Few solo recording artists are able to match the successes of their legendary beginnings - even fewer surpass them. Typically, Steven Patrick Morrissey is the exception to the rule. Through each successive solo release and tour since disbanding The Smiths in 1987, Morrissey has self-consciously unburdened himself of that group's legacy, even as he has established himself as a viable artist in his own right - each of his solo albums selling gold or better. With Maladjusted, rock's most "aggressive loner" displays the maturity, ease and confidence of an artist with nothing left to prove. Building his reputation as an eccentric Everyman through the 17 classic singles and six albums released by the short-lived but massively influential Smiths, Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr and company inadvertently reinvigorated pop music and recruited a uniquely devoted following along the way. Wearing shyness on his sleeve, The Smiths frontman mixed witty and literate lyrics with a pure and studied pop sensibility to concoct a welcome antidote to the random anger of the punks and the numbing formula rock that ruled the singles chart in the early '80s. What combination of music and mystique accounted for the Manchester band's surprising success or what circumstances precluded their sudden break-up is now a question for pop historians and the English tabloids - but not for Morrissey. If there was any implied message in The Smiths' music, it may have been "find your own way"- and at the end of 1987, Morrissey took his own advice. Morrissey embarked on his solo career with the "Suedehead" single and the Viva Hate LP, instant critical favorites on both sides of the Atlantic despite his oft-times contentious relationship with the British press. Once alone in the spotlight, Morrissey actively cultivated his self-made, anti-hero persona - the consummate Englishness, studied vulnerability, the awkward balance between exhibitionist and introvert, the self-proclaimed celibacy, and the quick and charming wit all combined to increase his notoriety and secure a more rabid fan base than ever before. The results of his labor scored on the charts as well, where Viva Hate reached #48 on Billboard's Album Chart, besting The Smiths' highest chart position from the outset. All was not to go so smoothly for Morrissey, however, thanks in part to his own inscrutable behavior and penchant for the bizarre. His subsequent singles and videos from Bona Drag and Kill Uncle? stoked media controversies and forced fans and critics to choose sides on more than one occasion. In the U.K., accusations of racism, ethnocentrism, jingoism and numerous other supposed indiscretions led to Radio One black-outs, headline-grabbing protests and the like, but Morrissey remained silent for the most part, preferring to address these issues through his music, or not at all. Whether on record or on stage, Morrissey has reveled in his role as rock's most provocative and idiosyncratic prophet, particularly in America where his near-canonization amuses critics, perplexes his detractors and pleases his cult of fans immensely. With the release of the breakthrough Your Arsenal LP in 1992, produced by glam legend Mick Ronson, Morrissey began to receive the popular acceptance and critical acclaim that had previously eluded him and more of the controversy that has continually dogged him. The disc bowed at #21 on the Billboard Album Chart and was followed by his most successful international concert tour ever. Selling-out American arenas and setting venue box-office records became the norm, though his 22-minute sell-out of the Hollywood Bowl - eclipsing the Beatles' record - was nothing short of spectacular. While the skinhead-themed stage imagery was pretty much overlooked in the U.S., it was widely misconstrued in his homeland and created a furor that has haunted him to this day. Not even the English press vilification of Morrissey and the tour, however, could taint the success of Your Arsenal, his first LP to earn a Grammy nomination (Best Alternative Album). The unbelievably natural progression of popular acceptance and critical praise that began with "Suedehead" reached a new level with the release of Vauxhall And I in the Spring of 1994. Scoring his highest Billboard LP debut ever ( #18), most successfully charting single - "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get" - and the most stellar reviews of his career for the Steve Lillywhite-produced Vauxhall And I, Morrissey was greeted with hugs, kisses and gifts by thousands of fans in London, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago during a brief personal appearance tour at record shops in support of the disc. The outpouring of emotion turned each appearance into a messianic event for the faithful, who slept out for days in anticipation, and kept the uninitiated wondering - a by-now familiar scenario. Returning to the studio last Fall, Morrissey recorded and released three new songs for an extended single titled "Boxers." Those tracks - along with several previously unavailable live cuts and B-sides (including a mesmerizing cover of "Moon River") - were compiled on the World Of Morrissey album released last February. Described in a lead review by Rolling Stone as an album that "throbs...with a passionate ambiguity that is riveting and disturbing," the World Of Morrissey spawned a three-week, late Winter tour of the U.K., following which Morrissey returned to the studio with Lillywhite to complete the sessions for the studio disc Southpaw Grammar.
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Like a great fighter in his prime, Morrissey is staying sharp by staying busy. Having released two new studio albums of original material in as many years - along with the ongoing re-release of The Smiths catalogue - he is one of the few artists whose new work is as anticipated as his past work is revered. With the release of Maladjusted, Morrissey has been a solo artist far longer than he was a Smith. No longer burdened by his own history, Morrissey's own evolving creative standard is the only one by which he can now be truly measured.
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