Morrissey Misery Loves Company
Published Jul 15, 2014Is there a more divisive figure in pop music than Morrissey? The former Smiths singer and prolific solo performer has been a fixture in the musical landscape for over 30 years, boasting both indie credibility and chart success. By mixing poetry and melodic savvy with punk attitude in the Smiths — and pissing off nearly everybody in the process with his penchant for loquaciousness — Morrissey helped redefine what it meant to be a pop star in the post-punk era and beyond. At turns deliciously acerbic and frustratingly hypocritical, awe-inspiring and cringe-inducing, Morrissey has remained a contentious figure since co-founding the Smiths in 1982, and has dominated headlines for 25 years as a solo musician. He was voted the second-greatest living British icon by BBC viewers in 2006, coming behind only Sir David Attenborough, whose Knighthood stands in stark juxtaposition to Morrissey's commanding role in the Smiths' 1986 classic The Queen is Dead. He'll release his tenth solo album, World Peace is None of Your Business, on July 14, continuing his decades-long reign as the "Pope of Mope."
1959 to 1964
Steven Patrick Morrissey is born on May 22 to Peter Aloysius Morrissey and Elizabeth Ann Morrissey (nee Dwyer), Irish immigrants who had moved from Dublin suburb Crumlin to Manchester, England years earlier in search of work. He's two years younger than sibling Jacqueline, and his early years, surrounded by a large family in their fairly new Manchester surroundings, is a happy one. He discovers pop music at age five when he witnesses Sandie Shaw on Top of the Pops in 1964, and receives his first seven-inch — Marianne Faithfull's "Come and Stay With Me" — a few months later. "These small black discs are the first things that are truly mine," he would later write in his 2013 Autobiography.
Morrissey's paternal grandfather dies suddenly at age 63 in Dublin in March 1965. In November, his maternal grandfather next door, Patrick Steven Dwyer, dies of a heart attack at 52. A month later, the day after his grieving grandmother breaks her leg, his uncle Ernie (maternal) dies by atrophy of the liver at 24. The spectre of death looms large over the Morrissey Christmas in 1965, made all the worse by the shocking revelations of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley's disturbing Moors murders in the news.
1966 to 1967
By spring, a young and impressionable Morrissey has come to think of himself as "a potential victim" of the notorious couple. In a 1984 Hot Press interview, Morrissey would note a turn from the Church in his family, "and quite rightly so." Despite taking his First Communion, Morrissey would grow further from the Church as he aged, noting in particular the damaging guilt caused to Catholic children by the concept of original sin. His father, despite working nights and being away frequently, tries to impart his love of football, and of Manchester United in particular, but the young man is drawn more to the books of his mother. Tension in their marriage causes the young Steven to turn inward; by age eight, he's already obsessed with mortality and suicide.
He's "saved" by pop music, especially the seven-inches of British female singers of the 1960s: Cilla Black, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and others. He also grows to love Billy Fury, the Righteous Brothers, Elvis Presley — "any pop singer who sang, and didn't have an instrument, and just stood there, in front of the camera [...] just you, your voice, and there is the audience," he'd later write for music magazine Sounds. On television, he has a fondness for Coronation Street and Lost in Space, and especially for television chart show Top of the Pops.
Somehow, Morrissey fails his 11-plus, an exam that decides whether a student goes to grammar school — a upper-tier type of secondary school that, by attracting funding and quality teachers, destines students for white collar work — or secondary modern school, which promises labour jobs.
His failure sends him to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Secondary Modern, a school run by Headmaster and former Army officer Vince "Jet" Morgan, whose morning ritual — inspection of a random element of the students' dress, failure of which meant the strap — inspires "The Headmaster Ritual" and other songs a decade later. Despite being marked as a mama's boy for going home for lunch each day, Steven earns the respect of teachers and peers alike for his athletic prowess, evading bullying in the process. Just before he starts at St. Mary's, his mother bestows The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde upon him. His take on love and manners, as well as his sharp wit, would inspire and influence Morrissey to become one of music's most famous lyricists. Wilde's very public downfall will make Morrissey coy about discussing his sexuality in the public sphere.
1971 to 1973
At 11, he goes vegetarian after seeing a TV documentary about farm animals, finding the way they thrash about after supposedly being stunned "violent" and "horrendous." Marc Bolan and T. Rex's show at King's Hall in Belle Vue on June 16, 1972 is Morrissey's first introduction to a wider world of pop music. By September, he is seeing David Bowie on his Ziggy Stardust tour; to Morrissey, he is "damned-soul-as-savior-of-society." Opening band the New York Dolls cancel last-minute, but he catches them on television's The Old Grey Whistle Test a year later. Their clashing of blue-collar ethics with flamboyant dress makes them an instant draw for the young man. His obsession with the band would lead to his founding and presidency of the British New York Dolls fan club. The same year, he sees Lou Reed, Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople.
