Bad Album Club: Morrissey’s Maladjusted

bad album club

Dearest Person who reads this,

you’re discerning, smart and knowledgable. Good for you! We’re not. Or we didn’t used to be.
We have decided to do a flip on the wonderful RAM Album Club‘s core concept (you know as opposed to, making music)…. At RAM they take a classic album and have a person who hasn’t heard it review it. Great idea. Good writing.

In true ‘Lub style we’ve decided to give the others a terrible album they’ve never heard before and have them review it.

First up, Morrissey’s Maladjusted; I gave Max this for so many reasons. Max covers most of them in his review. The reason I owned it was my own SMITHS OBSESSION. Back in 2000, Morrissey was MIA  and I was desperate to get my hands on anything this musical genius produced. And I did! “Bona Drag” and “Vauxhall and I” qre legitimate Classic Albums (or bsides collections, whatever). Your Arsenal is fine and I even liked the slightly maligned “Southpaw Grammar” – it’s moody and it’s catchy. There were just a  few more to get back then, before The Pope Of Mope’s 00’s revival (N.B. not reallya  revival) – and one of them was Maladjusted.

Sadly, Maladjusted contains Roy’s Keen….

JP, August 15.

Oddly, as an ardent Smiths fan, I never bothered to investigate Morrissey’s solo career at all until a couple of years ago. At the time I was getting into the Smiths – my early teens, the mid-90s – Britpop was raging but Moz’s career was at something of a nadir. I was put off by the lukewarm reviews of his records I read and underwhelmed by those singles I happened to hear on the radio like ‘Dagenham Dave’ or ‘Alma Matters.’ It was almost as if I didn’t want to taint the image I had of Moz, and the near-perfect body of work he made with the Smiths, so I left him well alone.

In retrospect, it is odd that Britpop did nothing for Moz’s career, even though the Smiths were such a clear influence. Noel Gallagher was an outspoken fan, as were Suede and Blur, and Gene transparently aped their every mannerism. Yet Moz never appeared to get any lift from this endorsement. Compare this with Paul Weller, who rather cannily positioned himself in the canon of ‘great British songwriters’ and endorsed the ‘elder statesman’ role, even getting Peter Blake (he of Sergeant Pepper fame) to do the cover for his 1995 album Stanley Road.

Moz was perhaps unlucky that Britpop hit when he was at a low ebb, creatively and reputationally. Still suffering from the NME’s racism allegations, the only thing of note he was doing was being dragged through the courts by his former bandmates. But a scant couple of years after Moz got pelters for the union jack thing it became the de rigeur emblem of Britpop where any questions of the flag’s connotations quickly evaporated.

It’s not just a series of stronger albums this millennium that has allowed Moz to pack out stadia again. Nowadays enough water has passed under the bridge that the Smiths are held in reverence in a way they probably weren’t in that mid-90s dip. But back in 1997 – a few weeks after OK Computer and shortly before Be Here Now – I don’t think many people were that interested.

Maladjusted kicks off with its title track, which I always think is an unimaginative move, and it’s an ugly, amelodic mess. The words don’t scan at all, as if Moz is making it up on first take. At his best Moz had a knack for making melodies waft over the music in a way that was every bit as idiosyncratic as his lyrics. Think of how he breathlessly manages to make, “Some nine year old tough who peddles drugs I swear to God, I swear I never even knew what drugs were” glide over ‘The Queen is Dead’s hectic backing. But here it’s like the vocal and music have never met each other and have been grafted together as an afterthought.

I’m hoping for more from ‘Alma Matters’ as I can vaguely remember hearing this on the radio. I can hum the chorus line even if cannot exactly recreate how the music sounds in my head. Disappointingly, my memory of it is a lot prettier than it actually is. The verse is amazingly undistinguished, then you’re in the chorus before you realise it’s meant to be the chorus. Even by the second listen through I can only recognise when we’re in the chorus when Moz sings the words “Alma Matters.” It’s devoid of any hooks whatsoever and certainly doesn’t sound like a single, which shows how hard the record company had to scrape the barrel to find something to promote the album.

In my notes for ‘Ambitious Outsider’ I’ve just written “Strings & no tune.” On second listen I’ve nothing to add to that.

‘Trouble Loves Me’ opens with some plodding and very deliberate piano chords but at least there’s an attempt at a melody here – not a very good one, mind you, but you’ve more chance of remembering it than, say, ‘Ammunition.’ The lyrical hook is not particularly original, but the National thought there was enough mileage left in it to recycle it for their similarly phoned-in album, Trouble Will Find Me.

The only thing of note in ‘Papa Jack’ is the dreadful section where it picks up pace, and I’m desperately willing it to going back to merely extremely forgettable.

However, it’s during the mid-album slump of ‘Ammunition’ (again, no idea where the chorus starts) and ‘Wide to Receive’ (what’s he going on about? who cares?) when I seriously start to worry what has happened to Morrissey’s muse. He built his name on drawing out universal, relatable emotions from very specific, personal vignettes. But these songs are impossibly bland and dreary, with no attempt to engage or interest the listener. It says nothing to me about my life.

