When this series of Vauxhall And I-related posts began, back when LGM was fresh-faced and a complete stranger to the mechanics of cynicism, I wrote something long and sprawling that attempted to articulate why it’s this album, above all the others Morrissey has been involved with, that leaves me breathless (indeed, I could go further; barring one other record by an unrelated act – long-term readers should be able to guess at least the artist if not the title – I’d happily argue, in detail and over a considerable number of hours, that Vauxhall And I is the summit of intelligent, sigh-inducing music). Obviously, I’m yet to hit upon the catchy phrase that perfectly encapsulates reasons behind such devotion (and I don’t use the word devotion lightly); it’s something to do with how the album’s reference points segue with my own, a trail of inferences that when taken to a natural conclusion trigger a quickening of the heart, a dilation of the pupils.
I wouldn’t wish to offer up either ‘Used to Be A Sweet Boy‘ or ‘The Lazy Sunbathers’ as the album’s strongest track, and yet the cinematic, evocative qualities of both are a perfect summation of what I’ve been attempting to communicate in the ungainly paragraph above – that sense of narrative, of characterization almost literary in texture; it’s not difficult to picture Spring-Heeled Jim, loafing oafs in all-night chemists, or indeed the lazy sunbathers themselves inhabiting something by TS Eliot or James Joyce or Alan Bennett.
I’ve written previously on Morrissey’s appropriation of cast, so won’t labour the point – other than to suggest that its this cultural cross-pollination that’s always buttressed the lyrical flow, and to no better effect than on Vauxhall And I – including the ninth track. ‘Used to Be A Sweet Boy‘ is another gentle, wistful tome (and in ¾ time, too) – for there are ghosts, hereabouts. Within these corridors stalks a venerable role-call of blithe spirits; there has to be a place for a sprite propelled by mischievous self-acknowledgment. My missed trick; of going at this on a track-by-track basis rather than thematically, when entire chunks are given over to the slender, echoed footfall of the passed-on or the simply passing through.
To follow, and set within the opening stanza of World War II, ‘The Lazy Sunbathers’ is themed around ennui. Decadent protagonists – too jaded to question stagnation – it references the laissez-faire attitude displayed by a certain bourgeois element of Berlin society during the hot autumn of 1939, when catching a few rays took precedence over international events (and if you weren’t going to have your head turned by all that had occurred in Germany over the previous decade, global conflict was never going to appear too prominently on your radar).
It’s a delicate, atmospheric song, the low-key instrumentation chiming with the overall tone of surrounding tracks. It also works on several levels; as a period piece, a cinematic vignette, perhaps even as nuanced, socio-political commentary, a warning never to grow complacent. Not that Morrissey is the most overtly political of artists; rather, there’s a considered riptide to his lyrical positioning that frames each song, increases the breadth. No, I wouldn’t wish to proclaim either as the album’s strongest track – yet their mood, their eloquence and elegance and cheeky, almost self-depreciating inflexions; it all adds to the album’s allure, not detracts.
Morrissey / Used To Be A Sweet Boy
Morrissey / The Lazy Sunbathers