Morrissey/Southpaw Grammar

Southpaw GrammarSouthpaw Grammar is the fifth solo album by the British alternative rock singer Morrissey. It was released in August 1995 and charted at number 66 in the United States and at number 4 in the United Kingdom. The singles lifted from it were “Dagenham Dave” (which reached number 26 in the UK singles chart in August 1995) and “The Boy Racer” (which reached number 36 in the UK singles chart in October 1995).

On its release Southpaw Grammar was an eyebrow raiser with fans and critics alike. Following the success of Vauxhall and I, often considered to be Morrissey’s finest solo moment, this was a change in direction.

The nature of the album is certainly different from past Morrissey releases. Musically, the inclusion of two tracks which surpass the ten minute mark, the near two and half minute drum solo courtesy of Spencer Cobrin which opens the track “The Operation” and the sampling of a Shostakovich1 symphony have led some to dub this album as ‘Morrissey’s flirtation with prog-rock.’ Some critics were impressed by this apparent attempt at progression, while others dismissed the longer tracks as mere self-indulgence. By this album Morrissey had been writing with Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer for almost as long as he had been writing with Johnny Marr by the time of the Smiths’ demise. The catchy pop numbers are by no means gone, as proven by the two singles “Dagenham Dave” and “The Boy Racer”. There are no ballads on this album.

According to Morrissey himself, the title refers to ‘the school of hard knocks,’ that is, boxing (a southpaw being boxing slang for a left-hander). Some have taken this a step further and believe Southpaw Grammar to be a concept album about boxing, or just the violence prevalent in modern society in general.

Another reference to boxing is the original cover photo, not of Morrissey, but a photo of boxer Kenny Lane taken from the April 1963 issue of boxing magazine “The Ring”

Certainly, the lyrics are different from those found in Vauxhall and I, though it could be argued the protagonist’s quotation in Reader Meets Author, “no-one ever sees me when I cry”, is auto-biographical, which follows in a similar path to the one left by Vauxhall and I.

Opening track “The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils” is noteworthy as it is possibly the antithesis of the ideas he put forward in the Smiths song, “The Headmaster Ritual”, from their album Meat Is Murder. The theory here is that Morrissey goes from berating the over-zealous administration of discipline, as he saw it, to berating the lack of it. Whether this would be pure hypocrisy or simply a shrewd re-evaluation in light of the abolition of corporal punishment is a moot point.

The critical reception to Southpaw Grammar was mixed. Some fans still regard this as his most exciting work and a brave departure from past success with Vauxhall and I. Q listed it as one of the Top 50 albums of 1995.[1] Some critics gave it bad reviews, but it would be wrong to say there was total condemnation. Indeed, some hailed it as Morrissey’s most real, intense and ambitious work yet, others lambasted it as over-orchestrated. The NME were especially damning of their one-time hero, claiming the album was ‘a loud mess to sell to America.’ It must be borne in mind also that many reviewers commented upon the idiosyncratically English nature of the lyrics, even by Morrissey’s standards, so there is no real consensus on which market this album was aimed at. [Wikipedia]

The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils—-Clocking in at over 11 minutes, this track swirls with atmosphere and bits and pieces of lush arrangements that Morrissey fans have become accustomed to by this point. The build up is slow and monotonous and you are half crazy waiting for the familiar and welcome vocal of the Master. When Moz makes his initial appearance, you are relieved…the voice is glib, full of irony and emotion. This is classic….full of typical Morrissey melodies and tongue in cheek phrases that sometimes leaves you scratching your head…..a wonderful piece of art.

Reader Meet Author—-Moving from the previous almost funeral sound of the last song, this takes on a much more familiar tone to even the casual Morrissey fand…the delivery is bright and poppy, while the vocal is remarkably understated and controlled. This is one of my favorite tracks from this release….only because of the vocal charm and the comfortable pace of the music.

The Boy Racer—-A bit more musically aggressive, it always amazes me that Morrissey delivers such a consistent vocal despite the mayhem that is going on in the backdrop. This is damn catchy and has a bass line and drum delivery that controls the entire pace of the song. Morrissey is as coy and quaint as always….I love this man.

The Operation—-This huge and extended drum intro was neither necessary nor pertinent to the ultimate sound of the song and it amazes me that Morrissey was prone to such self-indulgence from a band member….when the song finally does begin to take shape and the vocal appears, you are once again treated to classic Morrissey. Little changes in the World According To Morrissey and this is a prime example of that…..we EXPECT that some things will always be there…..Morrissey has NEVER let me down.

Dagenham Dave—-Perhaps the most successful single from this release, Morrissey explores the raucous material even more on this song. The instrumentation is much more aggressive and even the vocal style carries a certain edge to it that is almost unfamiliar. change can be a good thing….this was not for me. Never a favorite of mine, it is nice to hear again after all of these years.

Do Your Best And Don’t Worry—-I love this song…always have and always will…this speaks to me…the worry wart that I am…Morrissey reminds us that it is senseless to worry about things that you can not control…why set yourself up for failure before you even begin. This is remarkable…a life lesson that at times I feel was written just for me.

Best Friend On The Payroll—-This remains my favorite track on this release. I have always returned to this much more often than anything else on this release….it is a shiny example of the glib and marvelous irony that Morrissey is able to transport to my ears in 4 minutes or less. The instrumentation is much lighter and airy…the vocal is trademark and the sentiment is remarkably real.

Southpaw—-Clicking in at over 10 minutes, the band is noisy and atmospheric with lots of guitar effects going on at the onset…they magically disappear and allow the entrance of a rather generic and gentle sound that hearkens back to some early material. Morrissey enters and zaps us with lyrics that are somewhat homo-erotic and suspicious…wow srprise. All in all this is nice, but drawn out a bit to much for me.

***3/4 out of 5


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