A bond of trust has been abused. Something of value may be lost. The second single to be lifted from Vauxhall And I is a tender, wistful affair – or at least the Morrissey take upon the conventions of tender and wistful; you can never be quite sure with Steven Patrick that the feints and shimmies he applies easily transpose themselves to a listener’s black or white interpretation – there are enough barbs and inflexions in even the least ambiguous of his compositions to drape a wariness across the face value.
That said, there has been a degree of commentary that defines the album (and this track in particular) as implicitly inclined towards the personal; that the tone, timbre and lyrical content suggest a reflective slant not as readily apparent in the back catalogue to this point. Certainly Vauxhall And I has a very different feel to it than predecessor Your Arsenal, with Steve Lillywhite’s restrained and sympathetic production a contrast to Mick Ronson’s brasher, blousier Arsenal sound (Ronson, Bowie’s foil during the Ziggy Stardust years, sadly succumbed to cancer during Vauxhall’s gestation period – not the only Morrissey ally who fell during this time).
And yet I’ve always considered there to be something counterproductive in second-guessing Morrissey. There’s a delightfully obtuse quality that permeates throughout the entire canon, with the motive behind each particular annunciation disguised, fluid according to listener perception. Thus ‘Hold On To Your Friends’ has a wonderfully acidic seam that undermines the song’s outwardly-contemplative façade. It stalks the middle-ground between expressed concern and the politics of the morbidly slighted as if wearing the personification of a grand dame – Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, perhaps, the ostrich feather in her hat slightly askew.
I’ve a huge amount of affection for ‘Hold On To Your Friends’. Its twists and turns, the very subtle self-depreciation, a ballad that packs a punch.
Morrissey / Hold On To Your Friends