"Vauxhall and I"
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
There's something about being a mope that makes music critically acclaimed. This is a huge generalization, but sometimes I wonder if some artists (Radiohead, The Arcade Fire) would sound as great as they do without being so dour. At the top of everybody's list for being a downer has to be Morrissey. When a metaphor is made for inducing suicidal thoughts, Morrissey is the go-to stereotype. Few held it against him during the recording of "Vauxhall and I" however.
Leading up to the album, Nigel Thomas (his manager), Tim Broad (his video director) and Mick Ronson (his producer) died. You can question the closeness of relationships between some artists and these positions, but Morrissey's pallet can handle few human beings. If these guys were trusted in their roles within the vocalist's circle, you know the relationship was tight.
Naturally, Morrissey took an ironically upbeat approach to "Vauxhall" (upbeat by his standards of course). The album follows a similar path to that of his previous effort, "Your Arsenal," which had been produced by Ronson. The prevalence of guitars makes "Vauxhall" a more straightforward rocker than his earlier solo albums and work with The Smiths. Not only are the guitars prevalent, they're dense as well. Every non-ballad track features at least one electric and acoustic guitar working in tandem. "Hold On To Your Friends" shows just how many guitars he was willing to layer. It sounds like something Ronson would have been game for. After all, he was the guitarist for Bowie's big-music era, such as "Ziggy Stardust."
Morissey himself doesn't play much guitar however. If you're into the music of the former Smith, you're there for the voice and the lyrics. No matter how many guitars are stuffed into a track, producer Steve Lillywhite takes care to ensure Morrissey's vocals stand alone. Songs such as "Now My Heart Is Full" and "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get" exemplify both aspects of Morrissey's skills. Consider his approach to a gal (or guy for all we know) who doesn't reciprocate during the latter song: "I'm not part of your mind's central landscape." A convolution like that packs more consternation than a simple "why don't you love me" (at least in my opinion). Listen to the breathy closing of every phrase he utters, and feel his frustration. The dude's got Robert Smith's pathos plus vocal talent to spare (Morrissey hates Robert Smith).
Morrissey would mope even more on albums both earlier and latter, so "Vauxhall and I" serves as a nice entry point for those not anointed. 1001 Albums You Must Hear praised the album for downgrading the density from "Your Arsenal," but there are plenty of instruments filling "Vauxhall." Not as ethereal as some would have you believe.
INTERESTING FACT: Vauxhall is a neighborhood in central London, noted for containing the headquarters for the British Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6). Anyone worth their cinematic salt knows that MI6 employs one James Bond.