Title: A reference to what is now called HM Prison Manchester. By the time the album was released in September 1987, the group had actually broken up – prompted by Johnny Marr’s decision to quit.
Cover: A poor-quality image of actor Richard Davalos taken from 1955 movie East of Eden – he’s looking at an out-of-shot James Dean. Morrissey originally wanted Harvey Keitel as the cover star but the actor refused to give his permission.
Best song: Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is a fucking epic. It has a lengthy prologue of moody piano and sound effects of a baying crowd. Then when the track explodes into life at the 1.53 mark, it’s a glorious switch to blockbusting widescreen. Majestic, theatrical, histrionic, bold, *beautiful*.
* A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours has a pleasant rolling rhythm with some off-beat keyboard accents. No guitars at all appear on the track – a deliberate move on Marr’s part, given that the group were famed as a guitar band. Its title is a reference to 19th-century Irish nationalism.
* I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish is joyous. It has a stop-start guitar intro, then bursts forth with a catchy and likeable melody. And it’s a full sound of heavy guitar slashes, saxophone blasts created on a synth, and a relentless big snare-drum sound. Morrissey didn’t like the song but nevertheless has great fun with the vocals, even growling the words at times. The lyrics are about making an ill-judged pass on a platonic friend – whether the resulting “18 months hard labour” is meant to be literal or psychological is open to debate.
* Death of a Disco Dancer has a mesmeric cyclical chord sequence driven by a solemn bassline. Marr based it on the Beatles’ Dear Prudence. About halfway through, the song kicks into an even more intense gear – Andy Rourke’s bass jumps up an octave, Marr goes mental on the guitar, Mike Joyce cracks off some drum fills, and Morrissey rather haphazardly bashes at a piano (his only musical contribution to a Smiths song). It’s a genuine disappointment when it ends.
* Girlfriend in a Coma is another hit-and-run track (it’s only just over two minutes). After a seesawing bass intro, it’s superficially similar to The Hand That Rocks The Cradle but is a more upbeat piece of music. Reportedly Marr was so against this being a single that its release contributed to his decision to quit the band. (It got to number 13: not bad for a ditty with such bleak lyrics.) Douglas Coupland, who coined the term ‘Generation X’, later named a novel after this song.
* Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before – Morrissey was enjoying wordy song titles in 1987! – was meant to be the album’s lead single. A music video was even made. However, the line “the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder” meant the BBC refused to play it in the aftermath of the Hungerford shootings. So the 7” was scrapped. The song is terrific.
* Unhappy Birthday pairs a nasty, spiteful lyric with an upbeat tune. It works. Who wouldn’t be charmed by the way Morrissey’s vocal comes in a beat before the music at 1.59?
* Paint a Vulgar Picture is a witty satire of the record industry. It bangs on a bit, though.
* I Won’t Share You was the last track recorded for the album and coincidentally its moody finale. The chords are actually the same as 1986 single Ask, but the tranquil, plaintive mood of the song disguises the similarity. Marr plays an autoharp (a stringed instrument with dampers that mute all the strings not being used); Andy Rourke adds a simple bassline, while Mike Joyce doesn’t feature on the recording at all. Despite the use of the word ‘she’, the lyrics have been interpreted by most as being an open letter from Morrissey to Marr as their creative partnership teetered on the brink.
Worst song: Death At One’s Elbow is going for a 1950s, skiffle vibe. But it’s quite annoying.
Review: Sheen. That’s the word for it. The whole album sounds *superb* – clean, professional, summery and breezy at times, dark and mysterious when necessary. But Paint a Vulgar Picture’s prolixity and Death At One Elbow’s dullness mean it doesn’t quite get a maximum score.
Nine sycophantic slags out of 10.