1974 to 1975
Morrissey begins to dress glam, though it makes him an outcast in Manchester's conservative society. He also discovers poetry: W.H. Auden, Hillaire Belloc, Dorothy Parker and A.E. Housman are among his favourites. He appears on Coronation Street, cycling through a dreary street on his bicycle in an establishing shot: "Even if you don't blink at all, you will miss me."
In 1976, Morrissey visits his aunts in New York City; infatuated with Patti Smith and Horses ("I have never heard truth established so sincerely"), he makes a pilgrimage to CBGB, where he has his photo taken with childhood hero Russell Mael of Sparks. Back in England, now an obsessive music fan who regularly writes in to the music weeklies, he is rebuffed by New York Dolls members at their show, but converses briefly with Mick Jones of the opening band, the Clash. Morrissey knows him from having responded to his "singer wanted" ad, but the job had gone to Joe Strummer. At 17, Morrissey is looking to start a band.
Following the departure of his father from the house, Morrissey spends more time with his mother, who supports him through depression and unemployment. Morrissey reads, versing himself in feminist theory, and writes for any music publication that will have him.
Morrissey makes friends in the scene in nearby Wythenshawe, and when half of local band Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds abandon ship, Morrissey steps in as singer. It's an odd fit — Morrissey is more Patti Smith and New York Dolls than anything resembling the beloved punk group — but he makes it onstage for the first time on May 8, 1978, opening for Magazine. Music journalist Paul Morley gives the band a positive write-up in NME, but they break up a month later. In August, Morrissey makes the acquaintance of a local guitarist named Johnny Marr, but only in passing. Uncertain about his future, he plans a move to New York, but his mother intervenes and sends Morrissey and Jackie to a suburb of Denver, CO in preparation of a planned family move there. After a few months, homesick and disenchanted, he returns to Manchester and enters a deep depression.
1979 to 1981
Morrissey languishes in the music scene: after the Nosebleeds he briefly fronts Slaughter & the Dogs and plays a managerial role for A Certain Ratio. Margaret Thatcher is voted in as Prime Minister of England in 1979; her perceived class warfare "creates more social unrest throughout England than has ever been known"; her term raises Morrissey's ire and will inspire many a sharp-tongued lyric. He often considers suicide, and drifts further from the music scene. After being turned down by the other music weeklies, Morrissey accepts a humble position as the concert reviewer for Record Mirror, where his writing sharpens. Morrissey moves out to live with visual artist, musician and friend Linder Sterling. In 1981, Morrissey publishes a book-zine about the New York Dolls and starts work on a book about Howard Devoto, but hits a block when the Magazine frontman turns down an interview.
In May 1982, local guitarist Johnny Marr shows up at Morrissey's door, having decided he needs a lyricist and songwriting partner. Being just 18 years old, Marr's peers aren't up to the task, but 22-year-old Morrissey's enigmatic, eccentric persona makes him a worthy candidate. Morrissey asks Marr to put on one of his 45s; when he picks a rare Marvelettes B-side, "You're the One," and sings along to prove he knows it, Morrissey is impressed. The next day, Morrissey calls Marr and the two begin writing songs. "I was just there, dying," Morrissey would tell press a year later, "and he rescued me." Morrissey comes up with band name the Smiths, which is rounded out by Marr's friend Dale Hibbert on bass and, after months of searching, Mike Joyce, an acquaintance of both Marr and Hibbert, on drums. They play their first gig on October 4, 1982, composed of just four songs: "Suffer Little Children," "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," "Handsome Devil" and a cover of the Cookies' "I Want a Boy for My Birthday." On the strength of a positive write-up in The Face and a demo they'd recorded at Decibelle Studios (where Hibbert worked), a scout at EMI's A&R convinces the department head to fund a single for the band. After ousting Hibbert, Marr calls childhood friend and bassist Andy Rourke to play during the sessions; like Joyce, he's immediately put off by Morrissey's standoffishness. "He just shook my hand and then stood in the corner in his long overcoat and didn't really say anything." The energy once the quartet starts playing, however, is another matter. The Smiths are born, and though Morrissey's vocals aren't yet strong enough to warrant their signing to EMI, for the first time, he feels assured of his success.
