It is 1991, and Morrissey is at his most handsome, about to surge to the peak of his powers as a solo artist, a post-Smith. From the single My Love Life up until the incomparable Vauxhall and I the Mancunian singer produced an unbroken string of classic records that tower over much of the rest of his work.
The journey is a decidedly odd one. Kill Uncle, his second (proper) solo album after the rightly-revered Viva Hate, is an elusive record. Written with Mark Nevin (best known for recording with Fairground Attraction and Kirsty MacColl) and recorded with session musicians (Andrew Paresi, who documented his experiences in the BBC radio documentary I Was Morrissey’s Drummer) and those roped in from other bands (Madness’ Bedders), the album was short and at times bizarre. The singles (Sing Your Life and Our Frank) were light and breezy, but the rest of the album is loveable in parts and instantly forgettable in others. The first side of the record ends with the enjoyable Mute Witness and, Morrissey’s funniest ever song, King Leer, veering towards music hall, camp and winsome. The flip side, barring the lyrical high of Driving Your Girlfriend Home, can only be described as a palate cleanser for what comes next.
What came immediately next was Morrissey’s return to the live stage for the first time since the legendary free concert at Wolverhampton Civic Hall in December 1988 where he had taken to the stage with his former Smiths, minus Johnny Marr. The extensive Kill Uncle tour was to be different, and an all new band was recruited. Before this tour (if anyone can confirm if first contact was for the video for Sing Your Life, which has both Mark Nevin and Mozzer’s soon-to-be new band playing at Camden Workers Social Club then I’d be grateful, as I’m stumped to be any more precise) Morrissey had met Alain Whyte and through him other rockabilly enthusiasts Boz Boorer, Gary Day and Spencer Cobrin. After Sing Your Life they became his band. The effect of working with these new influences was immediate – compare Pregnant for the Last Time with anything on Kill Uncle. Harder, faster, shorter and with quiffs not harking back to the halcyon 60s but the Psychobilly scene where punk and rock and roll met. Funnily enough, Pregnant for the Last Time stands up well in a chronological listen to Morrissey’s singles, though the fork in the road between a pop past and a rock future is clearly here. Isn’t it?
And yet, the path is laden with wrong turns for the listener, and makes for a confusing journey. Morrissey released Kill Uncle in March, 1991. The second single, Sing Your Life, was released in April. Pregnant For the Last Time follows in July, with Whyte, Boorer and co playing on it but written by Nevin. It whacks along. You feel like you can draw a straight line from this to Your Arsenal’s bolshy bits. Yet what comes next is a blast of melodic loveliness in the shape of My Love Life which came out in September. This near last-gasp of Morrissey’s partnership with Mark Nevin was arguably the best thing they recorded together, though I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday from Your Arsenal runs it close. Nevin also has writing credits on Glamourous Glue, though Alain Whyte has the rest of the tunes on the album in his name.
Throughout this time the link with Kill Uncle’s distinctive sound weakens, mostly driven by Morrissey bonding on and off stage with his new bandmates and the resulting creative output. I was too young to see any of the Kill Uncle shows, first seeing Morrissey live at Alexandra Palace in December, 1992, after an abortive attempt to see him supporting Madness at Finsbury Park that summer. He had been bottled off by skinheads the day before and had decided against dancing round the stage draped in a Union Flag. My knowledge only comes through Live in Dallas, an easy-to-find document of the Kill Uncle tour, and shows how Boorer, Whyte, Day and Cobrin were shaping up as Morrissey’s band. Rockabilly, fast-paced romps through material that wasn’t their own, with blasts of the sound that was to surface on Your Arsenal. The tour is documented in Linder Sterling’s brilliant Morrissey Shot, which shows a gang of young men on a hysteria-fuelled adventure round the world set to a changing sound.
Nevin’s contribution to Your Arsenal, that controversial classic, is often overlooked as it suits a linear view of history to assume Whyte, Boorer and producer Mick Ronson gave that lame-coated masterpiece its identity. The truth is more complex, and makes for an enjoyable Saturday night with some of Morrissey’s loveliest record covers and most interesting songs.