"Miserable now" album review by John Harris - The Times (May 8)
posted by davidt on Monday May 10 2004, @12:00PM

Lukester writes:

Under the title 'Miserable Now' John Harris describes his fondness for the smiths and much of the solo material with a fairly balanced and positive theme from a self confessed fan.

Unfortunately the article which runs to 2 full pages (incl that finsbury park picture & former NME cover) turns full circle and delivers a series of laser guided blows at YATQ - the lyrics in particular come under heavy fire. Harris points out 'This being morrissey, the albums success is tied to the lyrics' and continues 'whereas he first snared the attentions of his public by evoking a world much the same as the world they lived in, 20 years of fame, not to mention living in california, have put him in a rather isolated place'

On "How could anybody know how i feel?" he states somewhat abruptly that 'as long as he is dispensing cold, unsympathetic stuff like this, the question answers itself - Cut off from his beloved England, seemingly short of much to sing about besides his own affairs, his vocabulary often seems as prosaic as his subject matter. When he takes a rare glimpse out of his window and talks about the USA we get this 'america/it brought you the hamburger/well america/you know were you can stick your hamburger' - out of context these lines are clearly not booker prize stuff but Harris is more interested in conveying a sense of the whole album pervaded by substandard lyrics.

Harris continues with 'The world is full of crashing bores', he surveys the pop competition but can dispense nothing more ornate than 'thicker than pigshit/they're so scared of intelligence/it might smear their lovely career" When his attentions, inevitably, revert to himself, the air of thoughts scrawled in a fifth form exercise book becomes overwhelming: "how can anybody say/they know how i feel/the only one around here who is me/is me"

To avoid being seen as fixated by the lyrics alone, Harris criticises the 'supporting musicians' and 'generic music' which he feels is to much aimed at MTV.

Considering that the same paper in another section hails the new single as a return to form - awarding it single of the week status - it seems somewhat contradictory to allow such a passionately narrow minded view of the album to escape the shredder. I can only hope that someone transports Harris back in time to find a job printing lies in the NME circa 1994 or 'Enemy' as Morrissey once described it.

An anonymous person sends the text:

Miserable now

John Harris
1,766 words
8 May 2004
The Times
Weekend Review 18
(c) 2004 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

As Morrissey prepares for a much-feted comeback, a disappointed John Harris finds that the singer's self-obsession has lost its charm

On Sunday, July 20, 1986, the Smiths performed at Salford University, a rather grim academic institution within walking distance of the centre of Manchester. The concert had been laid on for those unable to get in to the previous night's show at the 10,000-capacity G-Mex centre -and whereas that venue was cavernous and impersonal, this one was wonderfully intimate; the kind of place that, in commercial terms, the group had long outgrown.

I was 16 and a proud member of the passionate fan-cult that the band had spawned.

By some stroke of luck, four friends and I had got our hands on tickets for the Salford concert -and in anticipation of some sweat-soaked epiphany, we positioned ourselves just in front of the stage. Within the opening moments of the first song, however, we were frantically trying to push our way to the back of the hall.

To this day, I have never experienced anything like it: massed fervour that, in the midst of the heaving throng, felt little short of life-threatening. It certainly doesn't happen at Coldplay concerts.

That was the best part of 18 years ago. Mrs Thatcher was the Prime Minister, the singles chart was home to such irritants as Chris de Burgh's Lady in Red, and a new kind of conspicuous consumption -brick-sized mobile phones, red Ferrari GTOs -defined a large swath of pop culture. The Smiths, by contrast, were the flag-bearers for a different view of the world: fiercely left-wing (that year's album was entitled The Queen is Dead), in thrall to a vision of a damp, anti-climactic England, and keen to assure fans that -contrary to the 1980s' blow-waved garishness -to feel short-changed by life was only rational. "There's a club if you'd like to go," went a song called How Soon is Now?, "You could meet somebody who really loves you/ So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own/ And you go home, and you cry and you want to die."

