America, your head’s too big, croons Morrissey on the first line of his new album You Are The Quarry, and it’s reassuring to know the guy hasn’t lost his bite after all these years.
Honestly, I think it would be hard to be Morrissey and make new music. His fans revere him as some kind of malcontented deity, yet I get the impression that they want him to stay trapped in Smiths mode, circa 1984. Also, he’s a reclusive fellow and doesn’t put out a ton of new material, so when a new album does come along expectations are high. On top of all this, his last album, Maladjusted, was widely panned by critics and many fans. You’d think pressure like that would make a guy want to hide in his room.
I didn’t know what to expect with You Are The Quarry, but I was pleasantly suprised by how well it turned out. It manages to be an album that has the best properties of vintage Morrissey while also moving his music in a more mature and accessible direction.
First, a word about the actual music. It alternates between rocking up-tempo numbers, slow ballads and haunting waltzes, all with consistently interesting and catchy melodies. Yet, the album still has that 80s British vibe that Morrissey fans secretly crave. Every song is relatively short and straightforward – no wacked out experimental songs here. When talking about a Morrissey album most of the attention is put on the singing, but half of what makes this album great is the musical foundation.
Lyrically, the songs tilt more towards political and social commentary rather than the depressed, unloved teenagers that were so popular in past Morrissey-penned songs. Topics include America, Britain, Christianity and pop music. In “Irish Blood, English Heart” Morrissey offers a heart-felt and surprisingly unironic criticism of English culture, while “America Is Not the World” is a bit more tongue-in-cheek (America, you know where you can shove your hamburger,) but still comes across as an honest statement.
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of angst here, and frankly, it wouldn’t be a Morrissey album with out it. Personally, his most melodramatic songs have always made me giggle a bit, but that doesn’t mean I like them any less.
On “Come Back to Camden,” when he sings There is something I wanted to tell you, it’s so funny you’ll kill yourself laughing, but then I, I look around and I remember that I am alone, alone forevermore, I have to smile. Yet it’s still my favorite song on the album. The music, a slow waltz, is close to perfect and he sings with such conviction you can’t help but be moved.
Other favorites are “First of the Gang to Die,” an upbeat song with catchy hooks about a dead L.A. gang member named Hector (You stole from the rich and the poor and the not very rich and the very poor) and “You Know I Couldn’t Last”, a classic, over-the top, Morrissey pity-party that bitches about the recording industry and also introduced me to the word “gelignite.”
If you have never listened to Morrissey, this might be a good time to give him a try, and why not? You can learn the songs and sing along with him at Lollapalooza this summer. If you already hate Morrissey, you will probably hate this album for all the same reasons and there is nothing I can do about that. For longtime fans, however, I think You Are The Quarry might strike just the right chords.