When Morrissey Threw More Punches With ‘Southpaw Grammar’
Morrissey has never really had to "reinvent" himself. He seemed to come fully formed from the first notes of the first Smiths record. After leaving that legendary combo in 1987, he set sail on his own course, issuing five albums over the next six years. On Aug. 28, 1995, he would put forth one of his strongest offerings to date with Southpaw Grammar.
This time around, production duties were handed over to Steve Lillywhite, who had made a name for himself working with such artists as Peter Gabriel, XTC, Psychedelic Furs and, most notably, was the man behind the board on the first three U2 albums. Lillywhite brought a distinct clarity to Morrissey's sound, and coupled with a strong batch of tunes, made an album that holds up very well.
The LP kicks off with the slow creeping rumble of "The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils," an 11-minute tune that builds and builds as it moves along. Feedback, strings and keyboards swirl together as the rhythm section pummels away. "There's too many people planning your downfall / When your spirit's on trial these nights can be frightening," he sings as the music samples Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.
As the second track, "Reader Meet Author," kicks in, things are off on to more familiar terrain. It's classic Morrissey in every sense of the word. Co-written by guitarist Boz Boorer, "Boy Racer" bolts out of the gate with a powerful guitar line and very catchy chorus. Released as a single, it failed to make a significant dent, barely making the U.K. Top 40. Despite the less-than-wondrous chart showing, it has long been a fan favorite and has been featured in his live sets off and on ever since its release.
By the time we get to "The Operation," we are on awkward ground once again. It's awkward because it's nearly two and a half minutes of nothing but drumming before a guitar riff makes itself known and Moz comes sauntering in. From there on out, it's a killer little pop song that turns into a hefty rave up not too far away from the Count Five's garage classic, "Psychotic Reaction."
"Head in the clouds and a mouthful of pie" is how the story of "Dagenham Dave" starts off, so you kind of have to stick around to see how that pans out, don't ya? All-in-all not bad, but ultimately it is somewhat lacking, aside from the insistent ear-worm chorus. Released as the first single from the album, it struggled to make it to No. 26 in the U.K. A much stronger choice for a single might have been "Do Your Best and Don't Worry," which reels around the fountain to deliver one of the album's high spots. Another gem is "Best Friend on the Payroll." Co-written (as was most of the album) by guitarist Alain Whyte, the song surges along in a very spirited manner.
The LP ends as it began in somewhat epic proportions. The 10-minute-plus quasi-title track, "Southpaw," kicks into gear right from the start but transforms into this free-flowing guitar trip fro the halfway point on out. Shimmering guitars explode as the whole thing turns into a psychedelic chaos of sorts. It's a beautiful way to end the album. Throughout the album, Morrissey is, quite simply, Morrissey dishing out his own ever unique take on matters of the heart and the world at large.
All in all, Southpaw Grammar stands tall in the Moz catalog. If anything, it almost comes off as heroic by beginning and ending the album on such demanding notes.
Morrissey Albums Ranked in Order of Moz-ness