Album Review by Adam Foster
There’s a rumour going about that this is Morrissey’s best solo album. It is not.
There’s nothing here to match the melodies on VIVA HATE, or the visceral excitement of YOUR ARSENAL or VAUXHALL AND I. Still, it is a step up from SOUTHPAW GRAMMAR or his last album, 1997’s poor MALADJUSTED.
It is an album which has its moments: the single, IRISH BLOOD, ENGLISH HEART and FIRST OF THE GANG TO DIE are great tracks, and the only time on the album that Mozza attempts a tune; the misanthropic wit is still present (‘America, you know where you can shove your hamburger’, ‘lock-jawed pop stars thicker than pig shit’ and so on); and, for the Morrissey watcher, there are some thrilling moments as he treads the tightrope of reputation. Certainly, this album addresses the charges of racism more directly than ever before: in AMERICA IS NOT THE WORLD, the US is disparaged for having a President who is “never black, female or gay”; he dreams of a time when loving the British flag is not “shameful, racist or partial”; and, in the shapeless whinge which forms the closing track, YOU KNOW I COULDN’T LAST, he complains that “every-ist and every-ism” has been thrown his way.
But these moments of delight and controversy (the song ALL THE LAZY DYKES is actually a hymn to sexual liberation, but couched in terms which are pretty much guaranteed to cause offence) are not enough to save what is ultimately a tiresome, dull album.
There is some excellent guitar work here; Baz Boorer and Alain Whyte, his long time collaborators, occasionally playing for their lives, but on largely aimless, tuneless songs they have co-written. Also Jerry Finn, who is credited as having produced and mixed the album, has left Morrissey’s voice and personality far too much to the fore, leaving the guitars to struggle for attention. Glimpses of the kind of sterling work Boorer and Whyte produced on YOUR ARSENAL’S opener are tantalising, but ultimately frustrating – someone has to take control here, and that someone should not be Morrissey.
It is a long time since VIVA HATE, where Stephen Street’s personality, production and songwriting skills kept Morrissey in check, and even longer since Mozza found his yang in Johnny Marr. In these partnerships, the music was allowed room to blossom; and Morrissey’s voice needs framing – melodies around it, fades and echoes, double-taped harmonies, musical breaks, moving around the mix – to keep it interesting. But Whyte and Boorer – and Jerry Finn – seem more in thrall to Morrissey than ever, and this record suffers for it.