Morrissey arranged five dates in the UK towards the end of last year; at the first he collapsed during the second song, the second date was cancelled, the third was under an hour long and the fifth was cut short due to a plastic bottle bouncing timidly off of the big Mancunian’s head. I was at the fourth, but only because I got a refund from the second. It sounds like a lot of hassle to see an old rock star, but it was a risky investment, especially considering Morrissey’s health and the weakness of his latest studio album: a collection of B-sides.
Throughout his career Morrissey has found it very difficult to finish an album, seemingly scraping the barrel for tracks such as “Unhappy Birthday” on Strangeways and “Southpaw” on Southpaw Grammar, so I didn’t expect much from his latest offering: Swords. It does, however, have a few stunning tracks on it. Morrissey wails through the first 15 minutes about the benefits of being naked with a “Good Looking Man About Town”, pleading with an apparently imaginary son not to “Make Fun of Daddy’s Voice” and then spending around a minute in the track “Ganglord” warbling the words “get yourself back to the ghetto”. The album undoubtedly has a number of shockers, including “Munich Air Disaster 1958”, a frankly worrying tribute to Busby’s babes and the infamous plane crash that killed pretty much a whole Man United team “I wish I had gone down with them” must have been the highlight of that song.
The highlight of Swords is easy to pick out, it was the most memorable song of the live performance, making me trawl through the album trying to find the sonorous hook that had been in my head on the train ride home. “Teenage Dad on His Estate” was the B-side for “First of the Gang to Die” in 2004, and it rocked my socks right off. Poetically it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, and musically it gripped me from start to finish, and it serves to make this album worth buying. Only Morrissey could come out with “you still buy a daily newspaper / and you find everything there but the news”, and it really works.
Live, Morrissey was better than I could possibly have expected. He was on stage for around an hour and a quarter, drawing a few complaints from the fans who were desperate for more, but he seemed to play everything that the crowd wanted. Samples from Smiths albums were interceded with his newer singles from Years of Refusal and some of those better B-sides. The lack of Johnny Marr on the Smiths tunes was difficult to deal with as Morrissey often performed the vocals over bare chord sequences, probably in some mark of ignorance towards Marr’s impact on the band in the 80’s. This Charming Man was phenomenal, but missing that fantastic riff that made the band famous.
It would be difficult to give Swords more than 2 stars out of 5, because realistically that is probably about the ratio of songs that are worth listening to, but the live show is definitely going to get 5 stars. Buying Morrissey tickets is a lottery, but if you win, you will be pleasantly surprised.