“Roy’s keen, oh Roy’s keen. We’ve never seen a keener window-cleaner.” So goes, er, ‘Roy’s Keen’, and now my head is in my hands. Can this be the same man who wrote ‘This Charming Man’? If the preceding songs had been merely nondescript, this is mindnumbingly, insultingly inane, totally pointless. For a second I’m embarrassed how much his songs meant to me as a teen.

‘He Cried’ is not much of a tune but it’s fine, just fine – not the stuff that earned him such an idolizing fanbase, but better than what just come before it. Swelling strings presumably are intended to tug at an emotion, but what? The ‘cried’ in the title suggests it’s emotive, but the whole piece is rigidly passionless. I’m really willing the album to be okay, but it’s hard work.

At least I’m looking forward to the closing ‘Satan Rejected My Soul’ which again I can remember from the radio. Praise be, there’s a hook – a neat, shimmery little Hawaiian riff – and some long overdue pep. In my memory it’s light and sprightly, but here it’s a bit dirgey and turgid, as is the album as a whole. The chorus doesn’t take off like I recall, and it peters out after being launched by the riff. In truth, I wish I’d left this and ‘Alma’ as they had been in my memory. But it’s the only song even attempting to be catchy, which is a welcome change, and it sounds pretty good in this context. And there’s at least even a lyrical idea – sure, it’s a bit pastichey and hamfisted (see also the trite, punning ‘Alma Matters’) but it’s at least memorable and vaguely humorous, and I get the gist of what he’s going on about which is an improvement.

Overall it’s hard to think of a clearer example of an artist going through the motions. Maladjusted is not shrink-away-from-speakers awful, but it’s damningly forgettable.It alone does not ruin his legacy, but it’s painfully clear his muse has abandoned him. I can’t imagine anyone involved in making this album being proud of their work. I try to visualise their faces after recording, at playback. “That’ll do.” Songs drift past without anything to make you sit up and take notice, meaning it feels longer than its 40 minutes (the 2009 reissue includes a bunch of extra tracks taking it to a truly indigestible 73 minutes).

It is obvious he needed a break to regroup. Maladjusted was his last album for 7 years, before returning with the revitalised You are the Quarry. I say that, though in truth I’ve not actually heard it. But I assume it can’t be any worse than Maladjusted.

A scraping 4/10

Max Aug 15

Absolutely Free

After not hearing it for several years, I have recently started relistening to Absolutely Free by The Mothers of Invention. I am now fairly confident it’s my favourite Zappa album albeit one that’s strangely overlooked in his vast oueuvre – vast.

My relationship with Zappa has been an odd one. When I was 16 I really got into Captain Beefheart -but unfortunately there were only oooh 15 Beefheart albums to buy. No way near enough! I found out about Beefheart’s Zappa connection (went to the same school, used to be in a  band together etc etc) and I dived right in. My local record shop, the sadly defunct Pendulum Records, used to sell 3 albums for £10 and so, week after week, fuelled by my job setting up the market and my rampant OCD, I set out buying as many Zappa albums as I could.

and then… I kind of stopped. As the years passed I stopped really listening to Zappa and kind of wondered if I actually liked his music (despite havung 50 or so of his albums). Turns out I do – I just needed a break.

Absolutely Free was one of the last Zappa albums I bought, which is why maybe I tend to think of it as an overlooked one – the other possibilities for its overlook-edness may well be the fact it’s sandwiched between Freak Out! – which gets the “wow it’s the groundbreaking first album and McCartney was influenced by it to do Pepper!” (double) thumbs up –  and We’re Only It For The Money – which is often cited as Zappa’s best album, as it’s a scathing social commentary and having a cool Pepper mocking cover.

I love Absolutely Free for several reasons. One is the actual sound of the album – a really weird mix of cheesy piss take rock n roll (kind of like The Residents’ Third Reich and Roll) and oboe-and-clarinet classical influences. The playing itself, is in part, kind of crappy. I’m guessing Zappa himself hated it but it really adds to the charm for me, especially compared with the ultra slick work he did from the 70s onwards. The Mothers sound like they’re an actual band and they’re actually enjoying playing – mostly getting the notes right of some really complicated music. It reminds me of Zappa saying The Shaggs were better than the Beatles.

In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa, moans of the album, “MGM proclaimed that we couldn’t spend more than eleven thousand dollars on it. The recording schedules were ridiculous, making it impossible to perfect anything on the album.” Personally I think the most definite non perfection is what makes it. Crappy singing and the drums – well on the available-on-the-cd reissue bside “Why Don’t You Do Me Right” the drums are audibly out of time. Timeless.

The other thing I love about the album are the lyrics, especially on side one. The mixture of Stravinsky quotes in the music and the garbled rock cliches hit exactly the right note for me. “Duke of Prunes” begs not to be studied intently for it’s words but I do wonder whether Zappa chose to sing about prunes and cheese and beans because he thought they were funny as concepts or because he liked the way the words sounded. I’m assuming a little from column a and a little from column b. M

So in conclusion, I like Absolutely Free. Also, “America Drinks and Goes Home” is a great song title.

Juanso, August 15.