March 14, 1988 – – former Smiths’ frontman Morrissey releases his first solo album. The recording proves to be an extension of Morrissey’s social critique and general way with words. The album is significant because it contains songs that are interesting and engaging in the same ways that Smiths’ songs were, but with an edge to them. Thirty years later, “Viva Hate” is still a good album to listen to. Songs like “Alsatian Cousin,” “Everyday is Like Sunday,” and “Ordinary Boys” are timeless in that they capture the best of Morrissey’s contributions to The Smiths while showing his willingness and ability to move on.
After The Smiths
When The Smiths broke up in September 1987, it was not without consequence for some fans. Rumors of suicides and one well-documented radio station takeover were part of the fallout. An in-depth account of the radio station hostage situation is given at westword.com.
There is a website dedicated to Morrissey after The Smiths (Morrissey-Solo.com) and a slew of tribute bands, mostly named after Smiths’ songs, or phrases from Smiths’ songs. Months ago, Los Angeles, California declared the day Morrissey played there for his latest tour, “Morrissey Day.” It is as if The Smiths were a momentous happening, not just a band that happened to affect a few lives before breaking up. People who were and are actual Smiths’ fans have a longlasting and visceral response to the band. Truthfully, maybe there are other bands who have inspired similar feelings from fans. Those are less well-documented.
The Smiths broke up in 1987. “Viva Hate” came out in 1988. Young fans of The Smiths made a big deal out of the album’s title. As if that “hate” had something to do with the reason The Smiths disbanded. As it turns out, the title of the album seems to function as a thematic orientation to the album’s songs of failure, alienation, and other bleak aspects of life.
“Alsatian Cousin” by Morrissey
“Viva Hate” opens with heavy drum beats that make Smiths’ fans miss the punk rock-oriented drumming associated with Mike Joyce, the band’s drummer. The drumming is paired with echoing sounds from a keyboard. The machine almost sounds as if it is creating nature sounds.
The song is about infidelity. The first line, “Were you and he lovers? And would you say so if you were?” The narrator is rightfully hurt but also questions his lover’s character. The song is less moody than some Smiths’ songs, and even Morrissey songs. It is accusatory and aggressive. The soundscape never stops presenting the strident electronic sounds. At times, those sounds remind listeners of gossips getting the scoop on someone else’s failed relationship.
“Everyday is Like Sunday” by The Smiths
Before the song even starts, there is Morrissey’s willful use of the wrong word: “Every day,” instead of “every day.” Fans will remember a similar thing happening on the single “Cemetry Gates” on 1986’s “The Queen is Dead.”
But beyond the title is the melancholy poetry of Morrissey’s lyrics. The soundscape is filled with buoyant guitar and orchestral strings. Against the pleasant instrumentation are lyrics that describe awful situations. The stanzas end with a plea for some event to end the world so that the narrator doesn’t have to endure anything else like what has been described. For example, the first verse begins “Trudging slowly over wet sand/back to the bench where your clothes were stolen…/come, Armageddon, come.”
The beautiful rhyme or near-rhyme of “sand” with “stolen” is just one gem in this song. Still, despite the lyrical brilliance, the darkness remains. The seaside town does not create warm feelings in the narrator. “How I dearly wish I was not here,” Morrissey sings in verse two. Part of Morrissey’s gift is the ability to critique what society teaches people is great for them, such as a beach vacation.
“Ordinary Boys” by Morrissey
This is another song with light instrumentation. The lyrics, though, bite with the acrimony that can only come from someone who has lived in a city such as the one described. I have long held that Morrissey’s social critique of working-class British cities resonated with first-generation American Smiths’ fans in flyover country because the dynamics were the same. Certainly, there were plenty of “ordinary” girls and boys who were content with their ways of life in the Rust Belt or elsewhere.
When Morrissey sings, “Ordinary boys, happy knowing nothing, happy being no one but themselves,” it is a double-edged critique, meant for the subjects and likely the listeners. The ordinary boys have attained contentment, but those who want more, see themselves as more, are likely to suffer. And probably listeners who understand Morrissey (or think they do), realize that the suffering to become “more” is worth it if only to avoid being “ordinary.”
“Viva Hate” is probably Morrissey’s best solo album. Here, he is authentic, poetic and clever, and fans of Morrissey expect no less.