Friday, February 20, 2009

That’s How People Grow Up

As if it is not obvious, no one single “celebrity” has had a greater influence on my life than Morrissey. I continue to wish for but two things in this world (you know, beyond health and untold riches, etc): a Stanley Cup championship for the Vancouver Canucks (not bloody likely) and a reformation of The Smiths (less bloody likely given Rourke and Joyce sued Moz and Marr for performance royalties - and won - over a decade ago… they are all still alive however so the slim hope of a reunion has that going for it at least)

“And as sure as my words are pure, I praised the day that brings you pain. So don't close your eyes, don't close your eyes. A man who slits throats has time on his hands and I'm gonna get you” Morrissey lyric directed at Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, from “Sorrow Will Come In The End”

Morrissey has been a solo artist since 1988 and has, for the most part, employed the same set of songwriters since 1991; Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte. There have been many gems in that 18 year period but still the overall quality does tend to pale in comparison to the output from Morrissey’s alliance with Johnny Marr in The Smiths - a time spanning a paltry 6 years. With a song writing style rooted in their first love (Rockabilly of all things), Boorer and Whyte obviously have limitations in what they are able to bring to the table. I’m continually surprised that Morrissey has lasted this long with them, especially given his penchant for firing pretty much everyone he has ever come into contact with (sounds like a bit of a bastard doesn’t he? quiet those thoughts!). Morrissey’s song-writing partnership with Johnny Marr was such that he was able to weave his words throughout the layered music in a way that produced wholly original songs contrary to the traditional song structure of verse-chorus-verse. He mostly abandoned this style as he shifted from young, gladiola-waving popstar to aging crooner… and for this I’ll blame the musicians.

So how much can we expect from a new Morrissey album when it contains songwriters who have proven to be capable, yet far from inspired to run (or even saunter) off in any new musical direction? As a singer who plays no instrument, Morrissey is highly reliant on his musicians. Add to this the fact that Morrissey, who turns an un-popstarish 50 in May, has long since narrowed his vocal range (or so they say) and reduced his sphere of lyrical influence from humdrum Manchester’s council estates to the not-so-humdrum surroundings of Beverley Hills and Roma and you have the makings of a (don’t say it too loud) washed-up artist.

Those of us who continue to purchase his records do so for Morrissey the brand - that being his voice, his biting, witty lyrics and that whole fey yet vicious persona he’s so shrewdly developed. We also hope that the music will improve slightly and have less conventional structure. Unfortunately Morrissey’s latter-day lyrics are mostly reduced to convenient sound bites in that there are no more earth-shattering songs filled with lyrical wonder. The song titles are often as witty as it gets these days. We all know this, but will take whatever we’re given nonetheless.

And, despite all this, what we’re given with Years Of Refusal - the new album that came out earlier this week - is actually quite good. The Moz continues to shine and somehow he pulls off a pretty darn good record out of nothing. Or at least this is what I think at the moment. I can’t tell if I like it because it’s good or I like it because I feel like I have to like it. Although Years Of Refusal is newly released, two of the tracks found here were available last year as part of an official Best Of album well in advance of YOR’s release. Other songs were leaked months ago. The title “Years Of Refusal” even sounds like a Best Of compilation or a possible title for Morrissey’s rumoured forthcoming biography. As confusing as all this may be, it has nothing on how confused and disoriented I felt when I happened upon “Years Of Refusal” the other day down yonder at the local WalMart. Morrissey at Wal-friken-Mart!?! One step up from the bargain bin, this still represents the horrific equivalent to finding your favourite radio-friendly band’s CD on display at a Truck Stop where the counter-top selection is generally limited to U2, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty and all those other artists claiming to have “sold more records than Elvis!!!”

Morrissey has had a slight resurgence in popularity in recent years, not that the average joe would have noticed. His two “comeback albums”, 2004’s “…Quarry” and 2006’s “Ringleader…” were hailed as a return to form after seven years in new-material exile following 1997’s critically panned Maladjusted. And yes, his two newer albums were marked by improved vocals and the instrumentation appeared to be crisper and much more dynamic. Still, these are not the easiest albums to listen all the way through as the music is fairly uninspired and some songs tend to circle the wagons and feel like they go on forever.

What appears to make “Years Of Refusal” a success is that the songs have an increased energy, the lyrics are a bit more biting and quite simply his voice is in better form than in other recent work. His vocals are still too up front in the mix but unfortunately you can not expect anything less from singers with their names in lights. One of YOR’s more stellar tracks, “Shame Is The Name”, not only skips along at a decent pace, weaves in some lovely piano and harmonica AND features - though barely distinguishable - backing vox by Pretender Chrissie Hynde, but is also a bonus iTunes-only track and not available from WalMart.

Song :: Something Is Squeezing My Skull

Video :: That's How People Grow Up by Morrissey (live on Letterman) in June 2007 for chrisakes!

I was wasting my life
Always thinking about myself,
Someone on their deathbed said:
"There are other sorrows too."

I was driving my car,
I crashed and broke my spine,
So yes, there are things worse in life than
never being someone's sweetie

That’s how people grow up

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