Friday, January 11, 2008

Unsatisfactory Overview

Morrissey - Greatest Hits

The Press Release for this compilation (the first release under Morrissey’s new contract with Decca) boldly states that ‘Greatest Hits spans Morrissey’s twenty year career as a solo artist’. In a sense, it’s not a lie – there are two tracks from solo debut ‘Viva Hate’ and plenty from his most recent album ‘Ringleader of The Tormentors’, in addition to the obligatory two brand new tracks. What this doesn’t quite reveal though is the album’s considerable bias in favour of recent material – all the singles from ‘You Are The Quarry’ and ‘Ringleader…’ are present, the bulk of them sequenced next to each other in the first half of the album. The ‘Ringleader…’ singles particularly emphasise the more generic, plodding rock into which Morrissey’s group can sometimes lapse. With only one disc, and just fifteen tracks, this leaves very little space to explore the rest of Morrissey’s patchy, but frequently inspired solo catalogue.

Perhaps it’s arguable that his earlier career has been compiled and collected before – with World of Morrissey and The Best of Morrissey, although neither of these compilations were entirely comprehensive either. I suspect that the real reasons for the poor selection are rather more prosaic – it’s likely that Decca got a good deal from Sanctuary on the licensing for the recent singles, but buying up the bulk of the back catalogue from a variety of other labels would have proved too costly. The early tracks they have opted for seem to have been chosen purely on the basis of chart position – how else to explain the inclusion of ‘Last Of The Famous International Playboys’ over ‘Piccadilly Palare’ or ‘November Spawned A Monster’?

What a tremendous shame this is – as this was a golden opportunity for a two disc, comprehensive overview of Morrissey’s solo work. Most disappointing is the compilation’s total failure to rehabilitate the reputation of the more than adequate albums Morrissey released during his supposed ‘wilderness years’. There is nothing at all from either ‘Southpaw Grammar’ or ‘Maladjusted’ – both ‘The Boy Racer’ and ‘Satan Rejected My Soul’ were punchy, infectious singles worthy of reappraisal. ‘Maladjusted’ also contained the quite wonderful ‘Trouble Loves Me’, a swooning ballad and favourite of recent live sets. That this selection also completely passes by ‘Your Arsenal’ and ‘Kill Uncle’ is more surprising – the latter is admittedly Moz’s least successful album, but the former was a critical and commercial success.

It doesn’t help that Moz has not always been entirely shrewd with his choice of singles. Many of the finest tracks on his best works (this is particularly true of 1994’s exquisite ‘Vauxhall and I’) have been album tracks. So, there’s no room for, say, ‘Now My Heart Is Full’, ‘Reader Meet Author’ or even ‘The National Front Disco’ (an excellent song which, unlike the nasty ‘Bengali In Platforms’, does withstand the allegations of racism). Similarly, who wouldn’t take the audacious and ambitious ‘Dear God, Please Help Me’ or ‘At Last I Am Born’ over any of the singles from ‘Ringleader…’ (with the exception of ‘You Have Killed Me’, which has one of his most memorable melodies).

On the plus side, ‘Suedehead’ and ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ still sound fantastic in spite of their 80s production values, and the two new tracks return Morrissey to the punchy, muscular production of Jerry Finn. ‘All You Need Is Me’ is familiarly self-aggrandising, but the self-mocking ‘That’s How People Grow Up’ makes grim fun of a succession of unrequited love affairs and develops the more confessional side of Morrissey’s work..It’s also worth remembering that ‘…Quarry’ was a bold comeback statement – ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ and ‘The First of The Gang To Die’ are both insistent and pugnacious.

Anyone who already owns ‘…Quarry’ and ‘Ringleader…’ is unlikely to invest either time or money in this release, possibly downloading whatever they are missing in isolation. It’s hard to see what purpose this disc fulfils other than biding time before Decca drop the new Morrissey album in the Autumn, and giving him something to promote with his week of shows at London’s Roundhouse (not that mere self-promotion isn’t enough, as his belligerent litigation against the NME currently suggests). Hopefully the sets for these shows will venture further away from his most recent output.

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