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RECORD RACK

Morrissey as Solo Artist

March 27, 1988|CHRIS WILLMAN

** 1/2 MORRISSEY. "Viva Hate." Sire.

In strictly Freudian terms, Morrissey is all id and no superego. His charm--if you want to call it that--is in his refusal to erect any lyrical blocks against his most base impulses, be they sweetness or bitterness, true love or true hate.

Amusingly, on his first post-Smiths solo album, a song about the difficulty of getting an appointment with a good hair stylist when you're desperately in need of a trim ("Hairdresser on Fire") is treated with the same yearning thematic weight as poignant tunes dealing with melancholy childhood memories ("Late Night, Maudlin Street," "Break Up the Family").

Morrissey's intriguingly self-obsessed thematic concerns have changed not a whit since the falling apart last year of the Smiths, which England's New Musical Express paper recently called "the most innovative band Britain's produced since the Beatles." But how does the singer/lyricist fare musically without his mates?

For better or worse, "Viva Hate" sounds remarkably like a Smiths album--albeit a far lesser Smiths album than last year's fantastic farewell, "Strangeways, Here We Come," which found the group reaching its creative peak in its very last days and breaking up at exactly the wrong time.

The smooth stylistic transition is understandable: Morrissey's new songwriting partner and producer, Stephen Street, worked on a number of Smiths tracks. If his pretty use of ringing guitars on cuts like the single, "Suedehead," is not far off from ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr's, though, his comparatively thin sound here is no match for Marr's sharp melodic skill and sense of orchestrated grandeur.

Too many of these tunes (like "Maudlin Street," which marries the best lyric to the most meager melody) sound like they were never fleshed out beyond the demo tapes that Street first gave Morrissey to put words to, as if Street was ultimately afraid of putting too much instrumental richness in the way of his lyricist's raging stream of consciousness. That, too, is understandable: Morrissey's id is not something you'd want to get in the way of, either.

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