Morrissey comes out of his shell at the Smiths' January 25 show at Manhattan Sound in Manchester, a set he ends by throwing confetti in the air; Marr will later call that show's Morrissey "the finished article." In February, the band record new song "Hand in Glove" and bring it to Rough Trade, who agree to put the single out. The band are picking up buzz: NME gushes about their recent show at the Hacienda; City Fun praises their Manhattan Sound show; and more label A&R reps are showing up at their gigs. Rough Trade's Geoff Travis extends to the Smiths' makeshift manager, Joe Moss, the first long-term contract the label has ever offered. The "Hand in Glove" single portrays the backside of a nude man, and Morrissey does an interview with Him magazine; soon after, despite remaining sexually ambiguous and expressing his detestation of homophobia, Morrissey decides to mostly stay away from the sticky subject of sexuality; the Him interview is pulled from the band's press clippings.
In May, the Smiths record a John Peel Session in which the band, and Morrissey's vocals in general, sound better than ever. On June 24, they sign a three-year/album contract, with a label's option for five, with Rough Trade. Controversy surrounds the band in September when the Sun interprets some of Morrissey's lyrics as condoning child molestation, including the Moors murders-referencing "Reel Around the Fountain." The song is planned as the next single, so the Smiths head into the Maida Vale studio on September 14 to record a new one: "This Charming Man."
Unimpressed with Troy Tate's final mix of the Smith's debut album, the band bring in John Porter to rerecord parts of it. The process takes place in late 1983, funded in part by Sire Records, who have just signed the Smiths in the U.S. and want something to release. Joe Moss sets up a publishing company for the Smiths' songs; Rourke and Joyce don't sign, because according to Marr and Morrissey, "They'll never write." The foursome sit down to agree upon a 40-40-10-10 split for band royalties, but nothing is signed or made official, a fact that will come back to haunt the band, and Morrissey especially, in 1996.
In advance of their New Year's Eve show in New York City, Rough Trade release the "New York" mixes of "This Charming Man" as a 12-inch — the third single release of that song, after both a seven-inch and 12-inch in 1983 — and fans are irritated. Morrissey publicly denounces the release, putting his foot down against what he saw as distasteful modern modes of marketing. He will similarly denounce promo music videos, giving the Smiths an anti-corporate and self-determined air that wins further loyalty from Smiths fans, who are already turning up to gigs with flowers and invading the stage just to touch the band's singer.
The Smiths release "What Difference Does It Make?"; it's their first single widely available in chain stores and their first top 20 hit. Morrissey sports a hearing aid as a fashion accessory when the band play the single on Top of the Pops. On February 20, the Smiths release their self-titled debut. It charts at number two in England, but the response is mixed; fans are disappointed by the production, which weakens songs they know from the Peel sessions, and by the omission of songs like "Handsome Devil," "These Things Take Time" and "This Charming Man." At the age of 24, Morrissey leaves home for a place in London as more business demands are put upon him. After recording "I Don't Owe You Anything" with Morrissey and Marr's hero, Sandie Shaw, the Smiths back her on Top of the Pops in April. When Morrissey fails to show up for a publicity meeting scheduled with Shaw, Marr goes to find him, and the two see a strange sight out Morrissey's back window: Shaw, their childhood hero, standing on the fire escape, trying to get his attention.
The Smiths record and release "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," their first entry in the top 10. They play Glastonbury Festival, but they're disappointed by the lack of intimacy, and avoid future festival appearances in favour of more intimate headlining gigs. Dismayed that the Smiths used their oddball new song "How Soon is Now?" as a B-side, Morrissey conceives Hatful of Hollow, a compilation of the band's non-album singles, B-sides and session tracks. It's released on November 12 to rave reviews and fan response, and becomes the Smiths' second top 10 that year. The infinitely quotable Morrissey has become the band's mouthpiece in the press; after claiming he's celibate, his sexuality becomes a talking point. His affection for melancholy does, too; Marr plays with the name "misery mozzery," and bequeaths the nickname Moz upon him. Partially to escape the media circus and partly because Morrissey and Marr can now afford homes there, the Smiths move back to Manchester. The band head into the studio to self-produce a cohesive "statement album," rather than one made up of singles like The Smiths. Morrissey chooses Stephen Street to engineer instead of John Porter.
The band name the new album after its most militant, uncompromising song — Meat is Murder is released in February, dislodging Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA for the top chart spot in the UK. The album is a success critically, too, as it finds the band stretching their musical wings and tackling subjects like animal rights, the education system and abuse, subjects that would replace Morrissey's sexuality as interview fodder. By framing vegetarianism as rebellion and revolution, he also changes the diets of a generation of music fans. When non-album singles "Shakespeare's Sister" and the late-release "How Soon is Now?" under-perform, Morrissey blames Rough Trade, while the label blames the band for over-saturating the market; the relationship is beginning to sour. The Meat is Murder tour finds the band playing theatres instead of clubs; the day after their finale at London's Royal Albert Hall, Morrissey writes a scathing letter to Rough Trade demanding payment for designing the Smith's record sleeves and chastises the label for not showing enthusiasm for the band the day before. "We promise never to go on tour to promote our records again," he writes.
