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Who Put the M in Manchester? is a concert DVD directed by Bucky Fukumoto featuring a Morrissey show at the Manchester Arena in 2004. Morrissey was largely written off as an irrelevance in the late nineties after the underwhelming response to his terrible 1997 album Maladjusted and had more or less gone to ground. He didn't even have a record contract or manager and was presumed to be holed up in his Los Angeles mansion with the curtains drawn tightly against the sun watching George & Mildred and On the Buses videos. After years of silence he suddenly - as he is prone to do just when everyone has almost forgotten about him - emerged again like a sleeping giant with his album You Are the Quarry and even had a couple of top ten singles. So this particular concert was extra special as it was both a triumphant homecoming and also took place on his birthday. While some of these concert DVDs can come across as rather homemade and hastily assembled, Who Put the M in Manchester? is competently directed and appears to have more thought than usual put behind it. Some of the editing is a trifle too busy for my tastes but it's a lot better than the Live in Dallas DVD (where it sometimes appeared as if the director had shot Morrissey while on a skateboard). Morrissey himself is on great form too and very être bien dans sa peau. He seems happy and relaxed and talks to the crowd more than usual, his witty and obtuse asides often amusing. He's a bit heavier than the waif of old but he looks good and much better I think than some of his appearances circa 1997 when he was promoting Maladjusted. One of the interesting things about the concert is the way that he resists the temptation to perform the whole of You Are the Quarry (which you would expect him to do as it was his new album at the time) and instead finds room for some lesser known songs from his back catalogue, five Smiths songs, a Raymonde cover, and even a splash of The New York Dolls. This makes the concert much more eclectic with some nice surprises thrown in with the material that one would expect to be here.
There are nineteen songs performed in the film and after a portentous battery of black and white industrial images the DVD begins with a stirring rendition of First of the Gang to Die, a catchy and superior single taken from You Are the Quarry. Morrissey's strange vocal contortions and occasional warbles are fun and make the songs feel fresh again even if you are very familiar with the studio versions. His longstanding backing group of Alain Whyte, Boz Boorer and Gary Day are very tight too and the guitars are far more accomplished here than they were on some of their earlier concerts with Morrissey. Morrissey is illuminated in front of a neon backdrop and his theatrical poses and microphone whipping is suitably Morissey-esque throughout the concert. The first song contains some nice lines that only he would come up with. "You have never been in love, until you've seen the sunlight thrown, over smashed human bone!" His growling breathless wails and bizarre vocal tangents get some freedom on the breezy and well regarded Hairdresser on Fire, a song taken from his late eighties compilation Bona Drag. It sometimes feels like Morrissey's entire lyrical output consists of him taking revenge on a person or institution but it's always done in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that negates the sometimes vituperous nature of his writing. This song is about a Sloane Square hairdresser who couldn't fit Morrissey in for a haircut. The Headmaster Ritual is next and a pleasantly offbeat choice for a Smiths cover. It was taken from Meat is Murder and about Morrissey's terible memories of the harsh working class Manchester schools he attended growing up. Morrissey performs it well and Johnny Marr's complex wall of sound guitar riff is - surprisingly - captured quite well here in his decades later live incarnation. A standard performance of his solid single Irish Blood, English Heart follows. This was from You Are the Quarry and works well live but because it has a bit more noise and bite than your average Morrissey song.
A few beats from The New York Doll's Subway Train rears it head but perhaps in somewhat pointless fashion as it then morphs into Everyday is Like Sunday from Viva Hate. This is Morrissey's second greatest solo single ever and although pleasant enough here I tend to feel that the orchestral majesty of the song is impossible to truly capture live. Morrissey enjoys himself next wallowing in the overblown I Have Forgiven Jesus from You Are the Quarry. It was a single but not a song I care for an awful lot. It just feels pompous lyrically and musically and lacks Morrissey's usual sense of whimsy. It's nice of Morrissey to forgive Jesus though. I don't know if they spoke on the phone or what prompted them to patch things up in the end. I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday is one of the most depressing Morrissey songs of all time but it's also strangely brilliant in its own way. This is taken from the early nineties album Your Arsenal and performed in a fifties crooning fashion and so always works well live. The theme is the passing of time leading to no change in one's personal circumstances - a recurring Morrissey obsession and one that he uses here to generate a great sense of sadness. How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel? from You are the Quarry finds Morrissey in a knotty and misanthropic mood and although it isn't one of my favourite Morrissey songs many of the lesser lights gain an extra level of interest performed live here. Morrissey has a sense of drama and theatre onstage and will shift lyrics around or insert new words if the mood takes him. I like his self-deprecating interaction with the crowd too. "That was a bit wobbly wasn't it?" he says after The Headmaster Ritual. "Was I even singing?"
There is a fun version of The Smiths Rubber Ring (taken from the Louder Than Bombs compilation) which always gains something live as it appears to be the singer speaking directly to his fanbase. "And when you're dancing and laughing, And finally living, Hear my voice in your head, And think of me kindly. " Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference is a minor bauble from Bona Drag, a Carry-On piece of whimsy laced with Morrissey's customary sadness. It's quite nice though the way Morrissey's voice sounds identical at times here to how it did on those eighties records. I do think he's singing much better around this period than he was in the mid to late nineties. Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice is a lesser known Morrissey solo song that was (I think) a b-side on Let Me Kiss You. I've never quite understood why Morrissey was so obsessed with this song live as it's nothing earth shattering but it is a bit punkier than his usual fare with frantic and catchy guitars so maybe that's the reason. The World if Full of Crashing Bores is from You are the Quarry and one of the more epic and interesting songs from Morrissey's later solo career. He seems to relish singing this live as it has an intimate widescreen aura that is very atmospheric. Also from that album is Let Me Kiss You, a decent song that Morrissey again performs well. Some nice Morrissey shirts in this DVD by the way. He gets through quite a few. One of the highlights comes next with his cover of Raymonde's No One Can Hold a Candle to You from their 1986 album Babelogue. This is a fantastic song and you can see that Morrissey absolutely adores singing it live and cherishes it as if it was one of his own.
A Rush and A Push and the Land is Ours is another interesting choice of Smiths cover. Taken from Strangeways Here We Come it was a very experimental song but an excellent one and seemed to find The Smiths on the cusp of embracing a new sound with a piano introduction and discordant xylophone. It loses something here of course years away from Johnny Marr having a nervous breakdown in his studio but Morrissey's growls and bizarre phrasing is still up to par. We get one more song from You Are the Quarry in the form of I'm Not Sorry, a weakish Kill Uncle era sounding song that doesn't ever really spark into life even live, before a nostalgic Smiths coda with Shoplifters of the World Unite and There is a Light That Never Goes Out. A trifle obvious maybe but a nice way to go out. Who Put the M in Manchester? is a better than average concert DVD that benefits not only from Morrissey's solid and enjoyable performance but also from being professionally directed and not feeling like a quick cash-in (as earlier Morrissey/Smiths films so often did). The film runs to just under two hours so isn't too skimpy and you also get a smattering of extras. Four Morrissey live songs from the Move Festival that same year and also four music videos - Irish Blood, English Heart, two versions of First of the Gang to Die and I Have Forgiven Jesus. If you are a fan this is not a bad buy at all and much better than I'd expected it to be. At the time of writing you can buy Who Put the M in Manchester? for under five pounds.