Some excellent new Swords reviews...

Maurice E

Junior Member
Some really good Swords reviews have come in over the last week or so. It’s great to see songs like the Never Played Symphonies finally get the credit they deserve;
Well I’m an obsessive, devoted fan of The Smiths, but only a big fan of Morrissey the solo artist. So I wasn’t expecting brilliant things from a compilation album of his single b-sides – usually seen as just ‘filler stuff’. And I was wrong! Swords is arguably the finest collection of Moz musings since those great days with a certain Johnny Marr. There are some tracks that, whisper it, would easily sit alongside anything created by The Smiths. The Never-Played Symphonies is sublime in its poignant beauty, while Don’t Make Fun of Daddy’s Voice is a throwback to the comic classics like Frankly, Mr Shankly. There are also inspired darker tracks that really stand out. Children in Pieces highlights child abuse at Irish Catholic institutions, and Munich Air Disaster 1958 is a surprising bow to the lost Manchester United legends.
It's not difficult to see why some of these songs were relegated to the scrap pile. Whether it's the muffled noise of "Sweetie Pie" or Morrissey's grating vocals on "Christian Dior" or the just plain blah-ness of "I Knew I Was Next", the weaknesses glare through.
Fortunately, at 20-songs in length (when you include the two bonus tracks) there are plenty of little gems. The album opens with "Good Looking Man About Town", a song which features an unexpected world-inspired rhythm. "The Never-Played Symphonies" is a perfect blend of orchestral elegance and lounge-singer schmaltz. Of course, it wouldn't be a Morrissey album without some "uplifting" numbers. Here it comes in the form of feel-good tracks like "Friday Mourning", the driving "Children In Pieces", and the methadone tale "Teenage Dad On His Estate". Some of these songs we've heard before. "Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice" and "Munich Air Disaster 1958" have been staples of Morrissey's show for a few years while "Shame Is the Name", featuring Chrissy Hynde", was a bonus track for this year's proper album Years Of Refusal (and arguably the best track from the record).
Moz also drops a couple of covers on us from acts that can't be terribly surprising. The first is a solid live version of David Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday". The most surprising aspect of the set may be the quality of the guitar work throughout. A song like "Ganglord" has a riff reminiscent of Oasis' "The Hindu Times", while the energetic "It's Hard To Walk Tall When You're Small" and several other tracks have a deft touch. It would be a lie to say that all the tracks are amongst the best of his storied career, but some of them are glorious, even breathtaking. One of the prettiest recent Moz songs, “Never Played-Symphonies” (the b-side to “Irish Blood, English Heart”) is a Beatles-esque ballad with a whimsical, lilting melody, the complete opposite of its blunt and brash A-side. It’s a majestic, confident song, and the idea that heretofore it was relegated to b-side status is appalling. Other especially strong tracks include the vitriolic “Children in Pieces,” feeling like a more direct, to-the-point version of “The Headmaster Ritual,” the hilarious “Don’t Make Fun of Daddy’s Voice,” and the simultaneously sardonic and dismissive (and lengthy) didactics of “Ganglord” and “Christian Dior,” the former feeling somewhat bloated and overblown and the latter being flat-out hilarious:
The recent b-sides especially are strong; the two from latest album Years of Refusal are some of the best on the album. “Because of My Poor Education” is a swooning, piano-driven song with an engaging vocal and “Shame is the Name” is an angry, sadistic track featuring Chrissie Hynde on unobtrusive backing vocals. Typical insecure Moz is also in fine display here on the classic-sounding tracks “If You Don’t Like Me, Don’t Look At Me,” “It’s Hard To Walk Tall When You’re Small,” and “My Life is a Succession of People Saying Goodbye.” He even displays a shocking bit of thoughtfulness, empathy and even caring on the somewhat overbearingly preachy “Teenage Dad on His Estate,” telling the subject of the song not to look down on the teenage dad, “he’s so happy/so leave him alone.”