The words were written and sung, in tremulous, sensitive tones, by a Mancunian of Irish extraction named Steven Patrick Morrissey. If a good deal of the Smiths' success was down to the soaring melodies and arrangements provided by the guitarist Johnny Marr, nearly all the group's fans were Morrissey disciples, fond of his recommended reading and viewing material -Oscar Wilde, Allan Sillitoe, such gritty cinematic fare as Billy Liar and A Taste of Honey -and, when it came to the hardcore, staunchly vegetarian. The Smiths' second album was called Meat is Murder -I have friends who have not eaten flesh since its release.

Though his songs occasionally oozed a self-obsession that verged on the solipsistic, in outlining a life of crushed hopes and doomed romance -witness such songs as Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, Still Ill, and I Want the One I Can't Have -Morrissey spoke for his public. Not since David Bowie prompted suburban adolescents to toy clumsily with their gender identity by dyeing their hair orange and stealing mum's mascara had Britain seen such a devoted subculture; so, though the Smiths rarely made the Top Ten, they made a greater impact than almost all their contemporaries.

They split up in 1987, and Morrissey embarked on an up-and-down solo career, founded on a largely unchanged creative universe, that last bore fruit with a disappointing 1997 album entitled Maladjusted. The lion's share of his original followers have surely long since exited their box bedrooms and student garrets, and stopped fretting about the things -sex, relationships, self-esteem, you name it -that played a large role in drawing them to him. Yet their affection for Morrissey, shared by those who came to his music long after his artistic peak, is still palpable. Why else would this 44-year-old be in charge of Meltdown (his own two-week run of events at the Festival Hall in June), be about to play some of the largest British concerts of his career, and poised for a celebrated rock comeback? If, by the late 1990s, his solo career seemed to be stuck in an underachieving rut, the past seven years, in which he retreated to -of all places -Los Angeles and didn't record a note, have served him well; not simply in terms of a creative rest, but in leaving his home crowd to realise belatedly how much they have missed him.

The more awkward aspects of his post-Smiths progress have largely been forgotten: no one is reviving the controversy that erupted when his emphasis on Englishness led to onstage dancing with the Union Jack and a song called The National Front Disco, nor to dredge up the 1996 court case, brought by the Smiths' former drummer, in which a judge concluded that Morrissey was "devious, truculent and unreliable".

In one of those turnarounds traceable to both the simple passage of time and the eternal British talent for smothering any lingering controversy in sentimentality, he is now hailed as a true cultural monarch; "the Mozfather", as the New Musical Express is now fond of calling him.

The other week, I was summoned to the West London HQ of Sanctuary Records to hear his new album. Entitled You are the Quarry, its sleeve features its author awkwardly cradling a machinegun, as if announcing that this time, he might just mean business. His record company is so concerned about bootlegs that critics are given just two hours in a listening bunker.

As drizzly Wednesdays in Kensington go, this was actually pretty thrilling: tapping into the love of the Smiths' music that has never much dimmed, and recalling my fondness for the cream of Morrissey's solo records, I had worked myself into a state of credulous excitement. Better still, the titles of the songs I was about to hear suggested that he might be in rude creative health: who else could fill an album with compositions called The World is Full of Crashing Bores, All the Lazy Dykes and I Have Forgiven Jesus?

As with much of his post-Smiths work, unfortunately, this new material isn't nearly as musically rich as the stuff of his glory days. Whereas Johnny Marr led the charge into music that could be melancholic, menacing, euphoric, breezily playful, Morrissey's solo work has tended to return, time and again, to a generic middle-ground that finds his supporting musicians approximating the Smiths, but conveying none of their virtuosic grandeur. On You are the Quarry, he's assisted by Jerry Finn, the sometime American producer of the huge-selling punk-pop band Blink 182 -who stuffs the music with the kind of surging guitar sound that MTV likes. It can invest the music with a simple power that makes up for its shortcomings; sometimes, however, one gets the sense of width winning out over quality.

This being Morrissey, the album's success is tied to his lyrics. "There is a theme," he recently announced, "and the theme is me." That comes as little shock - but whereas he first snared the attentions of his public by evoking a world much the same as the one in which they lived, 20 years of fame, not to mention living in California, have put him in a rather isolated place. "The critics who can't break you/ They sometimes help to make you," runs a self-pitying treatise on success entitled You Know I Couldn't Last. Earlier on, there is a no less self-referential piece called How can Anybody Know how I Feel? -but as long he is dispensing cold, unsympathetic stuff like this, the question answers itself. The component parts of his world -"legal eagles" and "accountants rampant", as his lyrics would have it -are his and his alone. Any poet who sidelines love and loss in favour of such arcana is in a perilous place.

