The Smiths fans awaited the release of Morrissey's debut solo album with much anticipation in 1988. Things were looking very promising when "Suedehead" was released in February, reaching the dizzy heights of number 6. Not even the Smiths had managed that kind of chart position during the past 4 years.
"Viva Hate" became one of my favourite albums of the eighties. It contained the wonderful "Everyday Is Like Sunday", the follow-up single to "Suedehead".
Mozza had got off to a flyer but unfortunately he would struggle to keep up this quality of work. "Viva Hate" was a good start. Most fans were wondering how Morrissey would cope without Johnny Marr as co-writer and guitarist extraordinaire. "Suedehead" and a couple of other tracks were indeed very Marr-like thanks to the skills of producer Stephen Street (the very man who produced the Smiths) and the superb Vini Reilly. But "Viva Hate" contained string sections and even horn sections, as heard on "Angel, Angel Down We Go Together" and "Dial-A-Cliche" respectively.
Morrissey's lyrics were as sharp as ever as in "Margaret On The Guillotine" and the beautifully descriptive "Late Night, Maudlin Street". However, Morrissey's ambiguous lyrics had one or two fans scratching their heads listening to "Bengali In Platforms" and this kind of lyric would come back to haunt Morrissey in the following years. It was a subject maybe even he should have steered well clear from.
The follow-up to "Viva Hate" was "Kill Uncle" which saw hordes of ex-Smiths fans reappraising Morrissey's work in that group. It was in the main a collaboration that simply didn't work. Fairground Attraction's Mark E Nevin was Morrissey's co-writer and the acoustic style of songs didn't have the weight of the songs on "Viva Hate". Whilst I personally liked the album, I can understand the poor reviews it got.
Released between "Viva Hate" and "Kill Uncle" we got "Bona Drag", a fine compilation of B-sides and A-sides which featured some stunning material: "Last of the Famous International Playboys", the banned from BBC Radio 1 November "Spawned A Monster", "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" and the Smiths' b-side that never was, "Will Never Marry". Morrissey, with Street was producing quality material up till this point.
Things improved after "Kill Uncle" - well, they had to - with the brash, Glam Rock fest that was "Your Arsenal", produced by the late, great Mick Ronson. This was much better and Morrissey seems to have had a good backing band at this time. Highlights were the opener, "You're Gonna Need Someone on Your Side", the closing track "Tomorrow" which had echoes of The Smiths and the beautiful "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday".
But the flag waving during "The National Front Disco", on top of Kill Uncle's "Asian Rut" was turning many, including the NME well and truly against Morrissey. Incidentally, I saw Morrissey at Sheffield City Hall around this time and it was a brilliant show.
1994 saw the release of a great album, arguably his finest since he split with The Smiths. "Vauxhall and I" had great songs, was well produced and Morrissey's voice had never sounded better, or as contented! "Now My Heart Is Full" is superb. A very well crafted album indeed.
"Southpaw Grammar" will always be a bit of a mystery to me. 8 songs long with two at over ten minutes duration, it just doesn't have enough punch. Yes, it's a belter in places, particularly when the opener "The Teachers are Afraid of the Pupils" finally gets going, but the album is so padded out that I get the impression that Morrissey wasn't even trying - nor bothered. A hit and miss affair, which is probably why I never bought its follow-up, whose name I can't even remember! Whatever, Mozza did finally come back in top form this very year with "You Are The Quarry", but hey, that's today folks...