Morrissey’s ‘Kill Uncle’ – A Look Back at Indie-Rock History
What is it with Morrissey and second albums? First the Smiths followed up their groundbreaking 1984 debut with ‘Meat Is Murder,’ a mostly dull and tuneless record that everyone agrees is the band’s worst album. Then the singer returned three years after his punchy solo debut with ‘Kill Uncle,’ a dull and tuneless record that everyone agrees is his worst album.
Nineteen-eighty-eight’s ‘Viva Hate’ was way better than anyone expected from the former Smiths frontman. By the end of the band’s short, glorious run, Morrissey’s reputation as a bitter, moody crank had alienated fans, bandmates and the British music press that had tripped over itself coming up with new adjectives to describe the group. Most everyone was expecting, and hoping, that his solo debut would be unlistenable.
Instead, it was crammed with hooks, playfulness and a sharp, focused vocal performance by the star. Turned out he was saving the messy morose music for the follow-up. It took three years for ‘Kill Uncle’ to succeed ‘Viva Hate.’ In that time, Morrissey split from longtime producer Stephen Street (who produced the Smiths as well as ‘Viva Hate’) and was working with for-hire musicians rather than a committed band. It didn’t help that most of the songs Morrissey wrote were downcast numbers that people assumed reflected the sound his soul made when it cried out in pain.
Lyrically, the songs on ‘Kill Uncle’ don’t stray too far from Morrissey’s usual hanging ground. But musically, they’re anemic — like rockabilly played by a middle-age pop band that specializes in lovelorn ballads. Only ‘Our Frank,’ the album’s pensive first single, and ‘Sing Your Life’ stand out. Both songs managed to receive modern-rock airplay, continuing Morrissey’s string of radio hits. But most fans were disappointed with the album. Even so, just as the Smiths rebounded from ‘Meat Is Murder’ with ‘The Queen Is Dead,’ their best album, Morrissey followed ‘Kill Uncle’ a year later with ‘Your Arsenal,’ his greatest solo record. Maybe he needs those second-album bumps to bring out his best.
Watch Morrissey’s Video for ‘Our Frank’