Swords isn’t perfect – it is a b-sides collection overall. But despite its unwieldy length, it’s extraordinarily sequenced, tightly performed and impeccably sung (of course). The fact that there are so many great tracks here – leftovers from a five-year period including three entire albums – is indicative of a rejuvenated, incredibly prolific Morrissey, perhaps even peaking so late in his career. It may be blasphemy to even compare his solo career to his work in the Smiths, but he’s had an incredible output in such a short time, arguably reminiscent of that legendary band. And three great albums in a row, without a stinker in sight, with a solid collection of b-sides behind it, simply has no analogue elsewhere in the Morrissey solo catalogue. Rarely does an artist have such a quality yield almost thirty years into their career, and even more rarely is it so abundant. Morrissey is consistently outdoing himself as he enters his fifties, and we should appreciate him while we can. We're free from the over-indulgence that occasionally stain the proper albums. There are no seven-minute tune-free confessions about carrying “explosive kegs between my legs”, we're mostly talking four minute hit n' run jobs here. A good dozen of the tracks - such as It's Hard To Walk Tall When You're Small, I Knew I Was Next, Teenage Dad On His Estate – maybe pretty generic rock n' roll but they're saved from the So-So by The Mozfather's wonderful wordplay, voice and dazzling personality. There is some freakiness though, the haunting Sweetie Pie is like the radiator song from Eraserhead, opiate dreams and angels singing in reverse. “Sweetie Pie, I'm ending my life, because I've fallen in love”. Someone put the kettle on, this could be a long night. Yes, like most latter day Moztradamus, the lyrical obsession is patiently anticipating the final bow, the last sunset. My Life Is A Succession of People Saying Goodbye sounds like a vintage John Barry Bond theme “All of the best things in life are behind glass - money, jewellery and flesh”. Ditto the rich velvets and tiaras of Because Of My Poor Education; all brokenhearted chanteuse “just leave the bottle, thanks” reflection and elevates the melodrama to Shirley Bassey highs 'n' sighs and beyond, “A ship lost inches from the bay”. The crown jewel for me is The Never Played Symphonies (from the Quarry-era). Heart stopping, lump-in-throat magic and as good as anything he's done this decade. “Reflecting from my death bed, I'm balancing life's riches against the ditches, and the flat grey years in between”. Sounds depressing as hell on paper, but trust me it's like the last night of the proms, bloodied 'n' heroic and frankly, it's goodbye dry eyes [swoons]... “and you slipped right through my fingers. No not literally, but metaphorically”. Seriously, how can anyone fail to love someone who writes like that? Who else could make you smile as they break your heart? Of course, he has been announcing the murderous urgency of life since he was a boy, but the best tracks on Swords seem designed to provide the perfectly piquant soundtrack. "The Never-Played Symphonies", perversely tucked away originally on second CD and 12" of "Irish Blood, English Heart", when it's finer than several recent singles, finds our hero reflecting from his death bed. Consumed by regret, sighing over a stuttering player piano, he doesn't see the glory, wealth, or adulation, only the never-laid and the never-played: those errant hearts and songs never now to be captured. Similarly, "Christian Dior" addresses a fellow "lionized maverick," and sympathizes with a life hemmed-in by style. Musically the song is another humdrum strummed waltz, but the image of what might have been stirs him to heights of falsetto, hysterically overcompensating for the lack of drama in the tune. "Sweetie-Pie", a rare co-writing credit for keyboard player Mikey Farrell, is more satisfying. Morrissey's voice is warped and pitchshifted, tossed and submerged amid a vortex of effects, as he delivers a fierce last plea for deliverance, before disappearing beneath the waves.


Love me outside!
There is also a great review in popmatters 7/10

I really like their last paragraph:

People will forever whine about Morrissey’s solo output not being as strong as his work with the Smiths. The simple fact remains that the man’s b-sides smoke 90% of what’s trendy today. The Smiths were great, but live in the now, we should rejoice in the knowledge that Morrissey continues to make solid music, and let the past go. Strangeways, Here We Come was 20 years ago. Uneasy expressions or not, Swords will slay if given the chance. :thumb::thumb:
Top Bottom