From his days with The Smiths on, Morrissey has always put as much emphasis on singles as albums, crafting even the humblest release into a well-considered dispatch. That’s been a boon to hardcore fans, but it’s also meant that those not wanting to chase after the latest UK-only release for a rare B-side have missed out on some fine music, sometimes better than the tracks that made it onto Morrissey’s proper albums. Swords compiles 18 B-sides from the comeback period that began with 2004’s You Are The Quarry, but in typically frustrating fashion, not all the B-sides, perhaps so collectors won’t feel as if they’ve wasted their time.
Yet as good as Morrissey’s throwaways can be, they aren’t all good. Many of the tracks on Swords feel like one more drag through the usual obsessions with crime (“Ganglord”), bad education (“Children In Pieces”), and wilting virgins (“The Never-Played Symphonies”). But the standouts deserve to be rescued from obscurity, particularly the spirited “Good Looking Man About Town” and “Christian Dior,” a portrait of a man so obsessed with his craft that he lets the pleasures of life pass him by. (Any resemblance to the man singing it is purely intentional.) “It’s Hard To Walk Tall When You’re Small” even finds Morrissey reviving a falsetto not heard since The Smiths’ first albums. He doesn’t quite reach the high notes anymore, and his recent onstage collapse confirms he isn’t the young man he used to be, but Swords reveals Morrissey as an artist still too restless to be penned in by 12 tracks every couple of years. Bonus: The limited-edition version of Swords comes with an eight-track live album that’s also pretty good.