There’s always been a huge element of mainstream isolation throughout Morrissey’s career, both with The Smiths and then into his solo years. He’s always been a willing outsider, it’s part of the charm. However recent times in particular have seen him alienate some of the more sensitive among his ‘fans’, and these days, indeed any new comment or badge is likely to inspire the now standard placed media outpouring of vitriol. God forbid anyone dare give an opinion at odds with the latest status quo.
The important thing to remember is that Morrissey has always remained true to himself, never willing to self-censor for the sake of what society of the time deems kosher. He’s also remained true to those of us willing or even able to think for ourselves. The fact remains that for alot of people, every new Morrissey record, every upcoming gig, every *gasp* new opinion is an event to take notice of, none more so in the age of the eagerly ‘offended’.
Alas, ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’, Morrissey’s 13th solo album, is required now more than ever. His last, ‘California Son’, was an impressive and an interesting look at how a man so rich in originality can transform his personally favourite songs and make them his own. With this, Morrissey manages to take the listener to far-off places like never before. It’s arguably the most powered and adventurous of his career.
Opening song ’Jim Jim Falls’ is the most alarming start to any Morrissey record I’ve ever heard, and will immediately throw first time listeners off guard. It begins with unnerving yet bombastic 90’s electro thrusts before turning into an indie-rock call for attention seekers to get off their arses and into action. With lines like “If you’re gonna kill yourself, then to save face, get on with it”, we get a harsh, unsentimental narrator fed up with talk. Next comes the brilliant ’Love Is On The Way Out’, which again appears slightly off the mark at first, but like it’s predecessor, grows, grows and blossoms with further listens. ‘Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?’, the albums lead single, comes complete with Motown Legend Thelma Houston on backing vocals, and the results are like Gospel; a call from heaven for the secular among us. Lines like “You’re tortured down below!” is pure signature Morrissey, and the song as a whole sets the album at one of its highest bars.
‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’, however, is from another planet altogether. For the most part, better or worse, it sounds like something from a whimsical musical, like a Moz cameo in ‘La La Land’, playing to the crowd with lines like ‘I see no point in being nice!’… believe me, by now, we know.
We’re brought back to more familiar territory with ‘What Kind of People Live In These Houses?’, a blissfully light and airy pop tune most comparable to things like ‘Jeane’, and certainly the most Smiths-esque song that Moz has done in a while. “Bedsitter, bedwetter, or penthouse go getter? What carpet chewer lights up this sewer?” he ponders, bringing us back to the days when ‘kitchen sink drama’ was still a tag he was synonymous with.
The second half of ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’ is just as impressive as the first. There is a brief stray into misplaced electronica, coming and going with ‘Once I Saw The River Clean’, fascinating itself in how it managed to meet the final album cut. In stark contrast, Morrissey seems so at ease to produce a track like ‘Knockabout World’, another pop gem in which he seems to be addressing himself (“You’re ok by me!”). It’s in these moments in the final section where the record really ‘arrives’.
‘Darling, I Hug A Pillow’ is a triumphant plea to a potentially better half to hand over some ‘physical love’, ending with results like almost every other Morrissey love story. “Why can’t you give me some physical love?” he asks, to no reply, but in true Morrissey style, the sign off is one of defiance: “Darling, you will cry out for me for years to come!”
‘The Truth About Ruth’ is a multi-layered piano ballad which evolves into an almost Italian rock-opera, with what sounds like a cameo backing vocal from Klaus Nomi. The truth is, Ruth is actually called John, doing what he and we all can ‘to just get along’.
‘The Secret of Music’ is a place to become lost in, and it gives us a breather for reflection. It meanders along, slowly and steady, guided by a booming bass firmly in control while Morrissey, comfortable to appear as a passenger here, comes in and out to offer his mind: “Glockenspiel could never feel the way I feel tonight”. As strange a lyric that is, you believe him. You could stay here forever, just to think about everything that’s came before, as we’re drawn ever closer to the album’s finale.
With the horrors of time and ‘Mama, mama and teddybear’, ‘My Hurling Days Are Gone’ is a sincere, tearjerking beauty, and a breathtaking end to a truly complex record made by the most complex of living treasures. And lest Morrissey to be one to leave us bereft, he sums up the final song, and album as a whole, so hilariously with:
“Time will mould you and craft you, when you’re looking away it will slide up and shaft you…”
Say no more.
At 60, time may be no longer be a friend of Morrissey, but with output like this, time is showing no signs of slowing his abilities down. Maybe the world won’t listen. But then, the world has never deserved Morrissey.
‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’ is out now.
Order on MPORIUM