Morrissey - Kill Uncle
Morrissey’s partial rewriting of his past proves grimly successful...
A couple of years ago, an older and more resilient Morrissey dismissed his second album as “substandard”, adding in mitigation Kill Uncle‘s genesis coincided with “a very bad time for me personally”. A fancy vol-au-vent offered up in 1991 to an audience still hungry for the plain fare of Madchester, the quirky Kill Uncle’s timing – comic and otherwise - was appalling.
Too little way too late, the follow-up to 1988’s Viva Hate was hacked together at a residential studio, with Fairground Attraction guitarist Mark Nevin, drummer Andrew Paresi, and Madness producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley feeding Morrissey a regular supply of backing tracks in the hope that they would take the former Smith’s fancy.
They thought they had made something intricate and beautiful. The world disagreed. Paresi showed UNCUT the fax Morrissey sent him after Kill Uncle only charted at No8. “Decline inevitable,” it reads. “Oh, if only you hadn’t bought that farm.”
Remastered and reworked 22 years on, Morrissey has unfinished business with Kill Uncle. Beefed up from its original 33-minute playing time with the seemingly random insertion of two previously available tracks, changes to the original running order will mystify many, but the runt of Morrissey’s litter is less lightweight than its reputation would suggest.
“Our Frank” is the whole thing in microcosm, Morrissey archly yearning for the distraction of booze and fags, before the full horror blurts out. “Won’t somebody help,” he keens. “Won’t somebody stop me, from thinking, from thinking all the time, so deeply, so bleakly.”
The most ill-advised “Asian Rut” and the Sparks-ish “Mute Witness” purport to keep things chirpy, but for all the knockabout Nutty Boys production, the same grim themes persist: loneliness, betrayal, reaching out for something noble and failing. Morrissey clumsily attempts courtship on “King Leer”, and returns for a second go on the elegantly undersold “Driving Your Girlfriend Home”, with confidante Linder Sterling on backing vocals. A strange fear once more gripping him as he hears his passenger’s litany of woes, he finds himself at journey’s end “shaking hands, goodnight so politely”.
Any pretence at levity fades to black at the end: In its original incarnation, Kill Uncle ends with a crushing one-two. Morrissey finds grim consolation in the prospect of dying childless on “(I’m) The End of the Family Line” (“I’m spared the pain of ever saying goodbye”), before the plaintive “There’s A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends” coolly imagines a happier afterlife.
For version 2.0, Morrissey daubs a tuberous cock and balls on to this bleak tableau, flipping the final tracks over and substituting the rocked-up version of “There’s A Place…” from the US-only At KROQ EP for the original, sober resignation giving way to mulish defiance. In its first incarnation, he sings: “And looking back we will forgive – we had no choice we always did.” A year on, after what Paresi called “a Dr Who like regeneration of Morrissey's persona”, it has become: “I won’t forgive and I never will, never will, never will.”
However, like a UPVC door jammed into a listed building, it is an act of vandalism that only serves to highlight the beauty of the original fittings. Soft and playful on the surface, Kill Uncle is Morrissey’s most elegant record and – as with 1997’s Southpaw Grammar – it has a hefty undertow for all of its perceived flimsiness. Unloved, maybe, but not unlovely.
EXTRAS: Neglected Herman’s Hermits cover “East West”, and two tracks recorded by the Your Arsenal lineup – the superb “Pashernate Love” and the rehashed “There Is A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends” - are available elsewhere. The BBC session tracks appended to a reissued “Last Of The Famous International Playboys” single – “People Are The Same Everywhere”, “Action Is My Middle Name” and “The Kid’s A Looker” – are not.
MARK NEVIN, GUITARIST AND CO-WRITER
Do you understand the changes Morrissey has made to the running order?
I really don’t understand them. I would have liked to have seen the other songs I wrote and recorded with Morrissey around the same time included. Why the loud version of ‘There’s A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends’ is included instead of the original is baffling.
Hook End is a residential studio – how was it living together while recording?
At meal times we would have these huge and delicious vegetarian feasts with Morrissey sitting at the head of the table, quietly residing over the rest of us as we nervously scrambled to make conversation. I didn’t really know anyone and the whole experience felt unreal. I felt so alone and the burden of being the new Morrissey collaborator was overwhelming. I would go back to my room and lay on the bed in the foetal position: ‘I want my mum!’
Was Morrissey one of the lads, or was he very much on his own?
He was both at different times. I was surprised to find myself playing football with him and the other guys, even more surprised that he was pretty good. He is also a genius at pop music trivial pursuit - unbeatable. I think he struggles to relate to people in social situations, certainly back then, but to be fair, I don’t think I was doing that well myself at the time.
Kill Uncle received some pretty hard reviews: how did that affect you?
I was really hurt by them. I imagine his decision to work with me was surprising to a lot of people and being known as the bloke behind ‘Perfect’, this chirpy upbeat pop hit, wasn’t regarded as very cool. Perhaps if he had made the same album with Brian Eno it would have been listened to with different ears.
INTERVIEW: JIM WIRTH
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Rating: 8 / 10