When Johnny Marr left The Smiths, he didn’t just abandon one of the best bands ever to come out of Manchester, England but he also put the future of Morrissey’s music career in peril. Looking back everyone knew that Morrissey was the heart and voice of The Smiths, but he soon realized that Johnny Marr was the backbone and soul of the band that changed music in the ’80s. Without Marr, Morrissey had seemed to have lost his confidence.
They say band splits have parallels to real life divorces between married couples. If you think about it, creating music between a select few is a very intimate experience. Morrissey, being a very private person, very rarely sans Marr allowed anyone inside his secret circle. So after The Smiths broke up, he had lost more than his guitarist, Morrissey lost his creative partner.
After trying and failing to try to keep The Smiths alive with Ivor Perry as Marr’s replacement, Morrissey turned to producer Stephen Street and a new collaborator, guitarist Vini Reilly. His first attempts at creating music post-Smiths became and instant success. The lead single “Suedehead” and the album Viva Hate were hailed as masterpieces. As Johnny Marr struggled to find his own space in the music world, Morrissey seemed to strike success with his first try without Marr.
This sweetness would not last, for a familiar pattern of distrust that was apparent during the reign of The Smiths would rear its ugly head during Morrissey’s illustrious solo career. Moz had a falling out with Viva Hate producer Stephen Street over royalties. He proceeded to dump Street and work with Madness producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who produced both single “November Spawned a Monster” and second album Kill Uncle, which many fans and critics dubbed a lackluster effort. The problem with Uncle is that Moz used session musicians to record the album. There seems to be spark missing from some these performances. Besides the fact that the album comes in at less than 35 minutes, everyone just expected more from Stephen Patrick Morrissey.
But the naysayers did not stop Morrissey from embarking on his first world tour without The Smiths. He recruited a proper backing band and took off to America. In the States is where Morrissey found the most love and adoration, so much so that Moz soon made his home in California. Despite the album’s initial lukewarm reception, Kill Uncle‘s tour, thanks to Moz’s new band, was a rousing success, and Morrissey went directly into the studio with former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson to produce his third.
From the opening roaring riffs of “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side,” one could easily tell that Your Arsenal was a new phase for Morrissey. Morrissey had the muscle and gang-like mentality of his new band members, which included guitarists/writing collaborators Boz Boozer and Alan Whyte. Because of Ronson and Morrissey’s desire to steer his songs away from his trademark lyrical witticism, the music took center stage on Your Arsenal.
You could tell from the one two punch of “Side” and “Glamorous Glue” that this collection of songs was the finest of Morrissey’s young solo career. Dare I say even better than Viva Hate? I believe so, there’s confidence in all of his vocals on Your Arsenal. Even on the laid back brilliance of “We’ll Let You Know,” Morrissey has never sounded this proud and alive.
With Ronson at his side, it’s no coincidence that the chord progression of Morrissey’s “I Know it’s Going to Happen Someday” sounds similar Bowie’s “Rock and Roll Suicide.” So much so, that Bowie honored Moz by covering the song on Black Tie/White Noise. You may also recognize the guitar lick from “Certain People I know” as being eerily similar to T-Rex’s “Ride a White Swan.”
I still believe the best song on Your Arsenal is “Seasick, Still Docked.” This song gets overlooked by many fans and critics alike, yet to me the lyrics of “Seasick” reflect the true essence behind the emotional mindset that is Morrissey:
“I am a poor, freezingly cold soul
So far from where
I intended to go
Scavenging through life’s very constant lulls
So far from where I’m determined to go”
Those lyrics foreshadow an unfortunate uncertainty in Morrissey’s future. The joy that Morrissey felt while recording Your Arsenal with Ronson would not last long. Soon after the albums release Ronson succumbed to cancer. The sadness of this loss for Morrissey would inspire him to write and record the best album of his career.
The explosive musical force felt round the world was the spark heard on Morrissey’s Your Arsenal. This album encapsulated one of the happiest times where Morrissey found a home in Los Angeles, and a band and a producer who understood his every creative need. It would be sweet but short lived. And just like most events in this Mancunian singer’s life, change would be coming. The results would be extraordinary with in the voice we have come to adore. Morrissey and his glorious sound have always reflected the desired longing inside our very own heart looking for a home. Because of the creative realization of Your Arsenal, his next stand would cement Morrissey in greatness.