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What an enviable position in which Steven Patrick Morrissey finds himself. It is, I dare say, quite privileged, but we’ll get back to that. He is a spokesman for Morrissey alone: not for a bygone era of guitar-spined indie pop; not for the Cool Britannia movement that emerged, like a cicada swarm, from Morrissey’s fixation on the England of his youth. He essentially walked away from the mysterious destruction of his creative partnership with Johnny Marr with nary a speck on his blouse. During their five-year tenure, the Smiths parked two singles — “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Sheila Take a Bow” — at No. 10. Each of Morrissey’s first four singles peaked no lower than 9; he has had 10 UK Top Tens as a solo act while notching two US Modern Rock No. 1s, one of which (“The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”) scraped into the top half of the Hot 100. Despite his estrangement from a master synthesist — the man responsible for the Smiths’ silken sonic embroidery — he emerged with his image fully intact. Even better, he was set free: to present himself in new stylistic contexts, to say whatever shit he pleased without bandmate blowback.

Perhaps the one thing stronger than any desire to speak for the outsider or become a British chart fixture is Morrissey’s curatorial impulse. Even wayward pilgrims on the Mecca of Moz recognize many of the stations: the gladioli, the National Health glasses, cover art taken from movies of the ’50s and ’60s, that quiff, asexuality, vegetarianism. Jobriath and Bardot and the Dolls. Critics tear their sheets apart dreaming of the tastemaker status his fanbase accords him. His powers of curation even apply to public statements and interviews: He has done and he has said stupid things, and they have been wished away as masterful acts of irony. Lord only knows what it’s like to be a clever boy, poked by the press, wishing to poke back. Lennon developed a hardy persecution complex; Morrissey maintained an address book well-stocked with lawyers.

As usual, Morrissey’s problematic actions — the anti-immigration sentiments, the asinine dismissal of dance music and modern R&B performers, the casual manner in which he knocked around tough-guy skinhead imagery — make more sense in the context of his native medium. Slagged as the Pope of Mope from the first LP, his lyrical gifts eluded many of his critics and a fair number of his devotees. His first-generation Stateside fans, sulking in their bedrooms, imagined their fey idol doing the same. But Morrissey sprang himself from the confines of home (with more than a little help from Marr), and anyway, even when he was at home, he was dashing off letters to music mags, touting his glammy idols.

Glam may well be the key to unlocking Morrissey. The buzz trail laid by punk acts like the Sex Pistols, which enthralled so many other Mancunian teens, never truly captured his fancy. Punk and glam were both attempts to tease new dialects out of rock and roll; punk focused on rage and resentment (which Morrissey shared), but glam offered the chance to turn one’s privilege inside-out, to be louche and beguiling, even while you’re offering the same four-chord come-ons. Young Steven filed these provocations away, demonstrating the rigor of his studies in ways both straightforward (offering his body to the world’s gaze, supplanting Marr’s Nashville tuning with rockabilly twang) and subtle (fixing an eye on what something — himself, you, Manchester, history — is and is not). Far from a gothic loller, wishing for supremely melodramatic fatality, Morrissey was (and is) a gifted chronicler of bygone sensations, familiar insecurities and easily accessed angers. Always prone to contradiction rather than clarification, Morrissey was pleased to wreak havoc on his native press, then escape to the unqualified embrace of a worldwide fanbase.

As a vocal stylist, Morrissey is given to quotes, not hooks. Leaving the specifics of structure to his collaborators, he’s free to approach the track crosswise, extending verses, splicing bridges and linking phrases into the oddest places. A singer of decidedly limited capability at the start of his career (the Smiths or a brief stint fronting Slaughter and the Dogs: take your pick), he worked tirelessly to broaden his range. At the age of 50, he’s more commanding than ever. Knowing he could never replace Marr, he largely punted on the task, adding glam, orchestral bombast and straight-ahead rock to his repertoire. As the man once said, that’s how people grow up. To many, Morrissey will forever be the prince of the misfits, but a cursory scan of his output shows a man forever twisting and gnarling the meaning of love, loneliness, and memory.

