And so it came to pass: The Smiths were no more. Morrissey wasted no time in released his first solo effort, Viva Hate, in an attempt to prove that he could flourish even without the guitar licks of his compatriot, Johnny Marr. Luckily for him, Vini Reilly from The Durutti Column was there to share some duties, as well as Stephen Street, and given the lack of output from Marr himself, Morrissey was essentially carrying the torch for Smiths fans all over the world.
Which perhaps explains the fact that Viva Hate isn’t a significant departure from Strangeways, save for the occasional keyboard or two. There is certainly a more relaxed air though, except for the sonic attack that is the opener Alsatian Cousin, a snarling accusation where Morrissey “asks even though I know – were you and he lovers?” Since Morrissey always hid his aggression behind witty turns of phrase, such a song is definitely a shift and hints at his muscular 1992 effort, Your Arsenal.
Alsatian Cousin is great, but it’s a grower. So is Little Man, What Now? a lament about a forgotten 60s actor, possibly Malcolm McFee, who “spoke in silhouette but they couldn’t name you” on a TV show and who was “too old to be a child star to old to take leads … four seasons passed and they axed you.” Morrissey’s tone is sympathetic: “Oh, but I remembered you” he says. This theme will be covered later in the album, too, with the self-explanatory I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me, a throwaway that is interesting only because it shows that the subject of posterity was on his mind.
The two singles from the album, Everyday Is Like Sunday and Suedehead, can be found on the compilation Bona Drag. They’re not bad, but not great: Suedehead is classic Smiths jangle-pop, bobbing along quite happily, while Everyday Is Like Sunday manages to perfectly recreate the air of decay in a British seaside town, opening with the classic line: “Charging slowly over wet sands.” I’m not sure what significance making “every day” into one word has: perhaps Morrissey is saying that everyday things are what make the world grey, or perhaps he just can’t spell.
Either way, both are eclipsed by the fantastic pair of Angel Angel Down We Go Together and Late Night, Maudlin Street. Angel, criminally only 100 seconds long, is a string-backed plea to somebody – Marr? - not to give up on himself and look towards Morrissey himself. Maudlin Street goes the other way, weighing in at a hefty 7 and a half minutes. Those who thought the Smiths were too depressing should probably look away now, but it’s incredible how a song of such simplicity can be so powerful. Morrissey combines some of his most poignant lyrics (“I took strange pills, but I never meant to hurt you”) with his most witty (“Me without clothes, well a nation turns its back and gags”).
The reggae-influenced Break Up The Family is also decent, but it lacks the touch of Marr, a reggae aficionado. If you can forget that it provided the inspiration for Preston to start a band, Ordinary Boys is pure genius. Ordinary boys, says Morrissey should be best avoided as they are “happy knowing nothing” and the girls “thinks it’s very clever to be cruel to you.” It is this moment of shared suffering between the singer and his audience that makes Morrissey’s music so powerful. This is far from an outright condemnation, more a damning with faint praise, with Morrissey freely admitting to being envious of their apparent happiness in their ordinariness.
Viva Hate was never quite matched in Morrissey’s solo career, with Vauxhall and I and Your Arsenal going close. Given recent renaissance of Morrissey’s career, however, I’m sure that many new fans will be unaware of this album, as well as Smiths fan turned off by Moz’s later solo efforts and there is no doubt that Viva Hate is a worthwhile investment of your time.
PS: Whatever you do, don't get the 2011 remastered version of this album as it criminally leaves off Ordinary Boys and chops a minute off Maudlin Street.