Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra Track and a tacky badge
('Paint A Vulgar Picture', The Smiths)
Southpaw Grammar (Expanded edition) is a 2009 reissue of Morrissey's often overlooked 1995 album. Remastered with additional songs, new artwork and an overhaul of the tracklisting, it feels like a new album. To my ears it is. Time for a reappraisal.
My favourite Morrissey albums remain 1992's Your Arsenal and 1994's Vauxhall & I. His best work, surpassing anything by The Smiths (who largely passed me by in my 1980's teenage years) and to a lesser extent his renaissance period in 2004 with You Are The Quarry.
In the context of 1995 I looked forward to Southpaw Grammar with much anticipation. However, it just fell a bit flat for me although I enjoyed it in moments. Come 2009's edition and surprisingly the most significant change for me is with the running order.
How important is sequencing to a good album? More than I realised. I think of my favourite album ever - Seamonsters by The Wedding Present and specifically the tracks that bookend it. It has to start with Dalliance and end with Octopussy. It just has to. The same can be said for Southpaw Grammar's predecessor and Now My Heart Is Full and Speedway.
Don't ask me to explain. My favourite artist - Juliana Hatfield has tried to. She wrote about sequencing in her blog earlier this year.
An album that is made to be an album – a series of songs with an arc and a flow – and not a bunch of random songs or singles or “hits” or featured tracks – is called an album because it is presented to the world in a certain sequence. And it matters SO MUCH in what order the songs are presented. If the songs are switched around, it can make a good album a not so good album; something might be “off.” Some kind of je ne sais quoi might be lacking. A great sequence, along with good mix choices, can turn an alright bunch of songs into a whole cohesive listening experience.
Juliana's method may not always be the work of creative genius.
This explains why the original tracklisting on Southpaw Grammar was part of it's downfall. Yet, at the time it seemed to make sense as a concept album, with the two longest (over 10 minutes) songs encasing the album's feel and tone. The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils opened the original album. It is the harshest yet most involving song on the record. Sampling parts of a Shostakovich Symphony with a noisy slow march, it turned the lyrical concepts of so may Smiths tunes on their head - notably of course, The Headmaster Ritual. So much goes on in the track and by the end of the 10 minutes the listener is exhausted. Some of the critics at the time complained that it was Morrissey at his self indulgent, blustery worst. I've always loved the song but it is too much, too soon for the album. The songs that follow don't flow and match the character, and can't help but appear lightweight in comparison.
Knowing that there was another epic song to come at the end (the original cd gave the timings quite prominently on the artwork) diminished the value of the 6 songs inbetween.
The two lengthy songs are now in their right place. The Teachers Are Afraid of The Pupils waits until track 10 to unleash its power on this now expanded 12 track album. Southpaw is now track 6. Although it is a 10 minute song, it doesn't feel as imposing on the ear as The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils and works perfectly as a mid album divergence. It was never that strong as a song which only comes through now in the 2009 sequence. It just fits as an interlude to conventional songs but not as an over emphasised 'epic' (Life Is A Pigsty on 2006's Ringleader of The Tormentors works much the same way).
In this 2009 reissue all this heavy baggage is removed from the opening track and replaced by The Boy Racer. Admittedly not Morrissey's finest moment (and a song which Morrissey agrees should never have been a single), as an album opener it has sufficient gravitas to envelop the listener and help ease into the album as a whole.
The equally adequate Do Your Best And Don't Worry follows. No-one else quite manages lyrics like this:
Compare the best of their days
With the worst of your days
You wont win
With your standards so high
And your spirits so low
At least remember ...
This is you on a bad day, you on a pale day
Sequencing cannot change the best song though. Reader Meet Author:
You don't know a thing about their lives
Books don't save them, books aren't Stanley knives
And if a fight broke out here tonight
You'd be the first away, because you're that type
A work of genius in 1995 and now here, as performed for the BBC in 2009:
Three previously unreleased songs now adorn the album.
Honey, You Know Where To Find Me sounds like it should have been a b-side, albeit a good one, from his early 90's acoustic period, post Kill Uncle.
The inclusion of Fantastic Bird is as baffling. Recorded three years previously it sounds like it should do - a Your Arsenal session. This degrades the integrity of the Southpaw Grammar. And in a repackage, integrity is always vital :) You Must Please Remember (a Dagenham Dave b-side) is sadly missing from this repackage and should have been there in its place.
You Should Have Been Nice To Me appears after the aforementioned epic The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils and fits nicely here. A gentle paced comedown similar to the quieter songs on Vauxhall & I this is a worthwhile addition. It is really quite gorgeous and a shame to have been hidden for 14 years.
The future is around me
I see it, I seize it, I use it, I throw it away
Because I'm happy to be like I was in the first place
And finally a fourth additional track now closes the album. Nobody Loves Us, previously available as a b-side and compilation track is belatedly added to the album it should always have appeared on. As an album closer it is perfect. Morrissey as stereotype but nothing wrong with that - there's always been a comforting familiarity about him at times.
The completely new artwork will delight narcissism watchers now that the cover has a photo of Moz, in line with all of his other albums (World Of Morrissey doesn't count). The original cover reflected his 1995 obsession with boxing and was always horrible. Morrissey admits his mistake here in the sleevenotes.
There remain flaws in the 2009 reissue, that no amount of repackaging can hide.
The indulgence of the drums which open The Operation still annoys as much today. It is way, way too long. In fact, all of it should be deleted. No amount of artistic babbling in the sleevenotes will ever justify this for me.
Dagenham Dave is still rubbish. An inferior musical nod back to the Your Arsenal era and some of the worst lyrics of his career. Humourous social commentary on the age? Not for me, and he would repeat the hopeless method in 1997 on the risible Roy's Keen.
Best Friend On The Payroll still sounds like a great idea for a song but the lyrics seem half finished. These gripes aside, I'm struck by how many of Morrissey's best lyrics are here. (and his worst - see Dagenham Dave.)
Have you ever escaped from a shipwrecked life? (Reader Meet Author)
Born again atheist, Practising troublemaker (Nobody Loves Us)
My ears need a good syringe these days so I won't pretend to notice any dramatic improvement on the remastering of the record but it sounds polished.
In the sleevenotes, Morrissey alludes to Alain Whyte's comparative anonymity in the story of Moz the artist. Too true, and I consider Whyte's contributions to be far more impressive to my ears than those of Johnny Marr. That said, my favourite Southpaw Grammar songs are those co-written with Boz Boorer - Reader Meet Author, The Teachers Are Afraid of The Pupils, You Should Have Been Nice to Me and Nobody Loves Us.
What is clear to me now is I feel like I have a new Morrissey album in my collection, instead of the 8 song flawed concept piece it has always appeared. Artistic freedom, acerbic wit, moments of inspiration, and the odd duffer. In other words: Morrissey.
It was always a good album. It's just taken 14 years, resequencing, repackaging and expansion for me to realise.