Cut off from his beloved England, seemingly short of much to sing about besides his own affairs, his vocabulary often seems as prosaic as his subject matter. When he takes a rare glimpse out of his window and talks about the USA, we get this: "America/ It brought you the hamburger/ Well, America/ You know where you can shove your hamburger."

In the aforementioned The World is Full of Crashing Bores, he surveys the pop competition but can dispense nothing more ornate than "Thicker than pigsh**/ They're so scared of intelligence/ It might smear their lovely career."

When his attentions, inevitably, revert to himself, the air of thoughts scrawled in a fifth-form exercise book becomes overwhelming: "How can anybody say/ They know how I feel/ The only one around here who is me/ Is me."

After my allotted listen, I headed for the bus. The memory of that terrifying, thrilling Salford University experience was freshly pushed back to its rightful place -nestling next to the more remarkable episodes from my teenage years and only one of the couplets from You are the Quarry had stayed in my mind. The album's last words are these: "Your royalties bring you luxuries/ Oh, but the squalor of the mind."

The single Irish Blood English Heart is out on May 10 (Attack); You are the Quarry is out on May 17

The pope of mope

Hand in Glove (1983)

The Smiths' debut single and something of a manifesto: "If the people stare...I really don't care."

How Soon is Now? (1985)

"The Stairway to Heaven of the Eighties", according to the boss of their US record company. Johnny Marr's sumptuous arrangement and Morrissey's words combine perfectly.

There is a Light that Never Goes Out (1986)

From the Smiths' best album, The Queen Is Dead, a morbid obsession:

"If a double-decker bus/ Smashes into us,/ To die by your side/ Is such a heavenly way to die."

Everyday is Like Sunday (1988)

His wonderfully affecting second solo single, set in some hellish coastal resort and narrated with echoes of John Betjeman: "In the seaside town/ That they forgot to bomb/ Come, come, come, nuclear bomb."

We Hate it when our Friends Become Successful (1992) From the Your Arsenal album, Schadenfreude in reverse: "And if they're Northern, that makes it even worse." JH

(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2004

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    "Miserable now" album review by John Harris - The Times (May 8) | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 40 comments | Search Discussion
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    Oh no! (Score:0)
    Another John Harris discussion...
    Anonymous -- Monday May 10 2004, @12:19PM (#101358)
      Pathetic (Score:0)
      John Harris is an idiot. While all the world is praising this album with great reviews he's still there pathetically trying to show everybody how intelligent and opinionated he is because he doesn't like it. He doesn't deserve all this attention. Sod him.
      Anonymous -- Monday May 10 2004, @12:39PM (#101363)
      Grow up! (Score:2, Insightful)
      Ok, John, so you saw the Smiths in 1986, and they blew your mind. I heard they can have that effect.

      Now it's 2004, you're middle aged and Morrissey is middle aged, too. Yet all you seem to do is criticise him for getting older? Alright, so Morrissey's lyrics may not be so full of that young man's anger, but is he any less intelligent? Any less controversial? How many young folks these days come out with songs titled "America is not the world"? Not even radiohead are that abrupt. Time will tell if the songs from this album turn into classics or no, but don't dismiss him for not re-recording "hand in glove".

      If there's one thing more sad than an aging pop star, it's an aging music journalist who never turned into a pop star.
      Anonymous -- Monday May 10 2004, @01:16PM (#101384)
      • Re:Grow up! by Anonymous (Score:0) Tuesday May 11 2004, @06:56AM
        sadly, the author is correct (Score:0)
        After hearing a lot of the album, I must say I agree. the lyrics, by morrissey's standards, are insipid, the music is duller than kill uncle. Seriously, how many of us thought morrissey would use the word "shit" in two of his songs? and his railing against the industry can't compare to "paint a vulgar picture." Of course, IBEH is a good song, but most are uninspired. Come back to camden is a weak song when compared to 'trouble loves me.'
        First of the Gang to die? please. The only gang morrissey could be a part of is the pink ladies! Don't get me wrong, its a good tune, and good lyrics. but he's out of touch, singing about the LA's 'pretty petty thieves.' Alas, Where is 'mexico?'

        anyway, as a moz fan for 13 years, this album is musically and lyrically disappointing. Whereas southpaw grammar was underrated, this is overrated.