With his new autobiography finally in stores, it’s an apt time to delve into Morrissey’s catalog as a solo artist. But really, there’s no bad time to talk about Morrissey. Start the Countdown here.

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Comments (31)
  1. I would have put Kill Uncle dead last. Quarry and Ringleader are pretty interchangeable. I’ve spent copious nights slumped on my bed in misery or just driving aimlessly with all to gratifying results, however. WHILE EATING MEAT.

  2. “Ringleader” and “You Are the Quarry” in last places!? No, no, no.

  3. WHAT!? Ringleader has Life is a Pigsty which is up their with his best ever. Jeeeeeeeeeeeeesus

  4. Curveball after curveball on this list!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and where is Bona Drag? Surely if Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs made the Smiths countdown Bona Drag deserves to top this list.

  5. Morrissey a Bond theme?? Leave the drugs dude!

  6. “Southpaw Grammar” is Morrissey’s best album? Huh, what? I agree that it’s underrated, but…no.

    I would put “Kill Uncle” last. Two, maybe three good songs (Our Frank, Sing Your Life, King Leer), and a whole bunch of filler. The ultimate sophomore slump.

    I would also put “You Are the Quarry” WAY higher, probably at number three. It’s not perfect, but it’s a stunning comeback album. Any album that has Come Back to Camden, I Have Forgiven Jesus and You Know I Couldn’t Last on it deserves more praise.

  7. You Are The Quarry #8? What? Is it International Clickbait Week again?

  8. southpaw grammar number one??? wtf, that shouldn’t even be on list

  9. you guys have lost the plot seriously. I’m writing this only after seeing “ringleaders” at dead last. fuck.

  10. …and i finished the list. horrible flowery writing just slating every morrissey album. shame on you.

  11. Nah. That’s wrong. Bizarre list.

  12. 9. Ringleader of the Tormentors
    8. Kill Uncle
    7. Maladjusted
    6. Years of Refusal
    5. Southpaw Grammar
    4. You Are the Quarry
    3. Viva Hate
    2. Vauxhall and I
    1. Your Arsenal

    It pains me to have to rank any of these albums low on the list, since I love them all so much. Kill Uncle in particular, is such the runt of the litter, that I find myself wanting to defend it. “Mute Witness” FTW.

    I didn’t realize until recently that there was anyone who DIDN’T think Your Arsenal is his best. I thought that was kind of a given. Just a flawless, bracing, perfectly paced album,

    Of course, as with the Smiths, any discussion of Morrissey’s albums is inherently incomplete, since non-LP singles and b-sides make up such a huge part of his work and his legend. These aren’t inconsequential songs, either – “Girl Least Likely To,” “Michael’s Bones,” “I’ve Changed My Plea to Guilty,” “Pregnant For the Last Time,” “I’d Love To,” “I Can Have Both,” “Ganglord”…Jesus. In fact, if you wanted to add a phantom tenth album to this list just called “All The B-Sides From You Are The Quarry,” it’d probably beat at least half of his actual albums.

  13. As noted above, you can’t really talk about Moz or Smiths without dealing with the singles. This is why I have Bona Drag as number 1. It feels like an album and it is amazing. I also have to say I can’t talk about Your Arsenal without mentioning Glamorous Glue and Tomorrow, two of his best. Oh Mozzer.

  14. For me, Ringleader is #1. I can’t believe it’s put last. I can listen to that album in its entirety over and over again.

  15. Any list where the top three is not some order of vauxhall, arsenal, and viva hate is a seriously flawed list. I do agree Southpaw is an underrated record, but not a number one.

    And as mentioned before, Bona Drag is just as important as the studio releases, doing for moz solo what hatful did for the smiths. It should be included in this discussion. And of course, there are some b-sides from all eras that are up there with his best work, including the smiths.

