Kill Uncle
(Sire/Reprise 26514)

This has got to be one of the most unfairly maligned albums ever. Morrissey's second proper album met with hostility upon release, and even today no one seems to have gotten over it. Yet what's to hate about it? Nearly every song is memorable, his performances are as cheeky and dour as ever, and moreover, it's really not very different from any of his other solo stuff.

The Brits in particular seem to have it out for this CD. It's like they loved the Smiths, then really dug the promise of Viva Hate, then suddenly started to DESPISE the man when Kill Uncle came out. I don't get it. Personally, I've never loved Viva Hate all that much, and I like Kill Uncle enormously.

Maybe it goes back to the whole "you always love the album that came out when you were most into the artist" issue. I got heavily into Morrissey with Bona Drag (previously having been a marginal Smiths fan at best), and when Kill Uncle came out, these two albums were virtually all I listened to. And I must say I still find Morrissey's best solo stuff better than the Smiths, and furthermore, I don't cream my jeans over Morrissey's "rock" side, though he's made some great glam stuff over the years. My favorite Morrissey is the jaded cabaret pop singer of "Will Never Mary" and the bright pop star of "Interesting Drug." Kill Uncle has plenty of both of these sides.

Now, I won't argue that this album is perfect. It's got a very, very weird, creepy vibe to it that just doesn't sit well, and I've never been able to pinpoint exactly what that is. There's a woozy, dissonant quality to much of it that's quite drunken, not in a Bacchanalian way, but in like a back-alley wino sort of way.

And a couple of the songs are just not good ("Found Found Found" provokes an instant reaction of pure misery, not in a good way, while "Tony the Pony" sounds like a tacked on b-side, mainly because it is). And the Frank Stallone-like keyboards of "Mute Witness" serve to dampen an otherwise pretty good song.

But all that said, Kill Uncle holds up as well or better than any modern rock album from 1991. "Sing Your Life" is a masterpiece of weirdo trashabilly, "There's a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends" is a fantastic ballad, "King Leer" and "Asian Rut" are very atypical Morrissey, almost more like Charles Aznavour or Paolo Conte, or Jacques Brel or something. Brilliant stuff, still favorites for me. "I'm the End of the Family Line" and "Driving Your Girlfriend Home" are great bits of suspended tension, with some of the man's best lyrics. So again, I ask why do everyone hate dis album so much?

Well, ya'll's loss. This CD is a pretty subtle pleasure, but unlike some of Morrissey's discs, there's not really a skip-track-impulse quotient here. Great songs from his classic era. To say he was not in his prime, and that Your Arsenal was a "return to form" is just missing the point. Morrissey was dead solid on for four consecutive years of extremely prolific music-making, and I'd definitely rate this album as one of the crown jewels.

Now, I'm in full agreement that Morrissey has since lost his way, but listening to this disc I remember again why anyone cared to begin with. If ever an album deserved a fairer shake, it's Kill Uncle.

Review by Jan Pann