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Morrissey

     Viva Hate (Sire, 1988)
     Bona Drag (Sire, 1990)
  Kill Uncle (Sire, 1991)
      Your Arsenal (Sire, 1992)
    Beethoven Was Deaf (EMI, 1993)
     Vauxhall and I (Sire, 1994)
      World of Morrissey (Sire, 1995)
   Southpaw Grammar (Reprise, 1995)
  Maladjusted (Mercury, 1997)
     The Best of Morrissey (Rhino, 2002)
     You Are the Quarry (Sanctuary, 2004)
    Live At Earl's Court (Sanctuary, 2005)
    Ringleader of the Tormentors (Sanctuary, 2006)
     Years of Refusal (Sanctuary, 2009)

How fans wept when the Smiths split up in 1987. Without the tender loving care of his musical enabler, guitarist Johnny Marr, Morrissey seemed destined to go back on the dole. But things turned out differently. Johnny Marr floundered around in a failed search for context, from groups such as Electronic to the Healers, proving that you can't just go out and hire yourself a new Morrissey. But Morrissey proved that if you have the dubious luck to be Morrissey, at least you can always go out and find another Johnny Marr. Indeed, he found that England's cheerless marshes were simply crawling with aspiring Johnny Marr imitators, and he kept hiring them to make new Smiths-style solo records with barely a pause. Bona Drag collects the best of his early solo hits, picking the highlights from his nasty debut Viva Hate—"Suedehead," "Hairdresser on Fire"— with great nonalbum singles like "Interesting Drug," "Disappointed," and "The Last of the Famous International Playboys."

Morrissey's solo peak is 1992's Your Arsenal, which bounces back from the tired Kill Uncle with a brace of loud, grandiose glam-rock riffs. "We'll Let You Know," "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful," and the timely fascist-bashing "The National Front Disco" address the outside world like the Mozzer never had before. "You're the One for Me, Fatty" was true romance, while "Certain People I Know" made fans fantasize about how cool it would be to get flogged with Morrissey's pool cue. Vauxhall and I had a softer, subtler approach in hits such as "Now My Heart Is Full" and "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get."

Morrissey dropped off the map with the sketchy Southpaw Grammar and the pathetic Maladjusted, going into seclusion in his adopted home of L.A. But amid concrete and clay and general decay, nature must still find a way, so Morrissey clawed his way back with the triumphant return, You Are the Quarry. "First of the Gang to Die" was a gloriously romantic blast of hooligan lust, even if it was the exactly same song as Suede's "Trash," setting up the surprisingly adult anguish of "I Have Forgiven Jesus" and "I'm Not Sorry." ("The woman of my dreams, well, there never was one" — awesome!) "Irish Blood, English Heart" was one of punk rock's all-time coolest attacks on Oliver Cromwell, up there with Elvis Costello's "Oliver's Army," the Pogues' "Young Ned of the Hill," and the Mekons' "Hard to Be Human Again." Ringleader of the Tormentors and Years of Refusal kept the streak going with big-sounding guitar flash, full of unexpected erotic confessions ("You Have Killed Me") and very expected confessions of all-around miserablosity ("Something Is Squeezing My Skull").

The Best of Morrissey is more fun than a pocket full of gladiolas. Beethoven Was Deaf is a live gig with the Your Arsenal band. But World of Morrissey is the one to buy if you're only buying one, a collection of magnificent singles such as "Boxers," "My Love Life," "The Loop," and "Jack the Ripper." Best tune: Moz's nine-minute, guitar-drenched, bitterly ironic, perversely moving version of "Moon River."

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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