The Dust Bin: Morrissey ‘Your Arsenal’
Somewhere between his debut as the celibate and charismatic frontman for The Smiths and his recent trappings with the NME and label problems, Morrissey was riding high on the crest of a pretty stellar solo career. With the dissolution of The Smiths in 1987, Moz quickly sprang to work on his first solo album, recruiting Stephen Street as his new Johnny Marr, who collaboratively penned and produced “Viva Hate,” along with a handful of non-album singles. Their relationship unfortunately soured, which led to the spotty misfire, “Kill Uncle” in 1991, just about no one’s favorite Morrissey album. Enter Mick Ronson.
While most recall Morrissey’s solo career as “Everyday is Like Sunday” and his mid ’00s resurgence with “You Are the Quarry,” the singer actually had retained a great deal of success in the early ’90s before temporarily fading out towards the end of the decade. While it’s not the first album thought of in his career retrospect, the crowning achievement in Moz’s solo career is the 1992 sock-in-the-jaw, “Your Arsenal.”
Produced by famed Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson (his unfortunate swan song), the record featured a new lineup in Morrissey’s band, an entourage that would remain the core of his backing band for most of his career. For the first time since going solo, Morrissey seemed more like a member of a group rather than a solo artist, albeit still the star performer. Guitarist Alain Whyte wrote the majority of the songs, his style being a unique blend of glam, jangle pop, and rockabilly. All three genres were key to The Smiths, but Whyte’s style in no way resembled Johnny Marr’s. The band were heavy and powerful, with Gary Day’s walking bass lines being a key element in each song, bouncing nimbly off Spencer James Cobrin’s hard hitting drumkit. Boz Boorer was the perfect compliment to Whyte, the two trading off guitar solos, and often interlocking acoustic and electric parts.
With the exception of a couple brief flurries of punk on B-sides like “London” and “Sweet and Tender Hooligan,” The Smiths never got too heavy. They evoked glam on songs like “Panic” and “Sheila Take a Bow,” but had the bluesy aspect of T.Rex surgically removed. On “Your Arsenal,” Marc Bolan’s ghost is alive and well on the slide heavy single “Glamorous Glue,” a song that swaggers and pounds like a mission statement – “We won’t vote conservative/because we never have/everyone lies, everyone lies.”
And while “Glamorous Glue” and “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side” hammer away at classic rock riffs, the album also has a keen sense of popcraft, evidenced by its two killer singles, the Buzz Bin earworm, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful,” and the cheeky “You’re the One For Me, Fatty.” “We Hate It When…”‘s video is the quintessential clip of Moz and his new band, showing the quintet hanging around an abandoned building, throwing a baseball around and carving stuff into walls, like a street gang with no one to fight. It’s also the first installment in an ongoing saga of homoeroticism associated with Moz and his band which has always been pretty hilarious, from the video’s scenes of Spencer James Cobrin seductively eating an ice cream cone, to the “Years of Refusal” publicity photo showing Moz and his crew with 7″ records over their junk.
“We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”
“You’re the One For Me, Fatty” remains one of Moz’s strangest statements, as it’s clearly mocking the object of affection in the song. Is the song and video, which features a nerdy guy courting an overweight woman, about Morrissey’s disdain over his own rejection in favor of a large woman? Whether that’s the story or if it’s a mere inside joke with him and his band doesn’t really matter given its great use of the aforementioned Alain Whyte three prong style that will have you humming the tune long after its three minute runtime.
“Your Arsenal”‘s rock & roll attitude is also offset nicely by three perfect ballads. While “We’ll Let You Know”‘s coda feeds the suspicions of Morrissey’s nationalism (“We are the last truly British people you will ever know”), the song features a devastating interplay between Whyte and Boorer that jangles together in a mournful progression. The loneliness manifesto, “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” comes later which then morphs into its optimistic counterpart in “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” which rises gracefully from the ashes declaring, “My love, wherever you are/Whatever you are, don’t lose faith,” an update of The Smiths’ “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby.”
“We’ll Let You Know”
One thing that should always be understood on any Morrissey album though is how there is so much more than simply self-pity in his songs – they’re actually very funny. Of course there’s the sarcasm of “You’re the One For Me, Fatty” and “The National Front Disco,” the latter of which was misinterpreted as a sincere support of “England for the English,” but there’s also the self deprecation that’s not looking for sympathy as much as empathy. “Tomorrow,” where the chorus reads, “All I ask of you is one thing that you never do/Would you put your arms around me?/I won’t tell anybody,” is a terrific line that even made my mother laugh when she overheard it once.
As of late, Morrissey has been looking a bit silly in his claims of not being able to secure a record deal. Truly a man of his stature could self release a record or would have countless indie labels being run by people who were nursed with his music, put it out, but his apparent album’s worth of new material remains without a home. The fact that Moz can’t seem to find a deal to his liking is unfortunate considering his track record since “Your Arsenal” has remained pretty spotless.
“Your Arsenal” was more or less the blueprint for Morrissey as a solo artist. It’s harsh when it needs to be and tender at the all the right moments. While its title was intended as a reference to the British slang for the word “ass,” at face value, it couldn’t be more true, as the album armed countless fans with confidence, reassurance, and the ammunition needed to grow up.