HORNE: Would I have vada'd any of them, do you think?
SANDY: Oh - he's got all the palare, hasn't he?
- Kenneth Horne, Julian, and Sandy (Round the Horne)

Following the break-up of The Smiths, songwriter and vocalist Morrissey quickly released his first solo LP, Viva Hate, in 1988. Following this, continuing the Smiths' singles-orientated nature, Morrissey went on to release a number of singles. The intention was to establish himself as a solo artist through several successful singles, then go on to record a follow-up LP to capitalise on this success. However, as the end of 1989 neared, it became ever-more apparent that there was simply no time in which to write, record, and release a new album.

Instead, as with the previous compilations Hatful of Hollow, Louder Than Bombs and The World Won't Listen (all with The Smiths), Morrissey decided to instead release a collection of his own recent material. The result was Bona Drag: 14 tracks, taken from Viva Hate, singles, and newly-recorded songs, exploring themes such as polari, The Krays, and Morrissey's familiar thoughts on alienation, loneliness, and his unique take on sexuality.

Track listing

  1. Piccadilly Palare - Featuring Suggs on guest vocals (albiet tucked away about half-way through), this track opens the album with a humourous, yet remorseful look back at when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK; 'polari' (or palare) was the slang used to avoid the police. Nice strong guitars open this track, feeling very much like a Smiths track. Released as a single in 1991 to promote Bona Drag, reaching 18. "How bona to vada - oh you! / Lovely eek and your lovely riah"
  2. Interesting Drug - Still feeling as light-hearted as the previous track, Moz is here joined by Kirsty Maccoll to sing about the 'bad people on the rise'. Despite its gentle nature, this song attacks the government, complete with 'schemes designed to kill your dreams'; Morrissey's angry lyrics masked successfully by the gentler backing. Released as a single in 1989, reaching number 9. "Because enough is too much / And look around - can you blame us? Can you blame us?"
  3. November Spawned A Monster - Courting controversy, Morrissey discusses a disabled person in less than flattering terms, contradicting himself several times over. "Poor twisted child / So ugly, so ugly", he sings, only to follow with "Poor twisted child / Oh hug me, oh hug me", all the while a miniature epic building behind him. Mary Margaret O'Hara provides terrifying, wailing vocals part way through, adding to this rather disturbing track. Released as a single in 1990, reaching number 12. "But Jesus made me, so / Jesus save me from / Pity, sympathy / And people discussing me"
  4. Will Never Marry - A shortened version of the B-side to Everyday Is Like Sunday, this is a slow and tender ballad, much needed after the previous track, in which Morrissey softly sings his lament to his loneliness. Quite beautiful, although not released as a single itself (it remained a B-side). "I will life my life as I will undoubtedly die - alone"
  5. Such A Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference - Another B-side, both harkening to Victorian moral values and bicycle-chain violence; peculiar imagery to be placed next to each other, backed by a gentle guitar melody that flows throughout this simple ballad. Not released as a single on its own. "Leave me alone - I was only singing / You have just proved (again) / Most people keep their brains between their legs"
  6. The Last Of The Famous International Playboys - Celebrating the famous London gangsters, The Krays, amongst others, this triumphant song sets about mythologising them with comic twists and turns, Morrissey's voice on fine form as he asks the two if they know his name and face. The song, like so many others of his, hints at homosexuality - Ronnie Kray was famously gay. Released as a single in 1989, reaching number 6. "I never wanted to kill, I am not naturally evil"
  7. Ouija Board, Ouija Board - This song has continued to split Morrissey's fans ever since its release; some see it as an irritating, odd or plain silly song, and the British music press were especially keen to savage it. On the other hand, some see it as being a light-hearted or playful song, though still retaining Morrissey's acid wit. Here he attempts to contact an 'old friend' through an ouija board, whilst also pointing out just how to spend his forename. "The table is rumbling / The glass is moving / 'No, I was not pushing that time'"
  8. Hairdresser On Fire - B-side to the fantastic Suedehead (also on this LP), and an excellent track in its own right, here Moz takes an incident where he couldn't get a hair appointment into a humourous look at his affections for London. A catchy piano and guitar line drives this song, not released as a single on its own. "Did a client make you nervous / He made you cautious / And when he said 'I'm gonna sue you' / Oh, I really felt for you"
  9. Everyday Is Like Sunday - The first track to be lifted to Viva Hate, this is a fine track driven by a strong bass melody, Morrissey's equally powerful vocals and delicate string orchestration. While this song's title and lyrics suggest depression (in the same way Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now is similarly misenterpreted), the song is instead looking back gratefully on having escaped the painful 'everyday' of the singer's past. Released as a single in 1988, reaching number 9. "Hide on the promenade / Etch a postcard / 'How I Dearly Wish I Was Not Here'"
  10. He Knows I'd Love To See Him - Quite a departure from previous songs, here over a warm acoustic guitar Morrissey informs 'He' that, while the singer would love to see him, it's really best he doesn't: "My name still conjures up deadly deeds / And a bad taste in the mouth". The ending stanza about the police is based on a real-life incident, when Morrissey's home was searched. Sadly, not released as a single. "You're just another who has maddening views / You want to turn it on its head / By staying in bed !"
  11. Yes, I Am Blind - Another quiet song, following on from the previous track with an introspective look at the singer's emotions and feelings. "No, I can't see the good things", he almost whispers, a smack in the face to those who would claim there's a silver lining. Slowly, he turns his focus to God, asking him to intervene if he can. Fading out with a textbook repeated line, this rather bitter song isn't easy to listen to, but rewarding. Not released as a single. "God, come down / If you're really there / Well, you're the one who claims to care"
  12. Lucky Lisp - A playful and entertaining song, here Morrissey recovers from the previous track's melancholy to celebrate a friend's newly-found successes. Rumours abound that this song is one of many in Moz's canon written about Johnny Marr, and it is certainly applicable. Not released as a single. "When your gift unfurls / When your talent becomes apparent / I will roar from the stalls"
  13. Suedehead - The second track from Viva Hate, and an excellent track to choose, being reminiscent of late-Smiths songs in the guitarwork and singing style. On top form, Morrissey takes the part of one half of a troubled relationship. Does our subject really want to be left on their own, or are they afraid to admit how much they'd miss the things they criticise? The refrain of "it was a good lay" seems to admit defeat, but there is hope left in his voice as it fades out. Released as a single in 1988 (the first as a solo artist), reaching number five. "Why do you come here / When you know it makes things hard for me? When you know, oh..."
  14. Disappointed - A bombastic drum kicks off the final track on the LP, originally a B-side but working perfectly as the ending to a rather nice record. Self-deprecating as ever, Morrissey sings about his life and the people around him, and how he feels so "truly disappointed" by it all. The ending line, "Goodnight, and thank-you", works perfectly, finishing the performance in the traditional way. Not released as a single. "This is the last song I will ever sing ("Yeah!") / No, I've changed my mind again ("Aww...") / Goodnight, and thank you"

Morrissey was quick to cement himself as a solo artist, having tumbled out of the whirlwind romance that was The Smiths. He had previously called the band his life-support machine, and many simply didn't believe Manchester's favourite son could work quite as well as when he had Marr behind him. If Viva Hate had failed to convince them, Bona Drag surely couldn't, featuring some truly outstanding work. The two tracks from his first LP help flesh it out even further, giving us a better picture of the star at one of the peaks of his career; throughout the 90's, he would largely be ignored by his home country, instead finding support in the USA.

It is interesting to note that on several of the tracks on this collection, Morrissey is joined by Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, a.k.a. the other two Smiths.

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