05 April 2006

Overlooked Albums from the 90's - #26

Kill Uncle by Morrissey

I've long planned to post about a Morrissey album from the 90's today, it just seems fitting. Any week when a new Morrissey album comes out should be hailed as a week of Morrissey, and then celebrated as such...no? What surprised me was that I couldn't get myself to write about the album I always figured I would. I figured I'd just post a bit about Southpaw Grammar and how it's this daring prog-rock inspired album that more people should check out, but I couldn't do it. Truth be told, Southpaw Grammar is one of my two least favorite Morrissey albums and Kill Uncle is one of my favorites. Backwards, innit?

This opinion is sure to bring disagreement. I've never read much praise anywhere for Kill Uncle. In fact, I once heard Morrissey condemn a song from the Kill Uncle sessions (the admittedly awful "Tony the Pony") when someone requested it in concert. I just don't care though. Kill Uncle was one of the albums that laid my musical foundation (okay, maybe it's a window in the cellar of this house that is my life in music...I should really give some thought to these metaphors before I type them) and each time I listen to it I remember the first time. For this was Morrissey's current album back when I first started listening to his music and those first few times were glorious. One thing I've come to understand about most fans of Morrissey is that they are going to really like two CDs for sure: the album that was Morrissey's most recent album when they got into his music and Bona Drag.

The review of Kill Uncle in Rolling Stone reads like most reviews of the album I've seen:

"As lead singer of the Smiths, Morrissey was a virtual postmodern Sylvia Plath. Superimposing lyrics of alienation and insecurity over a punk-inspired jangle of guitars – courtesy of Johnny Marr – he articulated gloom to a loyal school of devotees. Although he captured that sensibility most successfully – both in his music and lyrics – on Viva Hate, his 1988 solo debut, Kill Uncle only hints at the achievement of that earlier album.

Certainly, Morrissey has lost none of his wit or theatricality; songs like "The Harsh Truth of the Camera Eye" and "King Leer" sparkle with the almost over-the-top song structures and images characteristic of the Smiths' best work. What Kill Uncle lacks is the musical coherence, let alone the stick-in-your-head charisma, that would lend the album the consistency of the singer's previous work. From the pleasant pop of "Our Frank" to the lazy crawl of "Asian Rut" or the pound of "Found Found Found," it plays more like a fragmented collection of polished studio outtakes than a finished album. After a choppy compilation of British singles and B sides from Morrissey last year (Bona Drag), that detached feel is particularly disappointing.

Ironically, disappointment is an integral component of Morrissey's work – it should, however, derive from the mood of each song's lyrics instead of from listeners' reactions. (RS 611)"
I couldn't disagree more with some parts of this review but most importantly it totally misses the point. Kill Uncle is most definitely a cohesive album. In fact, one of my most favorite Morrissey songs is hidden away on this album ("Mute Witness") and it's an album I'd love to see Morrissey re-record with a new producer just to give the songs a new, different, life. If loving Morrissey's music can be compared to loving to eat chocolate then Kill Uncle represents the 'chocolate decadence' cake at your favorite local restaurant. Those usually aren't the best chocolate deserts in the world, but they contain a whole lot of what you're after when you order one. Similarly, Kill Uncle contains heaps of Morrissey. Gloom, doom, misery, quirk, self parody...they're all in abundance on this record. Abundance? More like overkill at times but I love it.

Listen:Previous Overlooked Albums from the 90's:
#1 - Saturnalia by The Wedding Present
#2 - The Inevitable by Squirrel Nut Zippers
#3 - This is Our Music by Galaxie 500
#4 - Dusk by The The
#5 - Fantasma by Cornelius
#6 - New Wave by The Auteurs
#7 - I, Jonathan by Jonathan Richman
#8 - Futureworld by Trans Am
#9 - Harmacy by Sebadoh
#10 - Cure For Pain by Morphine
#11 - God Fodder by Ned's Atomic Dustbin
#12 - Seven by James
#13 - Why Do Birds Sing? by Violent Femmes
#14 - Blank-Wave Arcade by The Faint
#15 - Dog Man Star by Suede
#16 - Beatsongs by The Blue Aeroplanes
#17 - Don't Try This At Home by Billy Bragg
#18 - 1992: The Love Album by Carter USM
#19 - Time Was Gigantic...When We Were Kids by The Durutti Column
#20 - Psalm 69 by Ministry
#21 - The Dirtchamber Sessions, Vol. 1 by The Prodigy
#22 - Going Blank Again by Ride
#23 - Love At Absolute Zero by My Favorite
#24 - Placebo by Placebo
#25 - K by Kula Shaker

if you'd like...
Pitchfork's top albums of the 90's
1st version of their list

Another site does their own "Overlooked of the 90's":
Top 30 'Other' Albums of the '90s

7 comments:

Pierre Elliott Trudeau said...

Badass post. I will echo your Morrissey week sentiment by posting some old Moz on my blog-very befitting. And yes indeed, Sebadoh's Harmacy is one of my personal masterpieces.Oh, that song "On Fire"!

Keep blogging in the free world!

Tim Young said...

Matt! How can you write so much about Kill Uncle without mentioning the rhymes in 'King Leer'. They demonstrate his tounge in cheek 'end of the pier' humour at it's most cutting .. and aren't just shit rhymes like most people think! I mean .. I tried to suprise ya with vodka or tizer .. I can't quite remember .. but you didn't thank me! IT'S GENIUS!!!

Erik said...

"Sing Your Life" is probably my favorite Morrissey solo track. There was a promo at the time of some KROQ recordings that had a version of this that still stands as the finest Morrissey recording ever (Smiths included).

I also love that it's "bite-sized". It was easy to approach and become familiar with because you could have two full listens in around an hour. My only negative was that he cancelled the US tour right before he was to play at my college, and we had done a great "Monster Truck Show" announcement parody for the radio station.

I really enjoy these overlooked albums - got me to dig out some cassettes!

Matt said...

pierre - i adore "On Fire" and the rest of everything (pretty much everything) that Sebadoh ever released

tim - you're so right about "King Leer". i didn't really bring up any of the lyrical writing on this album but i love it all

erik - i've got that KROQ recording and it is indeed excellent. love the rockabilly take on "Sing Your Life" and "There is a place in hell..."
btw, where did you go to school? because the whole monster truck/Morrissey cancellation sounds like it could've been in my neck of the woods. I had tickets to see Morrissey play the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill but then he cancelled and i had to wait many years to finally see him live.

Erik said...

I went to William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Used to road trip to Chapel Hill for shows now and again. Polvo seemed to skip Virginia on every tour, so I went to their stomping grounds instead.

If you wanted to share that KROQ recording my tape deck would thank you...

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