He's getting increasingly paranoid of the world, slandering not just Rough Trade but Boomtown Rats singer/Band Aid founder Bob Geldof in the press, and claiming to Time Out that "People want to throw a blanket over even the slightest mention of the Smiths" despite booming popularity. The band have something of a mystical, enigmatic reputation in America, as Meat is Murder is available only on import and the band have played but one show there, in New York. Without a proper music video, only college radio is playing the band's songs for an audience that has fallen in love with British music like the Clash, Elvis Costello and the Cure. With "How Soon is Now?" topping college radio charts, Sire's parent company, Warner Bros., finances a video clip for the song, unbeknownst to the band. As the video thrives on MTV, the Smiths are booked into a North American tour at 2,500 to 4,500-capacity venues, but organization in the band's own camp is spotty. On May 16, having hired a lawyer, the Smiths send a letter to Rough Trade declaring their intent to leave the label, and they fire both their tour manager and their new de facto manager, Scott Piering. In July, Rough Trade respond with an injunction, preventing the Smiths from leaving before delivering a third album.
The Smiths begin their U.S. tour in Chicago. Morrissey slams Sire for releasing Meat is Murder with "How Soon is Then?" inserted midway, and for the track's promo video; for Morrissey, Rough Trade isn't doing enough and Sire is apparently doing too much without permission. For fans, though, the incendiary comments — published after the tour's completion — paint a picture of fierce independence on the part of the Smiths, and sales of their records soar. Fans go crazy at the American shows; they're "just worshipping and hanging on every syllable that Morrissey would sing," according to American booking agent Steve Ferguson. Andy Rourke notices it, too: "Morrissey's lyrics were universal. [His] lyrics spoke to those lonely people, those misfits." Morrissey's reputation for absenteeism is growing: by July 1985 alone, he's stood up People, U.K. talk show Wogan and a number of gigs and band meetings. Having read about unrest between the Smiths and Rough Trade, EMI's new managing director David Munn begins to make calls. The Smiths return to the studio in August. The sessions will be remembered fondly; Street knows to treat Morrissey with special care, and thus gets the best out of him and Marr. When third album The Queen is Dead is finished, its release isn't yet assured to any label, but on December 20, Rough Trade is granted an injunction, sent to Morrissey personally, for the master tapes to be delivered.
When Rourke's heroin habit comes to light in February 1986, Morrissey leaves an envelope on Rourke's car: "Andy, you have left the Smiths. Good luck and good bye." Guitarist Craig Gannon is hired to take his place. The Smiths meet with Rough Trade, where the contract is shortened from five to four albums. Rough Trade preps The Queen is Dead for release, but lose the argument that "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" should be the album's single; "Bigmouth Strikes Again" is released instead. "Meekly," Morrissey will later write in his Autobiography, "I had missed the value of 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out,' and I suggested to Johnny that it shouldn't be included on the album. He laughs a you-silly-thing warranty, and I drop the protest... It is often a relief to be wrong." The album is released June 16, 1986, and the band owe Rough Trade just one more album; at the airport on their way to the U.S. for the Queen is Dead tour, they sign to EMI.
Without a tour manager to guide them, the tour takes its toll on the band; they turn to drugs, junk food and drink and, in Morrissey's case, solitude; he often requires multiple requests before taking the stage. The band cancel the tour with four remaining dates, including the finale at New York's Radio City Music Hall. In a Melody Maker article attempting to clarify Morrissey's stance on single "Panic," the singer comes across racist when he claims, of "black modern music" like Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, that "in essence this music doesn't say anything whatsoever." Later in the interview, his persecution complex hits a new low: "Obviously to get on Top of the Pops these days, one has to be, by law, black... The last LP ended up at number two and we were still told by radio that nobody wanted to listen to the Smiths in the daytime. Is that not a conspiracy?" Morrissey threatens to sue Melody Maker for libel until the magazine promises to submit the interview tapes as proof to their lawyers. The same week Melody Maker publishes the article, news of the Smiths' signing to EMI surfaces; it's a blow for fans of the band's purism, and a seeming reminder that even the proudly indie Morrissey and the Smiths have a price. Increasingly violent shows as the Smiths get more popular, cancellations, non-stop drinking and partying and problems with Craig Gannon, who would be fired by year's end, convince Marr, at least in his mind, to end the Smiths. On December 13, Morrissey skips out on recording "Sheila Take a Bow," to which he has invited Sandie Shaw. When she shows, she's left with Marr, who she'll later say "wore the haggard look of a man tired of making excuses for his ill-mannered play friend." The fabric of the Smiths is unraveling.
