I love Your Arsenal.
I like to think I was raised by three things: a mom, a dad and MTV. My parents’ care shaped my character, while channel 14 on our cable box fostered my then-burgeoning lifelong love of music. For much of 1992, my version of an after school special was “Hangin’ with MTV,” a live program that invited artists into the studio to perform and take questions from the audience.
One Thursday afternoon, the show began with a quintet of retro-looking rockers playing a tune in which the singer sang affectionately to a girl he called “Fatty.” I thought, “How wacky is that? He loves her and is calling her such a name?” It was just the sort of slightly off-kilter thing that has always appealed to me in artistic expression.
The rest of the band, all as well-groomed and handsome in a 1950’s kind of way as their vocalist, played coolly behind him. After a commercial break, VJ John Norris introduced this man as Morrissey and explained that he’d be back later to play another song from Your Arsenal At that moment, my main priority in life became owning that album.
“This isn’t one of those bad tapes, is it?” my mom asked. The cassette I’d just pulled from the wall in my local mall’s music store featured a fuzzy sepia-toned image of a man, taut torso exposed, licking his one hand and positioning a microphone near his crotch with the other.
“No, see, it doesn’t have a Parental Advisory sticker on it,” I answered, my 13-year-old mind totally oblivious to the sexual innuendos oozing from the album cover. Even the title was a—ahem—cheeky double entendre. All I saw was this cool, well-coiffed, and mononymous man, Morrissey, who mesmerised me for the first time only days before.
“Hmm, okay. Well, it’s your money,” my mom said. Still slightly suspect, she walked with me to the cash register, where I proudly purchased what I just knew was going to be my new favorite tape.
I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I assume that as soon as I got home from the mall, I went directly to my room, popped the tape into my boombox, and listened to it from start to finish. It’s just one of those albums whose songs are so expertly sequenced that they lead you along like a story. Two tough-edged tunes, the driving and surf-like “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side” and the swaggering, “Jean Genie”-esque “Glamourous Glue” kick off the album, which veers down a rockabilly back road with “Certain People I Know” somewhere in the middle, descends into the marvelously mopey “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” and the melodramatic, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”-esque “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” and finally resolves with the skeptically hopeful “Tomorrow.”
Overall it’s an album that perfectly melds grittiness with glamor. The toughness of the new backing band, which had been recruited from the London Rockabilly scene, and the sonically muscular production from Mick Ronson (no duh where the Bowie inspo came from!), are balanced beautifully by Morrissey’s fay Britishness.
And it did indeed become a favorite from that day, so much so that I’ve now purchased it in three different formats over the years: cassette tape, CD, and vinyl. It’s never missed any all-time favorite records list I’ve made, and it even influences my own musical output to this day.
So, Your Arsenal, for all the aural pleasure you’ve given me, I “thank you from the heart of my bottom.”