a "subspecies", an instant Penguin Classic. And now, twenty seven articles in the national press every minute about Cliff Richard and Morrissey. What a mismatch! What a talking point! What a National Treasure!

At some point, defending Morrissey the public figure becomes too much effort, even for a ponce who used to write 'Sing Your Life' on his hands with a Sharpie before every night out. The memories fade, the lines that made teenage years tolerable go missing in the cartwheels performed to justify every thunderingly Controversial Remark. An eternal cry of loneliness and despair means less when things have turned out quite nicely, actually. The simple problem is this: you've grown up, and the point of Morrissey is never to do so.

And yet. Salvage from the wreck Your Arsenal. Brawling, swaggering, high camp Your Arsenal. The fey crooner reborn as a street fighter, the gawky kid longing to lead the Spiders From Mars actually getting to make a record with one. 'Glamorous Glue' stomping on your head - "everyone lies / nobody minds / where is the man you respect? / where is the woman you luhuhuhuve?". Where's your jangling now, Johnny Marr?

For this moment at least, Morrissey without The Smiths is not a compromise. Boz Boorer, Alain Whyte, Spencer Cobrin, Stephen Patrick Morrissey are a proper unit. "After the session musician embalming fluid of Kill Uncle" - as our man from the Penguin Classic puts it - Your Arsenal remains so compelling because Morrissey is merely one part of its success, rather than the sole reason to bother. The hazy ambience bleeding into the late night acoustic strum of 'Seasick, Yet Still Docked'; the bracing arrival of 'We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful' at full tilt; the rockabilly sway and glistening backing vocals of 'Certain People I Know' - this is a rare Morrissey record in which the music matters as much as the words.

Mercifully, this reissue does what no Moz re-package has yet managed, and respects the integrity of the original. The album art stays intact. There are no half-formed demos from the wrong period grafted on halfway through the running order. No intros are lopped off, or songs dropped. Remastering is done right, Morrissey a little lower in the mix, the rhythm section beefier (surely Quornier? - Meat Replacements Ed). Bundled in is a DVD of a riotous 1991 US show which, while pre-dating Your Arsenal and featuring precisely zero of its songs, shows the maniacal live set up that would prompt it.

Later, Morrissey's loyalty to the basic Your Arsenal set up and sound would be seen as a weakness. Beyond the beautiful sign-off sigh of Vauxhall And I, there's a nagging sense that the next two decades are spent trying to write this record again. Your Arsenal gives birth to a definitive Morrissey solo style (chunky, guitar-led, straightforward) which is never significantly tweaked. After this, never again the quirky pop experiments of a 'Picaddily Palare' or a 'Hairdresser On Fire'. But Your Arsenal is a moment in time - a young, energetic band plucked from obscurity and out to prove themselves, fronted by a lyricist who still has something to say, whether on what joining a far right group does to your dear old mother, why solvent abuse makes more sense than voting, or on the petty resentment we feel towards those friends who push on ahead and leave us behind.

So go on, have a good old chuckle about crazy uncle Morrissey at your next dinner party, wince at the next FHM interview in which he brands people who walk dogs "worse than Mao", or says that he admires Chris Grayling's physical prowess and business acumen. The man can do his best to render himself absurd, but with reissues like this, at least he can't touch the songs. And it's the songs that'll last.

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