Happy 25th Anniversary to Morrissey’s Your Arsenal, originally released July 27, 1992.
Damn it, Morrissey, you're so mean. I loved this album when I was in my 20s, mired in the misery of Bush-era recession and war, coupled with post-college anxiety. And 25 years later, Your Arsenal remains a treasure trove of Morrissey's nastiest, most hard-edged tunes, exchanging The Smiths' trademark indie-jangle sound for an alternating glam and rockabilly vibe. Sarcastic, bitter and snide, it is Moz unfiltered and angry at the world, probably for reasons known only to him.
Produced by Mick Ronson, Your Arsenal was the debut of Moz's new lineup, including former Polecats guitarist Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, both of whom had toured with him in conjunction with Kill Uncle (1991). Boorer would go on to produce Morrissey's albums from there on out, as well as write several songs alongside Moz. But coming from a rockabilly background, both Boorer and Whyte added a harder sound to Morrissey's music, kicking right off with "You're Gonna Need Someone on Your Side." If you listen closely, you can hear a little bit of "Handsome Devil" in the guitars. But despite the brutal melodies, it's quite a romantic song, an ode to the necessities of friendship (I know, I'm as surprised as you are): "Day or night, there is no difference / You're gonna need someone on your side."
Similarly, the penultimate "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" heads into the heartbreak anthem "Tomorrow," and I'm never quite sure if this is a love song or if it's Morrissey being Morrissey, the sarcastic bastard we all love. This also makes use of the sampling that we saw previously on "Rubber Ring" and others.
"I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday" was covered by David Bowie on 1993's "Black Tie White Noise." Morrissey idolized Bowie, appearing on stage with him in 1991. But during appearances on a tour in 1995, the two had a falling out, which left a bitter taste even after Bowie's untimely death last year.
All of the opening track's generosity is immediately dismissed on "Glamorous Glue," with the House-esque refrain, "Everyone lies, everyone lies" and a heavy-handed slap at both L.A. and London. At his best, Morrissey has always been a cheeky, clever poet. But at his worst, as we see here, he is lazy and dull, repeating the same worn tropes many more before him have used to greater effect. We get it, Morrissey, California is full of polished ugliness. But geez, can't you find something else to bitch about?
And of course, "The National Front Disco" has new, horrifying relevance in the era of Trump and Brexit and the rise of the alt-right. This song, about a young man joining a far-right group, remains controversial—does the anthem warn or celebrate? Of course, Morrissey says it isn't racist, but everyone knows Morrissey is kind of a racist prick and we only let it sort of slide because The Smiths are just so damn good. "England for the English" sounds a little bit like "America First," doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, there are still some remnants of the Morrissey we love, as best evidenced in the bwang-twang lick that opens "Certain People I Know" and even the guilty pleasure "You're The One For Me, Fatty" (I know I should hate this song, but I don't, which makes me feel like a total jerk and I'm sorry).
"We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" is perhaps the most Morrissey song this side of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now." "When my old friend Simon Topping (of A Certain Ratio) appeared on the cover of the NME, I died a thousand deaths of sorrow and lay down in the woods to die," he once said. I've always speculated that this quote is, in part, a return-fire directed toward Electronic's "Hey everyone, Morrissey is a dork" anthem, 1989's "Getting Away With It." But Andrew Collins, the writer from NME, must have picked up on the snark, because he called the single, by far and away, the ex-Smith's worst single upon its release.
(Side note: Jason, Mike, I apologize--for about a month solid, I played "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" and thought of you two when you both got into the grad school we were all supposed to go to, and I didn't.)
"We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" has been covered several times, notably by third-wave ska group Reel Big Fish, who changed the lyric "and if they're Northern" to "And if they're No Doubt," keeping in tone with Morrissey's petulance.
But despite a handful of charming tracks, here's the truth—this album doesn't hold up two-and-a-half decades later. It's ugly, it's sappy and it lacks the cheeky poetry we all know Moz has inside him. Morrissey without Marr was never as good; even phenomenal tracks like "Suedehead" and "Sister I'm a Poet" lack the punch of even the weakest Smiths songs. It's all material that's been well-trod by this point, giving the album a warmed-over sound, like a Rockabilly tribute to The Smiths that you might give someone as a joke at Christmas.
There are worse albums for the young and angry, but Your Arsenal is just not an album that ages gracefully with you.