Morrissey
Bona Drag
(Sire/Reprise 26221)

I would only be too pleased if Bona Drag were to become my generation's Sgt. Pepper, although that dubious distinction seems to have been handed to Nevermind. But that illustrates the problem of weighing "cultural significance" into the stature of an album. I mean, whatever else it might mean, an album is always, at bottom, just an album.

Bona Drag is probably the opposite of an "important" album – and yet what a great unimportant album it is! Easily one of the best things to come out of the 90s, and as fully realized in its individual vision as any masterpiece I can think of. Socially significant? No. But I'd think there's a whole lot of pasty white kids out there for whom this was something of a sacred text in their Freshman dorm room. I'll pathetically include myself in that cherished brotherhood of humanity.

The funny thing about this CD is, it's not even an album, even though it's Morrissey's best album. Bona Drag collects tracks from Morrissey's ridiculously prolific and virtually perfect string of EPs released mainly in 1988 and 1989 during what was probably the peak of his UK popularity. He'd catch on in the US slowly, and in large part as the result of this album.

To me, it does not matter that Bona Drag was not recorded as an album – what is important is that it hangs together better than anything else in the man's discography, and in fact, better than 99% of albums out there. Morrissey's super-sad, ironic, soft and beautiful cabaret rock is a legendarily divisive thing – he's one of those artists who attracts equally passionate devotion and hatred. Certainly the voice is unconventional, and the words uncompromising – but so is Scott Walker's, Charles Aznavour's, Serge Gainsbourg's.

Hipsters skip over Morrissey, and he's left with the very devoted cult of pasty white kids. But 50 years from now all these associations will be meaningless, and what will matter is the sheer quality of the music he has left behind. Not a track on here does not send chills up my spine, even a decade later. "Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference," buoyant on its bed of arpeggios, with lines like "There you go, wielding a bicycle chain" wafting in and out.

The vibrant energy and almost bubblegummy catchiness of "Interesting Drug," with Kirsty MacColl's instantly recognizable harmonies floating over the mix like playful ghosts – a perfect song, truly. "Will Never Marry," arty and emotionally charged – "Writing this to say, in a gentle way/Thank you, but no/I will live my life as I will undoubtedly die/Alone." Let the hipsters drool over Stuart Murdoch, but for all the great songs he's written, he's still not approached the eternality of a line like that. "Ouija Board, Ouija Board," with its brilliant melody and crafty arrangement – "She has now gone from this unhappy planet/With all the carnivores and the destructors on it." I don't know, the Brits see this stuff as self-indulgent. Maybe my American lack of irony allows me to just appreciate this music for its evocative weepiness.

"Everyday is Like Sunday," that is an epic the likes of which we just don't get anymore. That is so perfect, it makes you forget any other music exists. Let the Baby Boomers cling to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" or whatever – this, to me, is a defining song, and if Morrissey had only recorded that he'd be worthy enough of everyone's attention. But all the other tracks here deliver nearly as effectively. Of course, "Suedehead" (the "I'm so sorry, whoaaaa" song), always a pleasure. "The Last of the Famous International Playboys" – another classic. Even the relative filler ("Yes, I Am Blind," "Lucky Lisp") is top-shelf.

"Piccadilly Palare," "November Spawned a Monster" – how could I forget those? Sure, they sound late 80s, but that's not always so bad. It's not late 80s like, say, Kon Kan. And "Disappointed" to close the album – "This is the last song I will ever sing (applause)/No, I've changed my mind again (awwwww)/Goodnight, and thank you." Look up "wry" in the dictionary, there's the dapper man's picture right there.

I can't wait for the Morrissey revival to start. It's bound to happen. Currently he sits without a label, but sooner or later someone will listen to this CD and be reminded, "Jesus Christ, this guy is a major, major artist." He's an Aznavour, he's a Sinatra, he's a Piaf. Am I a Morrissey fanatic? Hardly. But titanic music along these lines has not been made by very many. Sure, a lot of it is college-era nostalgia for me, but the songs go so far beyond that. Cherish this album and remember the point in time when Morrissey really was the best artist making music in the world.

shiny dr. teeth tooth

Review by Baby Dress-Up