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Album Review: Morrissey – Vauxhall and I (20th Anniversary Definitive Master)

3 min read

Following its release in March 1994, Vauxhall and I was not just another ambiguously titled, chart topping Morrissey album.

The deaths of close friends such as Your Arsenal collaborator Mick Ronson coloured the Moz’s already ironic lyrics and emotive vocals, as well as the music of guitarists Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer and the production of Steve Lilywhite (best known for U2’s open-air sound in the late 1980s). The result is a stirring, organic yet engaging example of quintessentially British alternative rock. Its sound went down well on the other side of the Atlantic as Vauxhall and I reached the top 20 on the US album charts. This 20th anniversary reissue explores why this album has made several ‘greatest albums of the 1990s’ lists.

Morrisey-VauxhallAndI(20thAnniversary)Now My Heart Is Full opens the album majestically, like a slow sunrise struggling in black and white before the choruses inject colour and bring the song to life. This wistful, slow burner deserves to be loved as much as any of The Smiths’ hits, as the union between Morrissey and whichever musician he happens to be working with has rarely been superseded. In his usual way, he courts his audience through his reflections, pleas and sighs. Even something as mundane and repetitive as ‘so…so…so…’ is bliss to the ears.

Spring-Heeled Jim is the first sign of unease. It is made all the more disturbing thanks to snippets from a documentary and Morrissey’s nonchalant ‘la la la la’s in the instrumental reprise of the chorus. Another depressing highlight is the mid-tempo waltz Hold On To Your Friends, which is carried by a Greensleeves-esque guitar riff appropriate for a medieval dance before the guitars descend out of control.

The mood lifts with the rapid shuffle and wah-wah guitars of Billy Budd (which make it the perfect moshpit-worthy concert opener), as well as the UK Top Ten/US Top 50 hit The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get. The uplifting, inviting music on the latter is especially deceptive in masking the tale of an obsessed stalker who ‘holds more grudges than lonely high court judges’. The pleasant musical landscape on Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself also disguises Morrissey’s lessons to listeners. Even the dreamlike music on Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning overwhelms Morrissey’s creepy, almost unrecognisable falsetto and whisper.

Speedway is a murderous album closer whose references to hammers and chainsaws (which can be heard loudly before the first chorus) scare listeners out of their shells. Morrissey theatrically addresses rumours and haters over a funereal band arrangement, whose guitar riffs are gritter than on the rest of the album. It is unpredictable, as a false ending gives away to thundering, echoey drums before a final, emphatic drum hit.

The second disc has Morrissey at his alluring best at Drury Lane’s The Theatre Royal in 1995. This recording came from the tour to support Boxers, the lead single off the Moz’s 1995 compilation World of Morrissey. There are a breathless, incendiary version of Billy Budd, a surprisingly bare Spring-Heeled Jim, a few oldies like Jack The Ripper and of course other tracks from Vauxhall and I.

Morrissey cemented his status as a viable solo artist after The Smiths with this album. It is this effort that sets the benchmark for softer alternative rock to come.