July 04, 1988 12:00 PM


Someday Morrissey may record a cheery calypso album, a duet of Que Sera, Sera with Doris Day or a love song dedicated to Princess Diana. On that same day the Pope will convert to Judaism. In the meantime the first solo album by the former lead singer of the Smiths shows him to be the same man he always was: a smart, eccentric and tortured loner. “Viva Hate” sounds a lot like the British folk-rock of the Smiths with a few minor musical adjustments: string accompaniment on some songs, industrial-style crashes on others and lyrical tunes by Morrissey’s new collaborator, Stephen Street. Militantly upbeat people will find Morrissey as dull and depressing on his own as they found him with the Smiths. But it’s easy to rush to his defense. Though he still writes lyrics such as “Me—without clothes?/ Well, a nation turns its back and gags,” the album isn’t just an exercise in self-hate. Morrissey intentionally carries his depression to such extremes that his dark state of mind becomes funny. The same deadpan technique gets a political twist in Margaret on the Guillotine, an extremely polite death wish presumably directed at the British Prime Minister: “Because people like you/ Make me feel so old inside/ Please die.” Throughout the album Morrissey’s voice changes mood, one moment soothing, then angry or ironic, yet he never seems to resort to overemoting. Many of his songs convey the tribulations of gay love, though he often tries to send a universal message. The Ordinary Boys depicts life through the eyes of any outsider who has watched the complacent masses “With their lives laid out before them/ They’re so lucky, so lucky.” That simple phrase melds jealousy and disdain in a way that makes Morrissey’s music fascinating, with or without the Smiths. (Sire)

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