Morrissey - You Are The Quarry
Bill Cummings 23/05/2004
Its good to have him back, it really is. He's someone who inspired a generation of literature students, indie bands, vegetarians, and intellectuals. He is without doubt one of the most interesting living and working English vocalists. Who am I referring to? Yes, Morrissey, the guy who sang with the Smiths - you know - the guy with the quiff; the one with the penchant for Oscar Wilde and 50s kitchen sink cinema. You can't fail to have noticed the publicity surrounding his return, probably buoyed by a renaissance of The Smiths - off the back of new bands' namechecks kids are waking up to the majesty of The Smiths' 80s work. After years of estrangement in America, he's back in style: back to set records straight and back with an album that probably ranks up there with his best solo work.
The album kicks off with strange thumping beats that are almost hip hop in style and above this emerges Morrissey's trademark croon. The track is a slight on the land that he "loves", but he warns against the cultural imperialism of the USA: "head's too big/because America, your belly's too big". Maybe he's getting homesick, too: "Come Back To Camden" is a luscious lament towards the home of indiedom. "Irish Blood English Heart" is already a hit and its not hard to see why: the stuttering rhythm and chopping riff explodes in the chorus, allowing Morrissey to rail against everyone including his critics: "I've been dreaming of a time when to be English is not to be baneful/to be standing by the flag not feeling shameful racist or partial".
The surprises here come in the shifts in gear: for instance, "I Have Forgiven Jesus" is a glorious string-laden Morrissey lament at first - he pleads "I was a good kid through hail and snow I would go to the moon just for you", whereas the final brutal verse is pure, slashing brilliance to rival the existential angst of "How Soon Is Now": "Why did you give me such desire/when there's nowhere I can go to offload this desire", "Why did you stick me in self-deprecating bones and skin/Do you hate me?" Elsewhere the standout is clearly "First of the Gang to Die" as witty story telling verses ("You have never been in love/Until you've seen the stars/Reflect in the reservoirs") soar into a stridently beautifully observed pop chorus: "We are the pretty petty thieves/And you're standing on our streets/Where Hector was the first of the gang to die with a gun in his hand". This song should be the next single as it is Morrissey at his best: witty, cutting and brutal, but also pop. Similarly "I Like You" is a pearly pop song with knowing vocals and witty lyrics of the kind that only Morrissey can conjure: "Your not right in the head/But that is why I like you".
Morrissey is settling old scores too, claiming he's had his "face dragged in fifteen miles of shit" on "How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel". He takes on everyone from pop stars to politicians on the stuttering rock of "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores". He attacks the establishment, possibly informed by his court battles: "policewoman, policemen, silly women taxmen - uniformed whores/they who wish to hurt you they work within the law", then goes onto decry all of the "lock jawed pop stars with nothing to convey". That's what makes Morrissey great: he's a pop star who isn't afraid to speak his mind, he isn't afraid to be unpopular; he is a unique individual of the kind we simply don't produce in music anymore. Musically there is a shift here for a Morrissey solo album: the electronic flourishes, strings and general beef of the production of Jerry Finn (Blink 182) allows Morrissey not to sound dated, and means that the album hangs together well as a piece.
There are a few dodgy moments for me: "All The Lazy Dykes" is a poor Smiths pastiche, and occasionally Morrissey does lapse into overkill. Overall although you cant compare this album to the work of the Smiths: that would be unfair. This is Morrissey solo - to enjoy this album, you have to accept him for all his foibles. But in terms of his solo work this ranks right up there with some of his best. It soars in the right places and it gloriously wallows in a way that only Morrissey can. Seven years away never stopped us dreaming; Morrissey is back and hopefully this means the Smiths will get the credit they rightly deserve as one of the best and most consistent bands of the 1980s.