In February, Rough Trade solicits the Smiths' permission to release compilation The World Won't Listen, which cobbles together singles and B-sides since "Shakespeare's Sister," but contains just one new track, "You Just Haven't Earned it Yet, Baby." New manager Ken Friedman tries, unsuccessfully, to sort out the Smith's messy finances, but can't get Morrissey to discuss it with him. Still, the mood at Wool Hall Studio in March is "joyful and relaxed" as the band record a new album; they're now well-trained in recording, and are writing more in the studio, rather than performing new material live first. Songs like "Death of a Disco Dancer" and "A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours" showcase the experimentation made possible by the band's new writing process.
At the end of March, Sire crams everything the Smiths haven't released in America onto the 24-track Louder Than Bombs. It's the band's most thorough compilation, showcasing songs from "Hand in Glove" to the recent "You Just Haven't Earned it Yet, Baby." Friedman tries to arrange another American tour, but Morrissey is adamantly against it. He does agree to Sire's request for a music video after bonding with director Tamra Davis, but on the arranged shooting day in April, he doesn't show. The band and company descend on Morrissey's house; they know he's home, but he doesn't answer the door. That Morrissey is now ignoring Marr, not just label staff, managers and press, is an omen of the Smiths' demise; a meeting the next day at which Morrissey insists they fire Friedman so that the already overwhelmed Marr can manage the group is another.
With the band's new album, Strangeways, Here We Come finished, Marr calls a Smiths meeting at a fish and chips place in Notting Hill; he's vague about whether he's taking a break or leaving the band for good, but the other Smiths take it the latter way. They plead with Marr to record some B-sides for the album first; in May, they record a cover of "Work is a Four-Letter Word" and "I Keep Mine Hidden" as Morrissey and Marr snap at each other in the studio. Rough Trade keep quiet about the turmoil, scheduling Strangeways for a September release, but rumours spread, and when Marr reads about them in the NME, he assumes the rest of the band are spreading them and phones the magazine to confirm the break-up. When the article runs on August 8, he has officially left the Smiths. Morrissey brings in Ivor Perry to replace Marr and record B-sides; the quick turnaround is no doubt perceived as spit in the eye to Marr. The session goes badly, and Morrissey abandons it two days later. In an interview with i-D, Morrissey claims that Marr's departure is "distressing, but it's not the Smiths' funeral by any means," but when, on September 4, Joyce quits, Morrissey's spokesperson at Rough Trade follows suit for him. The Smiths are over. Street picks up the bass and Morrissey hires the Durutti Column's Vini Reilly to record for Morrissey's debut solo album.
Still, Moz is hurt; 15 years later, he'll tell the Observer that Marr knew that "at the end of the Smiths I was in a very, very depressed state — and that possibly the fact that he broke up the Smiths could have killed me." Strangeways hits number two when it's released on September 28, and though Morrissey and Marr insist it's their best work yet — "[It] was, we both knew, the Smiths' masterpiece, with everything in its perfect place," Moz claims — fans can't help but hear it as the sound of the Smiths breaking up. The story of a distressed fan holding a radio station in Denver at gunpoint to play the Smiths makes the news, but remains unconfirmed to this day.
In interviews for his first solo album, Viva Hate, Morrissey keeps the faith, telling the NME in February that "I would be totally in favour of a reunion." The album drops March 14. First single "Suedehead" goes to number six, and the album hits number one. Morrissey compiles a live Smiths album, Rank, and it's released by Rough Trade on September 5. The 1983 Peel Session is released as a 12-inch a month later. Moz is cross-examined by a Special Branch Task Force for Viva Hate track "Margaret on the Guillotine."
In January 1989, Morrissey, has a bone-chilling ghost sighting when longtime friend Linder Sterling, Tim Broad and James O'Brien drive out to Saddleworth Moor. Their drive home in the fog and complete darkness is interrupted when, miles from anything, Broad's Mercedes headlights hit a figure in the fog "standing upright and then throwing his arms towards our lights in a terrifying and unspeakably forlorn plea for our attention," Moz writes in his Autobiography. The figure is a "wretched vision of sallow cheeks and matted shoulder-length hair, a boy of roughly 18 years... The vision chilled our blood... all the components of his body — face, hair, skin, crumpled little jacket — stood out as one sheet of grey." When they call the police, they respond merely that a lot of strange things have been seen in the Wessenden Road area.
