Morrissey’s ‘Vauxhall and I’ – A Look Back at an Alt-Rock Classic
Morrissey’s fourth album, 1994’s ‘Vauxhall and I,’ is both the culmination and inevitable stopping point for the first part of his solo career. His third album, 1992’s ‘Your Arsenal,’ featured his best set of songs and performances since the Smiths broke up in 1987. It also spawned his first No. 1 modern-rock hit in ‘Tomorrow.’ ‘Vauxhall and I’ was the somber reflection in ‘Arsenal’’s glammy wake.
The album was informed by many things, including the death of ‘Your Arsenal’ producer Mick Ronson, the guitarist who helped lead David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars. He died in 1993 of cancer, and his passing hit Morrissey hard. He went into ‘Vauxhall and I’ thinking that it could be his final record. The air is thick with despair.
New producer Steve Lillywhite — who had worked with U2, the Rolling Stones and the Dave Matthews Band, among many others — softened Morrissey’s corrosive edges, stripping down the songs and giving them a ghostly tone. Songs like ‘Now My Heart Is Full,’ ‘Spring-Heeled Jim,’ ‘Hold on to Your Friends’ and ‘The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get’ never explicitly push the issues, but death and loneliness hang over each of them. ‘Vauxhall and I’ is not only Morrissey’s most personal album, it’s also his warmest.
All this reflection was rewarded with Morrissey’s highest-charting record at the time. ‘Vauxhall and I’ reached No. 18, and ‘The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get’ climbed to No. 48, the only single Morrissey or the Smiths placed on the U.S. pop chart. It also hit No.1 at modern rock. Morrissey returned the following year with ‘Southpaw Grammar,’ once again produced by Lillywhite. But the long songs (two stretch past 10 minutes) and prog-like twists and turns couldn’t be further from ‘Vauxhall and I’’s quiet restraint.