So, after the second prolonged (enforced?) silence of his career here is Morrissey’s second great comeback. And his greatest? We shall see…
His last studio album, Feb 2009’s Years of Refusal had a couple of moments of class but was largely underwhelming and has been followed by more compilations, re-issues, re-masters and controversial tours (with support acts axed and gig cancellations due to ill health). Let’s not forget the monologue that was his highly readable biography. Now, 5½ years later, a new album.
Just when you think title track and opener World Peace is None of Your Business is going to go all Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, the chipper political track you may have been expecting bursts in: Taxes, brutal policing, wealth inequality, Egypt and Ukraine are all referred to and underpinned with the sentiment “each time you vote, you support the process”. A fine opening indeed. Then Beat Generation figureheads Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady are pictured respectively shampooing their beard and dropping dead in a crunching rock track, (that features a soothing flamenco guitar solo), by the name of Neal Cassady Drops Dead. A very long sultry sound effect intro finally gives way to a Scott Walker-ish croon of a wonderful Morrissey lyric topped song by the name of I’m Not A Man. Morrissey has been on that web based “Morrissey song title generator” it seems! It reminds me somewhat in places of Scott’s 30th Century Man.
Then arrives a possible album highlight Istanbul; a harrowing song of a Father travelling to said city to retrieve his dead Son’s body. Oh… and the Mother had died years earlier, birthing said Son. The track is pulsing, Eastern-tinged, and intense. It finishes with the Father leaning into a pine coffin to identify the young man.
The mood is upped (yes upped!) by the following lament of human loneliness and lack of humanity that is Earth Is the Loneliest Planet. More flamenco guitars, a bit of a funky undertow and Trevor Horn type fills… And an accordion solo. Seriously, it reminds me of Frankie Goes To Hollywood! And I like it! Still, if your mood is getting up, then comes another story from a Father’s point of view. This one declares “if you don’t get three A’s then you’re no child of mine” to his Daughter. Presumably she didn’t, because she throws herself down a staircase and splits her head open. The song musically is a cousin of November Spawned A Monster. Unsurprisingly it’s called Staircase at the University.
Do I really need to explain what next track The Bullfighter Dies is all about? Or indeed that “nobody cries”? However, this is party time stuff for Morrissey and the song is jaunty and summery. The upbeat mood continues with Kiss Me A Lot, more flamenco guitars, mariachi trumpets and Morrissey wanting to be kissed, and then kissed again, (some of this kissing naturally occurs in a mausoleum and a churchyard of course). A song that’s probably not for those who think Shiny Happy People was the nadir of REM’s recording career. Smiler With Knife brings the mood crashing down: A stark, loveless, acoustic farewell note to the world.
Kick The Bride Down The Aisle returns to the Morrissey song generator, questioning the value of marriage. Musically well recorded but fairly average Morrissey fare. Mountjoy follows; a song of the horrors of the Dublin gaol, it references those that were executed there and one of its most famous one time residents, Brendan Behan. Grim stuff, and musically very powerful. Another album highlight, melodious with heavily strummed guitars and more experimental sound effects.
Album closer proper Oboe Concerto starts with more (Scott Walker-ish) sound effects and is a lovely tuneful song. I’m not sure what it’s about, but it will indeed be a song “that’s stuck in my head”.
And here things get unusual… Because the following six bonus songs are indeed a bonus! A rarity, bonus tracks worthy of a place on the album proper. Scandinavia, all marching drums and very baroque Europa is a bit bonkers, musically and lyrically. One Of Our Own is a Morrissey suicide song in the third person: A guilt ridden soldier kneeling by the grave of a fallen comrade who took a bullet for him and who can no longer stand the paradox so takes his own life. Underpinned by a simple piano motif, this too is a quality bonus track. Drag The River with its washing in waves effects is a joyous song about the coming of death in water. It’s very tuneful, morose and catchy. “Join me, join me, join me, happy we will be” indeed. Forgive Someone finds Morrissey recounting a rare youthful tale of sexual exploration and at least begs the listener to find strength in forgiveness rather that in the fists or unforgiving words. It sounds just a bit mixed up, but it’s still strong musically – resting on a strong bass rhythm and rolling synth. Julie in The Weeds is another quaint musical number proving an old dog can learn new tricks. Art Hounds opens with a samba on the trumpets then kicks into a vicious critique of talentless critics and contains my favourite lyric of the album, (a blast of vintage Morrissey) “Art-hounds in a restaurant, bring along their loving Aunt, but when they can’t find a table for their fat Aunt Mable, they stamp their feet and cry”.
There’s so much for the devout Morrissey fan here and plenty for any new listeners too. As a comeback it’s up there with Bowie from last year. It’s crisp and clear, in vision and performance. It’s triumphant in execution. This could well be Morrissey’s masterpiece, his best solo work, and therefore… whisper it… his best since the Smiths.
Author – Ian, Romford store