Swords largely sounds like what it is: an off-cuts album.
Nadine McBay 2009
In 21 years of going it alone Morrissey has produced nine studio albums and just as many compilations. Topping a year that has seen a live DVD and unnecessary remasters of mid-1990s albums Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted – in addition to beefy studio album Years of Refusal – is Swords, Morrissey’s first collection to be entirely made up of B sides.
In addition to an eight-track bonus disc culled from a concert in Warsaw, Swords features 18 B sides spooling back from this year to 2004, the year Morrissey returned from years of stabbing pins into effigies of Mike Joyce – not to mention establishment opprobrium – to be garlanded as the saviour of intelligent pop with You Are the Quarry. That album’s singles provide most of the tracks here, although those from the luscious Ringleader of the Tormenters era dominate the stronger first half.
Though the majority is co-written with band mainstay Alain Whyte, the two proper stand-outs, the open-hearted Christian Dior and the experimental Sweetie-Pie, were respectively written with band veteran Boz Boorer and ex-keyboard player Michael Farrell. Some of the most out-there minutes Morrissey’s put his name to, the looping, warped Sweetie-Pie features the four-octave vocals of one-time support act Kristeen Young and helps form the three-track highlight of the album with Christian Dior and the swaggering, Chrissie Hynde-backed Shame is the Name. From Kirsty MacColl’s sweet sass on Interesting Drug to Siouxsie’s velveteen tongue on Interlude, it’s always been welcome to hear Morrissey’s laggard croon lightened by a female voice, but few if any tracks here match the calibre of those two songs.
Not that there’s been a fatal lack of quality control – there’s no Slum Mums here, thankfully – it’s more that Swords largely sounds like what it is: an off-cuts album from someone who shouldn’t be content with the plodding mediocrity of the likes of I Knew I Was Next. Though there’s the occasional modest jewel to be found here – including the ‘hidden’, roughshod cover of New York Dolls’ Human Being – it’s hard to work out who’ll make the investment bar those that dissect every eyebrow quiver on the fan boards.