Morrissey works with Rourke and Joyce for the last time on singles "Last of the Famous International Playboys" and "Interesting Drug." Despite Morrissey and Joyce still working together, Joyce's lawyers threaten legal action in search of Smiths royalties, unless Morrissey makes him a full-time member of his new band. He ignores the threat. He releases "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" in November. On December 22, Morrissey makes his return to the stage for his final performance alongside Mike Joyce, Andy Rourke and Craig Gannon. Entry is free to anyone wearing Smiths t-shirts; Moz wears one himself.
Morrissey's success since going solo — four top ten singles, a number one album — hits a snag when, without Street, he can't finish a planned follow-up album. He releases compilation Bona Drag, which assembles his solo singles and B-sides, on October 15. The album is a critical success, and he returns to work on a new album with Fairground Attraction's Mark Nevin.
Kill Uncle is released March 5; Morrissey will later admit that not even he is a fan of the album's "pale and pasty" sound. With Kill Uncle, he says, "I am finally up against the limits of my abilities." Morrissey heads out on tour with a live band including Boz Boorer, Spencer Cobrin, Gary Day and Alain Whyte, who bring the flaccid Uncle material to life. David Bowie joins Moz onstage at the Forum in Los Angeles: "The 12-year-old within me — unable to leave for school unless I'd soothed my sickness with at least one spin of 'Starman' — bathes in the moment with disbelief."
The group bonds, and Moz realizes he's better as a group leader than completely solo. In February 1992, he heads into the studio with Boorer and Whyte to record with Mick Ronson, who brings a glam influence to the proceedings. The young band are a handful in the studio, starting an egg fight in the kitchen, but Your Arsenal, released July 27, is a success; the album earns a Grammy nomination in the U.S., possibly aided by the concurrent release of the Smiths' Best I, which enters the UK charts at number one. The album's muscular sound establishes the difference between Morrissey and the Smiths, and influences all of his subsequent releases. Without printed lyrics, the necessary quotation marks around the line "England for the English" in album track "The National Front Disco" go unseen. The track, a somewhat vague elegy for a brainwashed boy who adopts White Power ideologies, is interpreted as racist, made worse by an NME review that construes his waving of a Union Jack in concert as having similar racial implications.
A long year for Morrissey, marked by death and depression: manager Nigel Thomas, Tim Broad and Mick Ronson are all dead by May. In June, he begins recording a new album with Steve Lillywhite, who mixed "Ask" for the Smiths. The relaxed atmosphere in the studio is therapeutic for Moz. The album balances Whyte's gentler, Marr-esque compositions with beefier fare from Boorer. It's scheduled for release in autumn, but is pushed back when Warner reissues the Smiths catalogue on CD.
Critics fawn over Vauxhall and I upon its March 14 release, calling it Morrissey's prettiest record yet. Not wanting to replicate the sound, he heads into the studio in December with the same band with an aim to make something "more twisted, rougher." After producers Brian Eno and Chris Thomas decline, Morrissey invites Lillywhite back into the studio. They meet at studio Miraval, in a converted mansion in the south of France. When Morrissey finds it difficult to handle the lack of central heating and French chefs who would rather cook meat, he heads back to England. The band record nearly a dozen backing tracks without Morrissey, but they've recorded them in the wrong key so they're scrapped. Morrissey meets Jake Walters, with whom he enjoys a romantic two-year relationship that remains a secret until Morrissey publishes his Autobiography in 2013.
After a UK tour in support of the compilation World of Morrissey, the band begin recording again, but Morrissey is getting constant colds; his singing is affected, so the resulting Southpaw Grammar features long instrumental passages. Critics are divided over the album's indulgent experiments when it's released on August 28 through new label RCA Victor. Morrissey heads out on tour with David Bowie, but cancels after nine dates.
Morrissey won't visit a recording studio again until 1997. In January 1996, he cancels an EP recording session with Joe Strummer as producer. Later, he cancels a North American tour and tells his band there won't be a new album in 1996. By December, Joyce takes his case against Morrissey and Marr for unpaid Smiths royalties — he wants 25 percent, not just the 10 percent verbally promised him — to the High Court. Because no official 40-40-10-10 contract was ever officially drafted, and because the onus is apparently on Marr and Morrissey to prove he had agreed to less than 25 percent, rather than on Joyce to prove he deserves that amount, Joyce wins. Given the lack of organization of Smiths funds, Morrissey ends up paying much of the fees out of his continued solo career earnings. Worse is the emotional toll: the case forever blemishes the Smiths, making pleas for their reunion to this day futile. "To me," Morrissey would later say, "the Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny left it, and Mike has destroyed it."
