Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" / Morrissey

I suppose if I lived in the UK I'd have a strong opinion about Morrissey. In that parallel universe, I probably would have thought that the Smiths were the salvation of rock music in the early 80s, and then Morrissey's diva act would have gotten on my nerves. I would have blamed him when the band split up and he launched his solo career. His moving to Los Angeles would have just been the icing on the cake.

I don't live in the UK, however. I liked what I heard of the Smiths' music -- the reptitive riff-like melodies, the neurotic lyrics, the odd cabaret-style singing voice (really not all that different from Boy George, is it?) -- but you just didn't hear it much over here. I didn't even know Morrissey by name. So nowadays, when a Morrissey tune comes up on Sirius radio, it has no baggage for me. I don't have a visual to go with it, let alone a mental file full of the bloody-minded things the guy has said and done. I can enjoy it for what is is.

This song I first heard in the cover version by Reel Big Fish, a catchy, tight rendition that's totally fun. Generally, however, I think Morrissey's own morose, effete croon is the perfect vehicle for his offbeat, twisted songs. His original is on the 1992 album Your Arsenal, but I found the track on a Best of Morrissey CD, which I suspect gives me all the Morrissey I'll ever need.

One thing you've got to say for Morrissey: his songs are brutally honest about how horrible people can be. (Drawing from his own experience, no doubt.) He rarely bothers to rhyme his lyrics, but that makes the songs even stronger, as if he's just taking down verbatim the crap people say. This perky, snarky song exposes the total pettiness of envy: "We hate it when our friends become successful / Oh, look at those clothes, / Now look at that face, it's so old, / And such a video -- well, it's really laughable / Ah hahahaha..." Oh, I'm sure none of us have reacted this way ever. Right.

The narrator of this song may be just a character -- one of Morrissey's former friends, who I'm sure turned on him when he became successful (I'm guessing they had other provocations as well, but he'd never acknowledge that). In verse two he adds, with an extra sneer, "We hate it when our friends become successful, / And if they're northern / That makes it even worse" (Morrissey is from Manchester, which is northern enough.) And in verse three, he mocks their self-interest: "You see, it should have been me / It could have been me / Everybody knows, everybody says so." Sunk in self-pity, the narrator lashes out irritably even at his supporters: "They say, "Oh, you have loads of songs, / So many songs, / More songs than they can stand / Verse, chorus, middle eighth break" / Just listen: Lalalalalalala..." Envy really isn't pretty, is it? No wonder the medieval church named it one of the seven deadly sins.

I dig the way Morrissey's campy vocal skips blithely over a charged-up beat and some brisk power-chord guitar. Those taunting vocal flutters, the disdainful swoops, the mocking ha-ha-ha's -- he can sound so wounded and snide all at once, it's truly a marvel. The truth is, if Morrissey were a normal, salt-of-the-earth type bloke, he just wouldn't deliver this much nasty fun, would he?

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful sample


Anonymous said...

You'd think the best of covers it - but check out his last two albums, You Are The Quarry and RIngleader Of The Tormentors, he's better now than at ANY point during his solo career!

Stephen Connolly said...

"he's better now than at ANY point during his solo career!"
I don't know about that. My own fave album is "Vauxhall And I." Along with Keith Richards, Mozza is the best interview in popular music.