        "the music says nothing to me about my life"
        Anonymous -- Monday May 10 2004, @01:19PM (#101386)
        Moz is just unlucky! (Score:0)
        The more I read these mixed reviews, the more I think that Moz has just been unlucky in regard to the reviews he's received in certain quarters.

        1. The German press seem to LOVE this album - first 5 out of 5 (R.Stone); now ten out of 10! They adore it!

        2. The English press - how can an album that gets 8 out of 10 off NME, 4 stars off MOJO, 4 stars from The Times also get 2 stars off Q and only three from Uncut? Pure bad luck, that's what! It is bizarre that Harris slams the album in the same paper where another reviewer praises both album and single! But consider 'Uncut': in the same issue that David Peschek gives Quarry a mediocre review, Simon Goddard describes it as "scrumptious" and Alex Needham describes it as "excellent". Suppose either of these two had written the review rather than Peschek. We'd be looking at four stars, no doubt at all. Likewise Q - if only Harris hadn't reviewed it it might have done much better. He clearly doesn't like it at all and intends to tell everyone - I fear we may see him reviewing Quarry yet again on his sometime haunt 'Newsnight Review'. Basically, Moz is just unlucky that the two worst reviews (for though Peschek awards 3/5 he doesn't have many good things to say about 'Quarry' - he even says 'Camden' and 'Jesus' have cheesy string lines) happened to appear in the two best-selling music monthlies. If only Simon Goddard had got the 'Quarry' review for Uncut (and I thought he would, being a resident Uncut journo with expertise in The Smiths), Harris really would look like a total lemon!
        Anonymous -- Monday May 10 2004, @01:44PM (#101404)
        John Harris (Score:1)
        Something no-one has asked yet...why is John Harris writing another review of the album? What purpose is served by him writing 2...obviousy they're going to be the same thing...how is this giving a balanced view of the album? Doesn't this represent soemthing of a conflict of interest?
        gonzo -- Monday May 10 2004, @07:49PM (#101483)
        (User #335 Info)
        Scene, but not herd
        Up to a point, Lord Copper (Score:1)
        I have been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now, and I do think that it is excellent. Not the best Moz album, but certainly one with transcendently beautiful moments, both lyrically and musically.

        This album is not going to get bad reviews. Not because it is Moz's best: but because the music press is now staffed and run by the gauche 16 year olds who have now grown up and become editors of broadsheets. Its demographics; and this is Moz's "lifetime achievement award"

        But there are some awful lyrics in it. The "Hamburger" moment (not just the sentiment, but the lazy "rhyme" of 'hamburger' with ... 'hamburger')is a low which has resulted in me skipping this song on the last few playthroughs. Likewise "On returning/I can't believe this world is still ... turning"

        Then there's the carping about his business affairs. Moz: if "silly willy taxmen" are chasing you around for unpaid tax, either pay it and shut up, or hire some decent accountants and be frank with them. Still griping about "magistrates who spend their lives hiding their mistakes"? If you wanted to draw up your partnership agreement to allow for a 10-10-40-40 split, you should have HIRED A LAWYER.

        The great songs are:
        Come Back to Camden
        I'm not sorry
        Let Me Kiss You

        TWIFOCB and I have forgiven you Jesus are pretty good, but not outstanding.

        That's about 8/10 in my book.
        David T (different) -- Tuesday May 11 2004, @01:14AM (#101518)
        (User #256 Info)
          This is pathetic (Score:1)
          Why is it that anyone who dares criticise YATQ is wrong, stupid and sad? Full marks to John Harris for saying what he thinks instead of just jumping on the current Moz bandwagon in magazines staffed by editors scared to miss out on the flavour of the month. Just as the NME writers were probably told to knife him in 1991, now I can't help but feel they're commanded to kiss his feet.