In January, less than a month after the verdict has passed, Morrissey returns to Hook End Manor studio to record his sixth solo album. In the wake of press crucifixion for the Joyce case and a new label (Mercury) that Morrissey feels doesn't care, August's Maladjusted is uninspired. "I began doubting. I could not give the best of me any more." It's perhaps also a case of laurel-resting: Morrissey recorded in the same studio with the same producer (Lillywhite) and co-writers. Album track "Sorrow Will Come in the End" is taken off of UK versions of the album to avoid libel action following the Smiths court case; "The Leeches Go On Removing" is similarly omitted. When the band tours the U.S. and Europe in the winter, there are nights when they perform just two songs from the new album.
Morrissey moves to Los Angeles at the start of 1998. Mercury is taken over by Seagram and Morrissey spends the year trying to free himself from his contract. It will be five years before he re-signs elsewhere, which Morrissey blames on outrageous demands from major labels, including, according to Simon Goddard's Mozipedia, the request to "sack his band and make an album either with Radiohead or Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn." He's offered a role on the UK television show EastEnders, which he turns down.
1999 to 2001
In 1999, he co-headlines the inaugural Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival before embarking on the Oye Esteban! tour — Spanish for "Hey Steven!" — from October 1999 to April 2000. The Oye Esteban! DVD, which includes all of the music videos from his solo career, is released in 2000. In 2001, Morrissey is referenced in a question on television game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
In 2002, Morrissey's world tour ends with two sold-out nights at London's Royal Albert Hall. In the seven years between Maladjusted and his next studio album, Morrissey benefits from the sunshine of Los Angeles and staying out of the press. The Smiths and Morrissey are cited by NME as the most important artists of the magazine's 50-year history.
U.K.'s Channel 4 films release The Importance of Being Morrissey and a host of young upstart bands from the UK, the Libertines and Franz Ferdinand among them, cite him as an important influence. He signs with Sanctuary Records and reveals that he's working on a new record with Jerry Finn, who's produced for Blink-182, Bad Religion and Green Day. By autumn, he's at Hook End Manor, but he finishes the album in Los Angeles. Of the 21 songs recorded, 12 make the final album.
In January 2004, Morrissey announces that his new album will be titled You Are the Quarry. He tells press that the album will be "absolutely the definitive Morrissey album." First single "Irish Blood, English Heart" has been around since 1999, but makes a splash at number three on the UK charts, the highest a Morrissey single has reached. Quarry comes into the charts second behind Keane's Hopes and Fears upon its May 17 release; critics hail it as Morrissey's grand return. He spends the rest of 2004 on tour, and begins the encore at London's Earls Court by saying that "There are goodbyes and there are farewells. This is farewell," fuelling rumours that Quarry was Morrissey's last album before retirement. He receives a letter from the Strokes' Julian Casablancas angered by and apologizing for an NME interview in which Casablancas is quoted calling Morrissey a "faggot," assuring him the quote was fabricated.
Morrissey moves to Rome in 2005, which has an immediate effect on his songwriting; new songs like "You Have Killed Me" contain references to the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti, and he tells press "I've become an Italianophile." Jesse Tobias, who joined the Morrissey band for Quarry, is contributing many new songs, including "You Have Killed Me" and "In the Future When All's Well." When the group begin recording in late August and first choice Jeff Saltzman (producer of the Killers' Hot Fuss) falls through, Moz puts Boz Boorer in charge of production. When it's apparent they've overestimated their abilities, they bring in Tony Visconti, who rebuilds the new album from September to November. Ennio Morricone provides a string score for "Dear God Please Help Me"; an Italian children's choir provides backing on three tracks.
2006 to 2007
When Ringleader of the Tormentors is released on April 3, 2006, it receives mixed reviews, possibly to balance out the overhyped Quarry, but many still praise it as an achievement, and it becomes his first number one album since Vauxhall. He tours through Europe and the U.S., purposely skipping Canada as protest of the "barbaric and cruel" seal hunt, a boycott he'll continue until present day. On September 20, 2007, Morrissey barely escapes a kidnap attempt as he's driven to the border in Mexico. When the drive from a show back to the U.S. border takes longer than expected, Moz's security demands an answer and the driver "makes a sudden and dramatic swerve from the freeway exit," according to Morrissey's Autobiography. Escaping the car on a stretch of unmanned highway, it's a two-hour walk back to their destination. He's offered $75 million to reunite the Smiths and declines: "In an effort to stop the speculation and kill off the rumour mongers who seem to use these things to take advantage of committed fans, we can tell you that one thing the future will not bring is a Smiths reunion tour."
