The Importance of ‘Kill Uncle’: the Second Morrissey Album or the First?

It may not be for Smiths purists, but Kill Uncle - actually his first solo album - marked Morrissey's transformation into what he is today.
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It may not be for Smiths purists, but Kill Uncle - actually his first solo album - marked Morrissey's transformation into what he is today.


Monday 8th April sees the re-release of ‘Kill Uncle’, Morrissey’s much maligned and apparent ‘difficult’ second studio album. With a lukewarm reception and a peak at number eight in the UK charts, it was considered a poor follow up to the roaringly successful number one album ‘Viva Hate’. Commercially unfamiliar ‘Morrissey territory’ making it barely played on the radio, ‘Kill Uncle’ was the black sheep of the album shelf that dared to explore; and thus struggled to make itself heard or be considered as a ‘Morrissey classic’.

Twenty-two years on, the importance of ‘Kill Uncle’ cannot be under-estimated. The fans rate it as one of the most treasured and heavily played Morrissey albums of all time; containing some of Morrissey’s most experimental and enduring songs to date, and the album that arguably sets the metamorphic scene for the further blossoming of Morrissey’s commercial brilliance.

‘Kill Uncle’ was Morrissey’s first true step away from all things Smiths. His first album ‘Viva Hate’ was co-written and produced by Smiths-producer Stephen Street. The romantic, melancholic beautiful debut - containing the hits Suedehead and Everyday is like Sunday – was immediately revered and adored by the fans as an accepted solo album to lean rightfully beside ‘Strangeways’ as the Morrissey album for Smiths fans.

For ‘Bona Drag’ Morrissey then continued to work with Stephen Street, as well as work with some new writers, amongst them Kevin Armstrong [Piccadilly Palare] and Clive Langer -who birthed the musically epic November Spawned A Monster -­‐ only made better by Tim Broad’s Death Valley lust-fueled video of Morrissey at his most provocative. But Bona Drag was still a compilation of singles and b-sides, some of which were played on by ex-Smiths Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce and Craig Gannon, such as the pop-infused (and also newly re-released) Last of the Famous International Playboys and eminently danceable Interesting Drug.


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The revolution came when Morrissey cut all apron ties with The Smiths and moved on, to find the ‘perfect’ tapes of Mark Nevin and the Madness piano-production of Clive Langer, to produce the fresh and steely ‘Kill Uncle’. It was here that Morrissey made his first solo album; the Morrissey album for Morrissey fans; stripped back, laid bare and open to musical experimentation. In Our Frank his trademark lyrics are as brilliantly funny as ever: ‘sick all over/your frankly vulgar red pullover’ and in Driving Your Girlfriend Home they are deeply lovelorn: ‘how did I end up/so deeply involved in/the very existence/I planned on avoiding. The high and almost queasying musical listening effect of Girlfriend at times so real that you could be swaying as you ride in the back seat.

The music darts and jerks in Sparks-influenced ‘Mute Witness’ starting out with dramatic digs then building to a fast crescendo. At the other end of the KU spectrum is the melodic confessional-box ballad ‘There’s a place in hell for me and my friends’ breezing gently and very lightly, a good gust of wind possibly floating it into the clouds. It is an irreverent and quirky album, and the listening experience has to be a committed and involved one, an investment in a track-by-track discovery of who is Morrissey?

Morrissey’s work with Nevin served as a springboard into rockabilly territory; with Kill Uncle’s bouncy Sing Your Life leading to later, greater moments such as The Loop and Pregnant for the Last Time. It was Nevin that also wrote the I know it’s gonna happen someday, that features on his subsequent album ‘Your Arsenal’ a gut wrenching ballad-of-hope which was later covered by Bowie, one of Morrissey’s (and Nevin’s) musical heroes.

Arguably, ‘Kill Uncle’ really was Morrissey’s first solo album, seeing an embryonic and moldable Morrissey -solo for the first time; writing lyrics and performing to music that reflected his vulnerability, bravery and insecurity of that period. It is not -and never will be -the Morrissey album for Smiths purists, but it is the album that marks Morrissey’s first and true step forward into fresh and gentle solo territory; the album that transformed him into the formidable, indestructible and unique force of musical history he is today.