The Smiths were one of my reasons to wake up, and definite cause to wallow, during my high school days, and I consider each of their albums to be a chapter in the gospel that provided both therapy and depression. However, despite a few efforts, I've failed to take much interest in Morrissey as a solo artist post-Viva Hate
, feeling that everything he needed to tell me had already been said. That said, something is different this time around, and I'm listening.
First, Morrissey shows that he's not simply capitalizing on his history, covering the same territory he did at nineteen. In the past, his lyrics have generally sounded like self-absorbed, self-deprecating and hopeless journal entries that any depressed kid could relate to -- because if that kid could articulate it, he'd sing the same thing. This was great the first 400 times, but doesn't really hold the credibility it used to now that Morrissey lives in the lap of luxurious Beverly Hills and attends Thanksgiving dinner with Pamela Anderson. You Are the Quarry presents him in a more "I've made it" light, hopeful for what he has and a bit more comfortable in his own skin. In "Let Me Kiss You", a very tender, humble man tells his lover, "There's a place in the sun for anyone who has the will to chase one / and I think I've found mine." However, no matter how determined and high-spirited he feels, he's still Morrissey, and he lets his Mr. Hyde out of the box when necessary. He follows with, "So close your eyes and think of someone you physically admire and let me kiss you." In "America is Not the World", he actually stands up for what he says. Instead of "attacking from the back" with enigmatic words, his pointed lyrics give the nation a loving sock in the jaw: "America, your head's too big because / America, your belly's too big / and I love you / I just wish you'd stay where you is." Then, his patented cynical kick in the crotch announces, "But where the President is never black, female or gay / and until that day / you've got nothing to say to me."
His passion is sustained as he salutes his home on "Irish Blood, English Heart", lamenting his heritage and "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." Moz takes a stab at his own rock star persona on "You Know I Couldn't Last": he croons, lounge singer style, "the whispering may hurt you, but the printed word might kill you / the teenagers who love you, they will wake up, yawn and kill you." Then the band kicks in, as he screams about "CDs and t-shirts and promos and God knows you know I couldn't last / there's a cash-register ringing and it weighs so heavy on my back / someone please take me home." Truly, this Morrissey is endearing in a new way; he's the object of your sympathy rather than a conduit for your own emotions.
Second (remember how I was making numbered points?), the music takes a more active role here, digging its way out from under the baggage of Marr and Company. This isn't a collection of Morrissey tracks on which a bunch of faceless session players put the finishing touches on his vision after the fact. In "Irish Blood, English Heart", longtime guitarists Boz Boorer and Alain White drive the tune into distorted territories, flanging and feeding back on the choruses to further the "piss off" Moz delivers over the top. No, reverse that: this is the band, allowing their boss to sing under them. The same goes for "I Have Forgiven Jesus", in which the unusual harmonic progression pushes Morrissey out of his comfort zone, forcing him to stretch for highs and lows that we aren't accustomed to hearing. The one spot where I prayed for a jangly guitar is "I Like You"; the squiggly acid synth lines sound very out of place, not just on the track but in this decade.
Despite his gray hairs, Moz's approach to You Are the Quarry is youthful and energetic -- perhaps even punk. For the last few years, Morrissey seemed to be going through the motions, content to rest on his throne and fulfill contractual obligations. Here, the passion is back. He still cares.