My favorite album of all time is Morrissey’s Vauxhall and I. No other album even compares to it in terms of the time I’ve spent listening to it. I love it like an old friend. And if I say that I am a Morrissey fan I don’t think you will understand. I’ve read Mozipedia, an encyclopedia about Morrissey, from front to back and found things missing!
Music is one of the hardest things to write about, just read many music critics, because it expresses what words by themselves simply cannot. How do you describe the emotion sad? It’s a feeling and feelings are abstract. However, I would like to try to write about music, and as this album is my favorite, it’s a good place to start.
First of all Morrissey is one of the funniest songwriters ever. Those that whittle down his work to being miserable and sad are just plain being lazy. Morrissey’s sense of comedy is divine. He can look into the deepest darkest of recesses of human behavior and make one laugh out loud while doing so. On some of my bleakest days I can put on a Morrissey record and feel my spirits lifted and a smile forming suddenly upon my face. If there isn’t value in that then there isn’t value in anything.
That being said Vauxhall and I is possibly Morrissey’s most somber record. I actually think the quote from Morrissey’s next album, Maladjusted, perfectly describes Vauxhall and I. “On this glorious occasion of the splendid defeat”, says Anthony Newley at the beginning of that albums title track. This album is glorious and it is full of defeat.
I don’t want to go into the back story of Vauxhall and I that so many Morrissey fans will already know. Facts like knowing that Morrissey lost several dear friends before making this record don’t matter in one’s enjoyment of it.
First of all this is a record of the most beautiful melodies. If these melodies could be visualized they would be marble sculptures and paintings that would hang in places like the Louvre. They are simply exquisite.
His singing also has reached a new plateau at this point. Listen to the way in which he goes from his lower register to his upper register in the beginning of “Now My Heart is Full.” Morrissey is one of those rare singers that can bring added meaning to the lyrics through his delivery. I know many people that do not like Morrissey’s voice. To those people I ask one question. What other singer sounds exactly like him? I can think of none. Singing is about letting one’s personality and truth come through. In a world full of countless singing voices Morrissey has found a voice uniquely his own.
The lyrics, while being simpler than in the past, still show his unique turn of phrase and depth of thought. References abound to Graham Green’s Brighton Rock in “Now My Heart is Full”. “The Lazy Sunbathers” hints at German’s going to the beach as Poland is bombed during the start of World War II. These are not the kind of topics that one will see on commercial radio these days.
However, none of this gets to why this particular album is so special to me. Some of the credit must go to Morrissey’s band, which almost never get any credit as they are not Johnny Marr, and to producer Steve Lillywhite. This is music full of mystery and beauty. There seems to be layer upon layer of guitar that creates an almost orchestral sound. The bass slides around, almost like bass sounds of the 1960’s did, where you can’t tell exactly what is being played. The drums on some songs seem to be being played loud while being quiet in the mix at the same time. (“Now My Heart is Full”)
I think one of the reasons that musicians and listeners often go back to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound or old Alan Lomax field recordings is the sense of mystery that is inherent in those recordings. When the fidelity is lacking during the Wall of Sound and several instruments blend together it creates a magical sound that you just can’t place. When a primitive microphone leaves static and background noises in place unintentional textures are created. Somehow Steve Lillywhite created this sense of mystery on a recording in a much later era. When Bruce Springsteen remastered Born to Run the clarity of the new sound ruined it a little for me. It no longer seemed as if there were ghosts in the studio. It was just a really great songwriter with a really great rock n roll band. Which is more than enough for me, but I missed that little extra bit of magic.
Vauxhall and I is a mysterious record with gorgeous melodies, intelligent lyrics, unique singing, and artful playing. Other than the single, “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”, receiving some airplay during it’s time, this is also a record that hasn’t been shoved down our throats through the years. U2’s Achtung Baby is still one of my favorite records as well, but I can’t listen to it as much anymore. I don’t have to because certain songs from it are always being played somewhere anyway.
However, I don’t want my favorite artists to wallow in obscurity. Morrissey is hardly doing that. But I do want to listen to music in the right time at the right place. I want my artists to be successful enough to keep making great art, and for as many people as possible to be able to share that art. However, I also want to be able to give that art room to breath, so that when I return to it after a day or a month or a year I can listen to it with fresh ears. I don’t want to be selfish so I just don’t listen to the radio anymore. That allows my favorite artists to be as popular as the world will let them, and somehow keep them uniquely mine.
For those reasons and so many more, Vauxhall and I is the one for me. Never far from reach, and always in my heart.