[sic] Magazine

Morrissey – Southpaw Grammar, 2009 Expansion Edition

At the time of release, ‘Southpaw Grammar’ was perhaps, Morrissey’s first career mis-step. After twelve years of near constant success, Morrissey cut himself free from EMI Records and took on all comers. Perhaps somewhat arrogantly, and with the perfect ‘Vauxhall And I’ as his last word, Moz and his now stable band (the core of which lasted thirteen years) returned invigorated to Moz’s sixth studio record and a poor game plan that scuppered his commercial standing for a decade.

With a one-album deal with RCA, and the revolutionary Britpop at the heart of his constituency, Moz found himself for the first time reeling from the punch of rejection. A combination of factors hamstring this records artistic and commercial performance. Morrissey toured the record only briefly, and then only performing to half-full halls supporting David Bowie before pulling out halfway through the tour. The singles failed to dent the higher ends of the charts: not helped by poor choices, dull videos, and half-bothered lazy sleeve designs. The overall impression from the curious bystander was that Morrissey was falling into self-parody, uninterested in charting any new directions, reeling the same old quotes out by rote to interviewers, and none of this was helped by an determinedly ugly, uninterested sleeve and poor reviews.

To me, when it was released, it was very clear that this was the closest Morrissey had come to shelving his ego and letting his musicians dictate the content. The original – and far superior – album running order saw ‘Southpaw’ book ended by the two most experimental and aggressive songs he would ever record: the lolloping, huge ‘The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils.’

A decade-on sequel to ‘The Headmaster Ritual’, this song showcases the immense prowess and confidence of his band, a huge, intricate, song that saw the band lock into a tight and controlled framework and explore the sounds within the variations. This alongside the nostalgic, and equally sprawling ‘Southpaw’ and under loved additions to the Moz canon. These two songs – totalling 21m: 15s in length were the closest Moz would ever come to prog-rock, built on variation and exploration, and clearly designed to be listened to intently. The sudden, and harsh fall of the gavel that ended the album originally was the perfect closer to the albums thematic journey. On this reissue, this meanwhile is utilised halfway through, and the record itself ends on the largely unmemorable, un-dramatic ‘Nobody Loves Us’, which is at best, pretty good B-side fodder.

Aside from these two songs, the rest of the album is an assured, muscular rock album that recalls a dirtier version of the tarnished glam rock that made ‘Your Arsenal’ Morrissey’s signature record. Each song itself is strong, lyrically gifted – aside from the lazy ‘Dagenham Dave’ – memorable and worthy. This running order though, does the record no favours. Whilst Morrissey may have seen this reissue as an immensely personal project, ultimately, what he has done has deconstructed and reduced a strong but flawed album into a poorly assembled compilation lacking any structure.

Sequencing is all.

After all, if you watch a film out of order it doesn’t make any sense, most of the time. Same here. ‘Southpaw’ is a good record that unfairly suffered at the time of release thanks to a hostile climate and an apathetic public and a truculent, difficult artist. This reissue does the music no favours by destroying the original order and structure of the record. On the plus side there are three unreleased songs and a B-side: but even this isn’t comprehensive (where is the not-astoundingly good ‘You Must Please Remember’?). Overall, if you can find it, buy the original album. And if you absolutely must have more of the same, buy this for the unreleased songs.



Years of Refusal


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