Deep in the depths of Morrissey’s back-catalogue lies Southpaw, a slightly epic experiment in sound and storytelling. Here, the transition between the innocence of childhood and the loneliness of adulthood is played out over ten mesmerising minutes on a track that was never performed live and was seldom celebrated. The song, written by Morrissey, Alain Whyte and produced by Steve Lillywhite, was at the bottom of the Southpaw Grammar album of 1995. It was the same year that Radiohead released The Bends, with a similar effort in the shape of Fake Plastic Trees, which painted a tragic, detailed and disillusioned portrait of dented desires. The reality of a “fake plastic love”, beyond the singer’s control “wears out” a rejected and remorseful Thom Yorke. Meanwhile, in Southpaw “the girl of your dreams is sad and all alone”.
Rock music in the UK had spent the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s patrolling the perimeter of its potential before collapsing in the form of Britpop. But perhaps a small corner of Britain’s musical landscape had recognised its lamentable limits. By 1995, Morrissey has outgrown his Smiths honeymoon. Unfashionable and unfavoured, his Vauxhall and I masterpiece of the previous year had been largely overlooked. As the rock genre entered a prolonged period of Freudian regression, which continues to this day, the Southpaw protagonist ran with his friends in the sun, looked around and found himself alone before scurrying home to his mother.
Two decades later and the track has been revitalised by cutting room floor detritus, washed up and collected on YouTube. Those who know him well would never trust Morrissey to be the best judge of his own material. Back in January, a clandestine ‘studio version’ of Southpaw emerged, which somehow manages to eclipse the original. Morrissey fans – and sadly it is only Morrissey fans who have appreciated it – have been treated to a truly haunting rendition. In the unearthed recording, a melancholy collection of strings gently lowers the listener into an oblivion of abandonment, opening up a void to remind us just how sobering Morrissey can be when he tries. Southpaw is the sound of youth circling the drain.