Does Morrissey Still Make A Difference?
In the year 2014, Does our lord and savior, Steven Patrick Morrissey have anything worthwhile to say that has any relevance to us cretins that endeavor to share the same oxygen as him? It’s a valid question to pose in this day of rapidly shrinking attention spans, wells of patience and wallets.
Full disclosure: I, myself am what you would consider to be a bit of Morrissey disciple. Having been raised staring at the ceiling, captivated by the sounds of the only fab four that truly mattered. Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce and that man…that man with the voice of a generation and the words of many more to come.
Years later and many sleepless nights that followed, I am here to do the best I can to answer that one question. Let’s be honest here. Morrissey, the solo artist’s output has always paled in comparison to that of his work as half of arguably the finest songwriting duo since Lennon/McCartney. I could go on and on to the point of boredom and tedium detailing my personal reasoning as to why that would be the case but to put it simply, the main reason is that the other three are not in the fold. There was a certain chemisty that those four had at that time that perhaps they didn’t realize at the time. Quite a shame when everything is laid out and examined with the benefit of hindsight.
This, of course is not meant to say Morrissey hasn’t done some brilliant work on his own. He has. Start off with 1988's solo debut Viva Hate which retained much of the Smiths’ magic as Morrissey was learning to tread on his own and establish himself on the fly. As the legend grew, his mouth getting wider and more people paying attention (in the UK, at least), Morrissey would stumble a tad with 1991's Kill Uncle which featured some subpar tracks which would weigh down some of his finer songs. A trend that has persisted throughout the entirety of his career to date.
There would be further highs to come (1992's Your Arsenal, 1994's Vauxhall and I) which elevated his profile to near mythical status albeit without the sales to match. He became the gnat that buzzed in your ear constantly at night but no matter what you did, he was always there… By 1994, even America had to notice and for a time, fally prey to his charms. This in itself was quite the feat given America’s apprehension and lack of interest in a pop star who had no qualms whatsoever stating an eloquent opinion and rubbing our noses in it in the process.
Fast forward ten years. Two middling records, the lawsuit that saw Morrissey and Marr being taken to task by their former Smith comrades, the loss of his record deal then nothing for almost seven years before his grand return to prominence with 2004's You Are The Quarry which saw Morrissey at his most cutting with a new-found maturity. Of course, once again this would be undone with two more records which were mailed-in and the worry became real. Was Morrissey done? Has he lost his luster?
This year, we have a new record World Peace Is None Of Your Business. By the title itself, we can see that Morrissey’s sense of humour and vitriol has not suffered one iota. Right off the bat with the title track, our fearless hero warns us about the plight of mankind and scolds us for our general apathy. Is it over the top? Well…yes but therein lies the beauty of Morrissey’s lyrics. Subtlety is best served with a kick to the head. With line such as ‘…each time you vote, you support the process’ or ‘…work hard and sweetly pay your taxes, never asking what for’. It’s quite apparent that the purpose of this record is to serve as a wake up call to his listeners and quite perhaps a re-affirmation directed at himself, a renewed sense of purpose that may have been lost over the years.
The latter is the general vibe one can discern throughout the record. Gone are the laughable attempts to rock out in favor of variety and a most welcomed emphasis on melody. It’s as if someone grabbed Morrissey by the neck, forcing him to listen back to the best bits of his catalogue screaming ‘REMEMBER THIS!!! GIVE US MORE OF THIS!’ There are moments on this record where you can sit back, close your eyes and hear echoes of Moz’s past especially in songs like ‘Istanbul’, ‘Staircase At The University’ and ‘Kiss Me A Lot’. It’s in these moments where you smile as you allow yourself to think that he’s still got it. I dare say that his voice even seems have a certain youthful resonance to it that we haven’t heard since Maladjusted.
Suffice it to say that while this far from being a perfect record, it does bode well for the future of Morrissey. It’s not going to sell millions of records and that really isn’t the point. His legacy is secure and this record serves as evidence that the poison pen has a lot more ink than we all may have thought. That alone is a good thing for us all.