“I was never young. This idea of fun: cars, girls, saturday night, bottle of wine… to me, these things are morbid. I was always attracted to people with the same problems as me. It doesn’t help when most of them are dead.”
Last week we looked at a Brian Wilson composition, a songwriter known for subtly embedding maudlin themes into cheery pop music. If Brian was the king of sad/happy in the 60’s, across the pond his mate Morrissey could also be described as his equal in the 80’s.
Viva Hate, released in 1988 marked Morrissey’s exit and dissolution of the band he helped create with guitarist Johnny Marr, The Smiths. With Marr, Morrissey co-wrote bouncy hits like “Girlfriend in a Coma”, developing a trademark style of dark, witty lyrics paired with pull-you-in pop. This debut solo album, named for his feelings about The Smiths’ breakup continued in this tradition and featured a number of hit singles, the second being “Every Day is Like Sunday”.
In typical Morrissey fashion, the song imbeds despairing lyrics in a hooky melody that you can’t help singing and then wonder why you’re belting out such a happy song about impending doom. The production starts out big and stays there with a killer bass and drum line and never lets up. The beginning hooks you in so quickly that you might not even notice the first line is “trudging slowly over wet sand”, hardly the kind of music you’d expect to be backing such dreary lyrics.
Once the first verse ends, a crescendo builds with a symphonic instrumental bridging to the song’s title. “Every day is like Sunday, every day is silent and gray.” Morrissey still catches you here, even after that “Come Armageddon come! line. You hear “Every day is like Sunday” and think of relaxing days on the couch or by the pool, then he comes in with “Every day is silent and gray.” Wow, what a downer, but that hook keeps pulling you in with such happy vibes that your brain doesn’t care. J
I’ve heard a fellow songwriter say that the bridge of a song is where the writer leaves the listener with the most important idea he wants to convey. In this song’s bridge, Morrissey goes back to the word “trudging”, this time over pebbles but he really wants to focus on the phrase “on your face” when describing the “strange dust” that lands on your hands too. Usually the term “on your face” describes some sort of public embarrassment. Was he trying to convey his feelings of betrayal over The Smith’s breakup here? In any case, what a hook for the last part of the bridge with “On your fa-a-a-ce”, that builds into the final chorus. That’s the line that I can’t help singing along with every time.
Adding more irony to an already ironic song is the fact that many listeners in the U.S. may know this song only from an NFL commercial that aired during the fall of 2008. As part of their promotion for re-airing a football game every day of the week, the NFL Network played that symphonic prelude and the first line of the chorus proclaiming “Every day is like Sunday!” though it was not the former Smiths front man singing on this version.
One wonders if the executives that approved this song realized the dark social commentary that the original conveyed. The music from the NFL commercial conveniently comes in right after the “Come Armageddon come!” lyric and cuts off before the cover artist can sing “ every day is silent and gray “. Of course those lines don’t exactly convey the festive gameday atmosphere the NFL was trying to summon with this song!
What sets a barb into my lip right away are the backing tracks. All the instruments are in on this vibe from the beginning. The opening bass and drums provide the foundation that never really changes through the whole song. You won’t get bored, as Morrissey pounds home his point with a velvet glove of pure pop bliss through verse and chorus alike. Who else could hook you in with a lyric like “how I dearly wish I was not here” and then make you unconsciously sing a line like “Come come nuclear war!”
Wow, Morrissey throws out plenty of candy-coated angst in this song. On the surface, he seems to be complaining about a bad vacation as he’s on the beach at a “seaside town that they forgot to burn down” but not having much fun. Apparently his friend got his/her clothes stolen there as well. Is this town that serves “greased tea” a metaphor for his breakup with The Smiths? Maybe, but for the rest of us, this song serves as a universal paean to despair, packing more power than the atonal sludge that today’s ambassadors of angst could ever dream of pulling off.
Viva Hate indeed when it sounds this good!