PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Morrissey: Swords

Morrissey's uneasy expression on the cover notwithstanding, Swords is a worthy collection of 18 b-sides from his last three studio albums.



Label website: www.polydor.co.uk
Artist website: www.true-to-you.net
Label: Polydor
US Release Date: 2009-11-03
UK Release Date: 2009-10-26

Morrissey's quizzical look on the front cover of Swords seems both appropriate and contradictory to the music contained therein. Dressed like a blue-collar laborer on a break, he wears clothes that reflect his workman-like musical output over the better part of the last decade. But the unsure expression on his face seemingly questions the strength of that output, as if he still isn't positive if releasing an album of b-sides is a good idea. Maybe, as his lyrics suggest, he's still trying to make sense of this cruel world, or maybe his stomach hurts. We just don't know. Regardless, it's typical of the drama and enigmatic showmanship Morrissey has reveled in for years. The man wants to make you think almost as much as he wants to entertain you with his pain. His uneasy expression aside, the music on Swords is confident, assured and continues his later-career winning streak.

Swords is a collection of 18 b-sides culled from his last three studio albums: 2004's You Are the Quarry, 2006's Ringleader of the Tormentors and 2009's Years of Refusal. Most critics and fans considered these good-to-great records, with You Are the Quarry as arguably the best. Quarry and Years, both produced by the late Jerry Finn, showed the most muscular, rocking side of Morrissey since 1992's Your Arsenal. Ringleader, for the most part, was a more subtle, orchestral affair produced by Tony Visconti.

Swords unsurprisingly splits these two general styles across its tracks. The album feels like a collection of songs rather than a complete statement, but it never claimed to be something else. Regardless, the through line is strong enough to sustain this collection: the singular writing style and vocals of Morrissey combined with the playing of long-time guitarist Boz Boorer. Given that Morrissey is in the midst of a strong run of albums, it comes as no surprise that the b-sides would coalesce into something that nearly hangs together like a proper album. It doesn't quite get there, but it's close.

Selected by Morrissey himself, many of the tracks on the album have an immediate, forceful feel. "Ganglord" takes on the LAPD, and his venom is palpable: "They say 'to protect and serve' / But what they really need to say is / Get back to the ghetto." Never one to mince words, the track reminds me of the vitriol of the Quarry track "Irish Blood, English Heart", but with a more sinister overtone. Not too many musicians of his stature would offer such unvarnished, ugly truth via a pop song. It's a positive attribute or an Achilles heel depending on the listener, but one that sets Morrissey apart in a sea of apolitical, empty-headed entertainers.

Not all the tracks on Swords are as successful as "Ganglord" or the rocker "It's Hard to Walk Tall When You're Small". The softer "Sweetie-Pie" lingers just a little too long, but "Christian Dior" quickly remedies the dip in energy. The track is one of the most unabashedly beautiful on the album, and the orchestral backing serves the melody without overwhelming the vocal heroics of the ending. Like it's namesake, "Christian Dior" exudes luxury. Elsewhere, a live cover of David Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday" can't quite charm as much as the original, but Morrissey's sly lyrical substitutions keep it fun.

People will forever whine about Morrissey's solo output not being as strong as his work with the Smiths. The simple fact remains that the man's b-sides smoke 90% of what's trendy today. The Smiths were great, but live in the now, we should rejoice in the knowledge that Morrissey continues to make solid music, and let the past go. Strangeways, Here We Come was 20 years ago. Uneasy expressions or not, Swords will slay if given the chance.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.