The death of Mick Ronson — the ace guitarist who had contributed killer riffs to both David Bowie & Ian Hunter — threw Morrissey for a loop. Which, I know, is a weird concept. Like, how could Morrissey somehow be more depressed?
That said, Ronson had been a key figure on Morrissey’s best album, as well as a friend and musical idol, so there was no doubt that Ronson’s death informed the relative somberness of 1994’s Vauxhall & I.
So while that record — produced by Steve Lillywhite, no slouch his own self — doesn’t have the immediacy of its predecessor, it still has quite a few great songs: the squealing rocker “Billy Budd,” the cautionary tale “Spring-Heeled Jim” and my favorite of all of Morrissey’s solo songs, the grand and glorious “Speedway.”
Starting off with a chainsaw sound effect that gives way to guitars that shimmy in the background, Morrissey comes up with one of his absolutely most gorgeous melodies, as he sings about his favorite subject, himself:
All of the rumors
Keeping me grounded
I never said, I never said
That they were completely unfounded
As the song progresses Alain Whyte’s and Boz Boorer’s guitars get louder and louder and Lillywhite kicks drummer Woodie Taylor’s drums to about 57 and “Speedway” gets weirder and noisier and bigger bigger bigger but Morrissey remains calm and steadfast, until the end, he’s completely swallowed up by the drums as they slam the track home.
Morissey kept Lillywhite, Boorer & Whyte around for the rest of the 1990s, bringing only Boorer back for the mostly dire 21st century — with the exception of 2009’s not-bad Years of Refusal — records, making his collaboration with Boorer three times as long as his collaboration with Johnny Marr.
In that time, he’s turned into the dire old crank that was always inside him, and while there was a part of me that wondered what he could have done with the great soundscapes Marr produced for his solo debut, The Messenger, that was obviously never going to happen.
I remember that when I first got to WME in 2012, I was told that because both Morrissey & Marr were represented by the agency, a Smiths reunion was definitely going to happen. It was just a matter of time, I was told. But six years later, its probably way too late for anything good to ever come out of a Smiths reunion.
“Speedway” performed live
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