  16. I don’t agree with most of this list. Kill Uncle should be higher and Viva Hate should be number one.

  17. Wow, what a ballsy way to rank Morrisey’s catalogue. But you defended it quite well. Chapeau to that, my friend, Nevertheless, you didn’t convince me that:

    - Bona Drag should not only on the list but on the top of it;
    - Kill Uncle should be the last on that list;
    - Vauxhall & I should be waaay higher. (#2)

    But again, nice work. Here’s a list that surprised me and made me think. And in did Southpaw in utterly underrated and would have been #3 on my list.

    • Oh and by the way: Alma Matters is a rewrite of Southpaw B-Side Nobody Loves Us. I mean: listen to both and it’s quite obvious. Two great songs but I personally prefer NLU.

  18. this is a strange list; not at all expected, and i guess i’d be hard-pressed to call it “definitive,” whatever that would mean anyway.

    Is it just me, or did it seem like the writer basically didn’t like most of every album he reviewed, except maybe the top 3?
    I mean, even seeming “standards” were written off. A very strange way of ranking albums one supposedly likes by putting down half of each’s tracks.

    Southpaw I always felt was a great album and way under-appreciated, but I can’t see how it’s a #1. But to each his own.

  19. Vauxhall and I is the album you can safely recommend to people who think they hate Morrissey. A stone cold classic with production that suits the songs perfectly. Ringleader is the great late-period album – as with most Moz albums the ‘talked about’ tracks are good but the rest are even better. I’ll let you have Southpaw at 3.

  20. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

    This is what you call the indie hipster definition of Morrissey, not as those who grew up listening to The Smiths know the Moz. You Are The Quarry was a fabulous return to form, Kill Uncle was middling at best, and Maladjusted only had a few good tracks. Years of Refusal was simply “meh”. Most of the posters are right: Viva Hate, Bona Drag, Vauxhall and Your Arsenal are stone-cold classics. The rest is just gravy.

  21. This is a true fan’s list and it’s well argued. Southpaw Grammar was criminally overlooked when it was released but that has always been one of my favorite albums. I think the new tracklist did it justice. And also, I’ve always disagreed with the idea that Vauxhall and I is his best album. Some songs are among his greatest but the production and the musicianship are a bit bland. Your Arsenal and Viva Hate are much better in my opinion. The new reissue of Kill Uncle made me like it a bit more. Yet I think that Maladjusted and Ringleaders are overlooked. Maladjusted has a number of great songs such as ‘Trouble Loves Me’ and Ringleaders has gems such as ‘Life is a Pigsty’ and ‘I’ll never be anybody’s hero now’. There’s much to discuss here but not that much to really disagree with. Kudos!

  22. Naw, Bona Drag, baby

    no it’s, no it’s Viva Hate

    No, I looked!

    It’s on Bona Drag, cause it was a single but it’s, it’s the sixth track on Viva Hate

    It’s on Viva Hate too?

    Suede head yeah…

    Cause I looked for it the other day…

    Yeah, it’s on there

    But it’s on Bona Drag cause Bona Drag is a collection of all his singles after the first couple of…

    I dont think it’s on Viva Hate man, we’ll have to look when I get home

    Uhhh… Betcha five bucks. I’d swear it

    I’ll take that bet

    Okay, it’s on there!

    1, 2… Oh! Soda

    Eth, Eth’s go’ a mouf full o’ cookies

    LEFT FOR DEAD!

    1, 2, 1, Whooo

  23. Great write-up on the individual albums, as long as Bono Drag isn’t in the running (the obvious place to start) I’m fine with Southpaw Grammar at the top. The songs that bookend that album are so epically great that they overshadow the ones that fall between them. Both “The Teachers…” and “Southpaw” really are anomalies in Morrissey’s catalog – but they also may be his two best songs.

    My personal rankings:

    1 – Southpaw Grammar
    2 – Your Arsenal
    3 – Viva Hate
    4 – Vauxhall and I
    5 – Kill Uncle
    6 – Years of Refusal
    7 – You are the Quarry
    8 – Maladjusted
    9 – Ringleader of the Tormenters

  24. Yeah rock never dies!

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