A Greatest Hits comp in February 2008 includes two new songs, hinting to fans that Morrissey might be preparing another full-length. He announces a September 2008 release, but cites management and label-related changes as reasons for a push back. Producer Finn suffers a brain haemorrhage in August 2008, throwing a morbid air about the already death-obsessed Years of Refusal, but musically, it's Morrissey's most robust and energetic, and his vocals are in top form. Morrissey reveals he's begun writing his autobiography.
Years of Refusal is finally released on February 16, 2009. Morrissey tours the U.S. through March and April, and in August, denounces two vinyl box set releases of seven-inch singles from his early solo career. He collapses onstage in October, a few days before the release of Swords, a compilation of B-sides from his post-millennial records, on October 26, but completes the European and U.S. tour to close out 2009.
As Morrissey works on his memoirs, he announces a reissue of Bona Drag for September 2010. In October, the A.V. Club wrangles a list of anti-Morrissey songs.
Moz becomes more outspoken as he takes another break from music, sparking controversy with outrageous statements about a Norway shooting that compare it to the meat and food industry. "We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Shit every day."
Morrissey denounces the Royal Family during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012, writing that the "Queen's Diamond Jubilee presents a new lesson in the force of tyranny, and is an expression of loathing and abhorrence of the British poor — and all done, quite naturally, at the public's expense!" He criticizes Barack Obama for his decisions regarding the Syrian Civil War, calling him "simply a set of teeth, and useless in every other regard." He tells Juice Online that "whether it's Assad in Syria, or the British so-called royals, all world leaders are dictatorships, and from what we've seen in the middle east, they will all not hesitate to turn the tanks onto their own people should anyone question their morality."
Morrissey kicks off 2013 by cancelling a string of tour dates due to a bleeding ulcer. It's the first of many show cancellations through the year, including an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel alongside the Duck Dynasty stars, stating that "As far as my reputation is concerned, I can't take the risk of being on a show alongside people who, in effect, amount to animal serial killers. If Jimmy cannot dump Duck Dynasty then we must step away." In October, he releases 25: Live, a DVD of his March performance at Los Angeles' Hollywood High School. Morrissey begins leaking details about his forthcoming Autobiography, and after sealing an American publishing deal, makes it available via Penguin in the UK and through Putnam Adult in North America; the American version omits Morrissey's two-year relationship with Jake Walters. When Lou Reed passes in late 2013, he records a cover of "Satellite of Love" as a tribute.
In January 2014, Morrissey announces he is "midway" through his first novel and that he's working on a new album, to be released through Universal's Harvest Imprint. Slowly, he reveals the album's title (World Peace is None of Your Business), a track list and first single "Istanbul." Moz being Moz, he condemns the Canadian seal hunt once more, drawing the ire of, and a response from, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea. Seeing a golden opportunity, somebody starts a fake (albeit verified) Morrissey twitter account; it's shut down after Morrissey tells fan site True to You that it isn't him. In July, Morrissey cancels yet another tour, blaming his illness on opening act Kristeen Young. World Peace is None of Your Business is scheduled for July 15, 30 years after the release of The Smiths. A press release for the album promises that Morrissey's signature remains familiar as ever; the album "explores the tragedy of human apathy in our turbulent, modern era," with lyrics that ring with "humour, drama, and emotional longing."
The Essential Morrissey:
The Queen is Dead (Rough Trade/Sire, 1986)
The Smiths album on which Morrissey is at his finest is also the band's best. Tongue-in-cheek references to his limited singing range and commentary on body image bookend an album on which words that could only be Moz's own flow like wine. It's a bona fide classic.
Your Arsenal (Sire, 1992)
Despite the quality of Viva Hate and singles comp Bona Drag, Your Arsenal establishes Morrissey's sound as distinct, for the first time, from the Smiths. The muscular swagger of "You're Gonna Need Someone on Your Side" and "Glamorous Glue" confirmed that Morrissey's dramatic croon sounds best with close songwriting collaborators. The energy of his new band is apparent, inspiring impassioned vocal delivery from Morrissey throughout.
Years of Refusal (Decca/Polydor, 2009)
Despite the frenzy surrounding Morrissey's return with You Are the Quarry and the pomp and circumstance of Ringleader of the Tormentors, it's the back-to-basics boldness of Years of Refusal that stands as his best album of the 2000s. Producer Jerry Finn brings a boisterous pop edge to the band's songs and Morrissey's voice sounds better than it has in years.