Certain things arrive like a shadow. There’s little fanfare; no marching bands, no ticker tape, no frenzy whipped up by a media indentured to voguish constructs. It’s not that Maladjusted was smuggled out into the open in the dead of night – the name, plus the fey (and somewhat ineffectual) portrait of the artist himself on the front cover precludes such a state of affairs – yet neither did it exactly force the agenda. An album lost in the swash, perhaps. Pushed towards the background by outside events.
Regular readers will be familiar with the recent competition on these pages, which attempted to reward one astute punter with free records should they correctly be identifying LGM’s three most significant LPs of 1997. I’d assumed that the answers would be obvious – I don’t exactly hide my Morrissey devotion in the cupboard of guilty secrets, after all – yet whilst a broad swathe of albums were suggested, and a few entrants scored two out of three, not one nomination arrived for Maladjusted. Which, I suppose, emphasises just how detached this record is from immediacy.
Not that there’s just one, simple reason for this low profile. I’ll happily concede that when viewed as a whole, it’s not necessarily his most convincingly coherent album – one track in particular being flippant and lightweight and possessing all the features of filler. Ambivalent reviews aside, neither was its time period conducive to maximum exposure; there’s a sense here of a Morrissey embattled, a mutual distrust between artist and the industry as a whole – record labels that didn’t appear to know what to do with him (Maladjusted his third in as many albums), relations with (the then still influential) music press experiencing one of its cyclical nadirs, predecessor Southpaw Grammar far from universally lauded… you could argue that this was an era of lowered expectations and unfavourable portents.
Yet make no mistake; there’s certainly an album behind all of this. It’s also one of several Morrissey LPs subsequently re-released with a different cover, extra tracks and an alternative tracklist – this type of record company stunt is always guaranteed to piss me off because its interferes with the integrity of any album, jerks about with interpretations of a distinct and carefully considered unit. This is especially relevant here; in part because the original dimensions are so seared across my understanding of the record that I’m unable to listen to as if on shuffle, but principally because the version as intended has an intriguing distribution of weight. Not exactly top heavy, but there’s little doubt that its twin-headed opening fosters a density all of its own.
I’ve written about the title track before. In quite some specific detail, it turns out (you can find the article here). ‘Maladjusted’ as urban parable. From where the guitars growl and scowl, tooled-up and echoing blindly along streets on which they’re not exactly welcome, I wrote. This is a track that skulks and flounces. It loiters at the bridgehead of its parent album, apart – as if in splendid isolation … or shunned through notions of its own self importance.
And maybe so – that reads like the type of overblown prose usually deployed around here – but what I neglected to mention is how its counterbalanced by ‘Alma Matters’, #2 on the original tracklisting, and the album’s lead single. As with ‘Maladjusted’, this too is to experience the whole Morrissey aesthetic at its sharpest – although for different reasons. There’s a lush, folding, highly evocative sheen to this, hinted at in its pun of a title. Waspish sentiment delightfully framed. It’s warm, almost avuncular in tone, such perfect synergy between vocal and arrangement, a chorus reminiscent of a 1950’s weepy. One of many favourite singles from our dear Steven Patrick.
And if all the above is suggestive that the remainder of the album is an anti-climax… it isn’t. Except that there’s a subtle shift in tone, the downbeat nuances of both ‘Ambitious Outsiders’ and ‘Trouble Loves Me’ hinting further at cinematically monochrome textures, very British and downplayed. I think that’s probably a pronounced, and one of the most attractive qualities of this period Morrissey – say, Your Arsenal through to Maladjusted; there’s so many references and allusions, both overt and well-hidden, to the social-realism of post-war British performing art. Cinema, principally, but also theatre and the new wave of gritty, nicotine-smeared literature not previously seen in a national psyche so obsessed with notions of social class. This album segues with such themes both poetically, and urgently.
I’d struggle to argue that Maladjusted is his greatest album. Songs based around crap puns involving Irish footballers aren’t renowned for Oscar Wilde levels of wit, as ‘Roy’s Keen’ demonstrates, whilst ‘Sorrow Will Come In The End’ – pulled from the UK release for fear of litigation – is a snide and unnecessary dig at those well-documented, mid-nineties legal issues of his. Yet as a whole – and not messed around with by record execs keen for a few additional sales further down the road – this is a enchanting and ultimately necessary record. Shame on you for overlooking it for shinier, ’97-shaped baubles.
Morrissey / Alma Matters