Title: Bona Drag
Tell me more: Bona Drag was the working title of Morrissey’s second album, around 1989, but for reasons never truly explained – though a lack of material has been suggested – failed to see the light of day and instead his second album was the poor Kill Uncle, three years after Viva Hate. Some of the tracks earmarked for the original Bona Drag appeared on singles. When it came out in 1990 Bona Drag featured several singles and B-sides, but nothing new. At this time I was collecting all Morrissey’s solo output so didn’t bother with this release. The selling point now is the six unreleased tracks, four of which have not been heard before, other than on bootlegs.
The Lowdown: After splitting The Smiths in 1987, Morrissey produced some incredible singles, starting with Suedehead, one of his finest songs either as a solo artist or with The Smiths, followed by Everyday Is Like Sunday, Interesting Drug and Last of the Famous International Playboys. All were big hits in the UK but the slide began with Ouija Ouija Board at the end of 1989, followed by November Spawned a Monster and Piccadilly Palare. These three were all endearing in their own way but not quite to the standard expected from Morrissey. As with The Smiths, Mozza kept some of his best works up his sleeve, letting them slip on to B-sides, so it’s remarkable that stunning songs like Hairdresser On Fire, Disappointed and Will Never Marry were omitted from Viva Hate or Such A Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference had no studio album to feature on.
Listening to Morrissey at that time, as someone leaving their teens, was not only a treasureable event but a necessity. This was a time of varying standards in British music. There were bands such as Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, that would be hailed as the spark for shoegazing; the burgeoning Madchester scene with Happy Mondays and Stone Roses; and various pop and indie bands such as the House of Love, the Wedding Present and Cud, who didn’t really fit easily with any particular scene but were among those who could lay a claim to providing a platform for a music scene that would really come alive in the early 90s.
It wouldn’t be until the end of 1991, after Kill Uncle was released and then carefully placed on a shelf, that Morrissey re-discovered his form with the rockabilly-esque Pregnant For The Last Time and the eerie My Love Life and the year after he would release Your Arsenal.
Bona Drag, which was compiled primarily for the American market, is a pretty decent summation of this period, although there are some inexcusable omissions such as Sister I’m A Poet, but that and others can be found on Singles 1988-1991.
As for the selling point, the six new songs, Let The Right One Slip One, is longer, by 46 seconds, than the one that would feature as the B-side to 1992’s Tomorrow but otherwise is barely changed; the same applies for The Bed Took Fire, which became At Amber, another B-side, and a song I didn’t recall being especially wonderful.
The four unheard songs are all excellent. Happy Lovers At Last United from 1988, is a tale of someone helping to reunite a couple, but finding they then don’t want him (or her) around; Oh Phoney contains the wonderful line: “Who can make Hitler sound like a bus conductor? You do!” and has a rather abrupt fade out, to end at two minutes. Lifeguard On Duty, which is not a variation on a track from Vauxhall and I, has that Viva Hate, post-Smiths feel to it but I can see how it could not be included on the debut. And that leaves the jaunty Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness, which is not strictly unheard of, as it was given to Sandie Shaw, and appeared as a single in 1988. This is probably the best of the six but the other three new tracks all have merit and are certainly worth hearing.
The artwork features a slightly different cover, with Morrissey’s jacket in black, rather than red, the sky blue background being replaced by a cream-coloured one and a different font and placing for the artist’s name and the title. Inside, there’s pictures of Morrissey beside dilapidated buildings. All this is unavailable, of course, to the downloader.
Anything else? The Smiths are responsible for the Porky Prime Cuts name, the writer spotting these three words on the runout groove of some of the later singles.