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Music

30 years on from Morrissey's divisive 'Your Arsenal'

The title of Morrissey’s third solo album, Your Arsenal, is appropriately duplicitous. The playful title, which can be interpreted in not one, not two, but three different ways, suggests we’re dealing with Morrissey at his most slippery. 30 years after its release in 1992, Your Arsenal still feels like one of the musician’s most unflinching, unashamed, and alluring offerings.

By 1992, Morrissey was struggling to cement himself as an artist in his own right. Produced by Mick Ronson, Your Arsenal was an attempt to level the playing field. The musician returned with a brand new band comprised of guitarists Baz Boorer and Alan White, bassist Gary Day, and drummer Spencer Cobrin. The quartet had served as Moz’s backing band during his Kill Uncle tour and stuck around for the recording of his next album. It’s unsurprising, then, that so much of the first half of Your Arsenal bleeds pure glam rock. Boorer, after all, had once been the guitarist of Polecats, who’d managed to bag a couple of minor hits in the UK for covers of tracks by David Bowie and T. Rex.

The album’s ten tracks were co-written by Morrissey and Whyte, both of whom must have spent the previous year soaking up the sound of British shoegazers like Swervedriver, whose fuzz-drenched bends meet jittering surf in the album’s opening track, ‘Your Gonna Need Someone On Your Side’. Indeed it is gritter influences such as this, alongside Morrissey’s snarky, Wildean, and occasionally brutal lyrics, that save Your Arsenal from drowning in its own molasses.

Morrissey’s ability to blend vintage romance with modern grit earned Your Arsenal much praise on its release. Many were pleasantly surprised by the offering, which had been preceded by what many felt was the worst album of the former Smith’s career, 1991’s Kill Uncle. This shinier, more thought-out studio album seemed to evoke the grim churn of ’70s Britain while offering up a selection of artfully arranged pop songs at once accessible and snaggle-toothed. After a wobbly start, Morrissey was finally establishing himself as a fully-formed solo act.

To today’s listeners, fragments of Your Arsenal will sound more like an attempt to recreate the songwriting of The Smiths rather than escape it. Take the maudlin ‘Seasick, yet Docked’ for example, which can be regarded either as an attempt to mimic the old sound or as one final homage. Looking back, Morrissey’s nostalgia seems a little more understandable than it would have done at the time; this album saw the singer cut ties with the musical and lyrical world of The Smiths, after all. But before shedding his skin and going full Morrissey – eccentricities and controversies included – he takes one last look over his shoulder, giving a fleeting nod to the project that made him a star.