Moz has taken his editor’s hand to this solo debut – but does it lead to better results?
Martin Aston 2012
It’s said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But what if you want to rewrite history? Not for the first time (see 2009’s Maladjusted and Southpaw Grammar reissues) Morrissey has got out the red pencil.
For this version of his first solo album, released in March 1988 just six months after The Smiths split, he replaces The Ordinary Boys with the demo of Treat Me Like a Human Being, a track first aired as a B side to the Glamorous Glue seven-inch released to promote a Very Best of… compilation in 2011.
As Morrissey’s old friend Lady Bracknell might have said as she opened a crate of ale, to tinker with imperfect Moz albums is arguably forgivable, but to tamper with what is arguably still his freshest, most innovative album is a crime; less painting a vulgar picture than desecrating it.
At least Morrissey has restored Viva Hate’s original cover, which disappeared when the album was first reissued in 1997. And there’s no doubt Treat Me Like a Human Being’s gaunt for-whom-the-bell-tolls movement and mood could have been a contender – so why wasn’t it worked up then?
For all that, Viva Hate answered those critics declaring there’d be no Morrissey without Marr. At times it’s even tempting to ask, Johnny who? Guitarist Vini Reilly, of The Durutti Column/Manchester indie mafia fame, was an inspired replacement chosen by vilified producer/songwriter Stephen Street, whose simplistic chords and judicious use of – shock horror! – programmed drums were an inspired platform for a singer responding to being abandoned not by past loves but his emotionally shattered band partner and best friend of the present day.
The fresh urgency of a solo album – for both Morrissey and Street – is all over Viva Hate. The iconic singles Suedehead and Everyday Is Like Sunday, the dreamy venom of Margaret on the Guillotine, the uncanny rock gallop of I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me and the uncanny shuddering dynamic of the lengthy Late Night, Maudlin Street all escaped the pastiche tendencies of Strangeways, Here We Come.
True, The Ordinary Boys isn’t the album’s pinnacle, but it has a sublime Moz vocal and a mood that epitomises Viva Hate’s bereft and nostalgia-soaked resignation. If we’re to play the replacement game, surely Bengali in Platforms would be the first to go, but that would be a much more controversial choice. Weirdly, Treat Me Like a Human Being sounds like a postscript from Smiths days, with a hint of the lonely gait of This Night Has Opened My Eyes.
A subconscious act of longing for the past, then? Vive la différence, Moz might think. But, really, there’s only one Viva Hate, and this isn’t it.