Memories of Morrissey: Revisiting 'Your Arsenal' as it Turns 27
As Morrissey's album, Your Arsenal, turns 27 this week, Fiona Dodwell takes a look at the album and the 1992 era of the music legend's career.
When Morrissey parted ways with fellow band members of The Smiths in 1987, few could've predicted in which direction his music career would go. Would the solo Morrissey sound be vastly different from the iconic band? Few doubted that Morrissey's unique blend of onstage charisma, vocal style and witty, raw lyrics were integral and central to the universal appeal of The Smiths – yet there was still the question of how he was going to carve out his own place, as he stood facing his future as a solo artist.
The artist's first foray into solo stardom - 1988's Viva Hate - topped the UK charts and was met warmly by both the critics and fans alike. To a lesser artist, it no doubt would've felt daunting to try to live up to the work of a band as revered and acclaimed as The Smiths, but the fact that his first solo release featured Everyday Is Like Sunday and Suedehead - songs which would go on to become every bit as classic and iconic as anything in The Smiths canon – proved that solo Morrissey was creating music as engaging and vital as what had come before. He was a solid talent with a chance to shine alone under the spotlight.
After the release of album Kill Uncle and a string of one-off singles, Morrissey began working on Your Arsenal, an album that turns 27 this week. Released on the 27th July 1992 (on record label HMV), it was quickly met with critical acclaim - reaching number 4 on the UK album charts and receiving glowing reviews from the press. It was around this time in his career that Morrissey began working with a brand new lineup of musicians (including Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte) and he had hired Mick Ronson to produce the album.
For Morrissey, who had more than proven that he was able to outshine – and outrun – the immense legacy of The Smiths – there must have been a feeling of satisfaction when Your Arsenal was listed as one of the Top 50 albums ever by Q Magazine, and later received a Grammy Award Nomination for Best Alternative Music album. Rolling Stones Magazine directed much praise to the release, saying:
“Buoyed by the conversational grace of his lyric writing, Morrissey rides high atop this album’s rip-roaring guitar tide.... Your Arsenal is stockpiled with the rock & roll equivalent of smart bombs: compact missives that zoom in on their targets with devastating precision. Your Arsenal is the most direct — and outwardly directed — statement he’s made since disbanding the Smiths.”
Morrissey was building a framework that would launch his solo career into higher spheres, and the critics recognised this. Rated highly by the LA Times and Entertainment Weekly, Your Arsenal was a triumph for the singer, both commercially and artistically.
The music does the loudest talking, though, as it always has done. One of the highlights of the record, "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" plays out like a masterclass in songwriting, a standard which harkens to an age gone by. A testament to its quality, David Bowie recorded his own faithful version of the song the following year on 1993's Black Tie, White Noise. Morrissey's vocals on the track are immense, emotional and powerful, giving listeners a hint of what was to come in later years during his California Son album (a musical project highly praised because of the artist's vocal delivery on many of the tracks). "The National Front Disco" finds the singer as lyrically confounding as ever, and musically, it is almost a precursor to Britpop, the kind of infectious guitar-pop romp that Jarvis Cocker could only wish he'd written.
Other notable tracks include "Certain People I Know" (a song which is said to be a tribute to the influence of Marc Bolan on Morrissey and his guitarist, Boz Boorer), and "Glamorous Glue", a catchy, magnetic jaunt of a track that really highlights Morrissey's lyrical openness, truthfulness and originality. "Seasick, Yet Still Docked" is truly one of the gems of the album, a fan favourite that sits alone in its haunting, almost dreamlike state as the singer pours out his heart regarding the condition of human isolation and sorrow. Almost a love song to loneliness, it is written and sung in ways only possible by the artist.
Around this time in Morrissey's career, music publication NME began their objections against the artist, levelling certain criticisms and negative headlines against him – similarly, and cynically, other presses would join in in later years – yet this seemed to be of no consequence to Morrissey as a person and as an artist. He continued making headway in the studio, on tour and with the album that was seen by some to be confirmation that he was outliving any shadows cast by the huge popularity of The Smiths. Embarking on a solo career was never going to be an easy task, yet Morrissey made it seem truly easy with the songs he penned and released in subsequent years. Your Arsenal, as a musical project, seemed to be shouting from the rooftops: "I am here. I am staying. I have something to say."
A solid album from start to finish, Morrissey's work on Your Arsenal made it easy to see why he was then – and still is - a much loved and revered figure in the music industry. Facing his critics and the world alone, Morrissey's solo career has become a benchmark of originality and rawness - unfiltered little packages of the way in which he perceives the world around him, told deliciously in songs that have grown with us in our shared collective histories. Since Morrissey's release of Your Arsenal, he has faced trial by media for his opinions and expressions, yet it is clear that the very aspect of Morrissey that drives the media to distraction is the aspect that fans adore. His views of the world obviously shape his music, and the result of that is a career unparalleled by anyone before or since.
As the review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine for AllMusic stated:
“Your Arsenal rocks harder than any other record Morrissey has ever made.... it may be a break from Morrissey's jangle pop, but the music is sharper than at has been since The Smiths and so is Morrissey's pen. Running through his trademark litany of emotional, social, and personal observations, Morrissey is viciously clever and occasionally moving.”
The reviewer's summation matches many of the fan's feelings of the artist and of the record, and to this day, it remains a favourite amongst his diehard supporters. As time passes and these songs age with us, it is always a delight when old albums begin to feel like old friends – and this is one of those treasures. What Morrissey delivered in 1992 to the world set the stage for what was to come, and that is why fans have stayed along for the ride.