Morrissey’s “Kill Uncle” and the Wet-Dog-Record Theory


From The New Yorker:

Wet-dog records, in the end, productively arrest the process of pop-culture consumption. The best albums—or rather, those considered classics—reward repeated listening, but they also have an indisputable initial impact. The wet dogs seem like disappointments at first, and grow into something more than respectability. They’re records that draw listeners back in, that require an audience’s help to complete, that provide cheering proof that an artist’s goal isn’t necessarily success so much as creative exploration.

Morrissey’s “Kill Uncle,” originally released in 1991 and reissued this week, followed his début, “Viva Hate,” by three years—or, rather, trailed behind it. The Smiths had ended in a hailstorm of creative differences, with Morrissey’s insular notion of the band clashing with Johnny Marr’s wider-ranging musical appetites, and Marr’s growing displeasure with Morrissey’s penchant for sixties pop. Morrissey’s solo début was triumphant, with songs like the classic ballad “Every Day Is Like Sunday” and the anti-Thatcher anthem “Margaret on the Guillotine.” In true perverse style, “Kill Uncle” took a step back, unless it was a step to the side. The music was derided as predictable, even self-parodic. The tone was uneasy, moving from the melodramatic “Asian Rut” to the almost conventional (and overproduced) “Sing Your Life” to the muscular jangle-balladry of “There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends.” The songs sound like Morrissey, but as if he were singing from behind a garishly decorated scrim. The album has never fit comfortably into his body of work; it just hangs there, a little bit marooned, underserved by history. Only a few songs, like “Our Frank,” are considered among his best.

And yet, “Kill Uncle” is one of my two favorite Morrissey albums.

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