          I haven't heard the album, so I don't know whether it's good or bad, but the taste police on here are truly frightening. The first word of doubt from a review has you all stamping your feet and spitting out your dummies. I can't believe you'd want to live in a world where only praise is allowed. I'm sure there's many a person in a third world dictatorship that can tell you all about that.

          For the record, I can't see much in Harris' review above that I disagree with. (Except that surely the worst lyric on "America ..." is the "big fat pig" bit - appalling!!)

          Please, let's have some reasoned debate on here, and not just abuse for anyone who must might spot the Emperor's New Clothes. For heaven's sake, what is it you're all frightened of?
          Georgethetwentythird -- Tuesday May 11 2004, @01:51AM (#101523)
          (User #8698 Info)
          Judge not, lest ye be judged...
          John dropped his mirror (Score:1)
          He complains about Morrissey only singing about his belly button, which is true. How ridiculous would that be for that guy (who now lives in LA amidst the most glamourous hollywoodian crowds) to write songs about Whalley Range by now ?

          Sorry John, he's moved from dull old Manchester suburbs and, quite logically, he won't sing about the plight of those who live in.

          By the way, he sings about his life (which might interest you or not) but you've just spent 2 pages writing about your own in quite an insipid journalistic jargon. How can anyone possibly want to know how you feel when you listen to the new Morrissey material when the only to be you is unexcusably you ?
          Retired Whore <{mozzerism} {at} {hotmail.com}> -- Tuesday May 11 2004, @02:05AM (#101525)
          (User #3238 Info)
          Sweet F.A.
            So lazy (Score:0)
            Harris has obviously just listened to the album "two hours in a listening bunker". The album maybe has to sink in to really get to you. Also he doesn't mention some of Quarry's brighter moments: The First Of the Gang, Let Me Kiss You, All the Lazy Dykes, Camden... All songs with not a judge or accountant in sight. On tha album reaaly only You Know I Wouldn't Last shows Moz's bitterness about the industry. Crashing Bores has a mmuch wider subject matter of course. I think it's just lazy journalism on Harris' part.
            Anonymous -- Tuesday May 11 2004, @02:08AM (#101526)
            • Re:So lazy by David T (different) (Score:1) Tuesday May 11 2004, @05:37AM
              Well, I'm somewhere in the middle! (Score:0)
              Having listened to the new material, and owning pretty much the entire Smiths back catalogue and a good deal of Moz's solo catalogue, I'd say I have to perch somewhere in between these two extremes. I think John Harris is being a bit too harsh on YATQ, mainly because he's focussing entirely on its less worthy lyrics. For a balance, he needs to say 'well, there are some good lyrics too' - which there are, on First of the Gang, I Have Forgiven Jesus, Come Back To Camden. On the other hand, 'America' is dreadfully sloppy really and 'Couldn't Last' is actually pretty naff - it says nothing to me about my life and fully justifies criticisms of solipsism. Enough, please Moz, about the court case and judges. He will never get back on track whilst reverting to these bitter diatribes.

              I have the IBEH single and have heard the album, and it is an ENJOYABLE album, but not a great one, quite frankly. It has moments that display Moz's greatness - First Of The Gang principally, I really do think that is splendid! "You have never been in love/Until you've seen the stars/Reflect in the reservoirs" - now that is beautiful, and reminiscent of past glories. Moreover, Quarry does hold out hope for the future - Moz still has his superb sense of phrasing and is singing better all the time.

              But, having listened to Quarry, I then (for whatever reason) felt inclined to listen to 'Strangeways' and, by the time the CD had reached the second verse of 'A Rush and A Push', I was reminded why Moz's glory days are said to be over. 'Strangeways' is not even my favourite Smiths album (on a scale of 1-10, my ratings are: The Smiths, 7; Hatful of Hollow 9 and a half; Meat Is Murder 10; The Queen Is Dead 10; Strangeways 8 and a half) but it just wipes the floor with the new material. The Quarry music is enjoyable but rather too polished (yes, sadly, the IBEH production does smack of MTV) and lyrically nowehere near his Smiths standards. And to those who will inevitably say 'stop comparing to the Smiths' I ask - why? Is he not capable of producing such lyrics any more? Poets' words should not be blunted by age (look at Betjeman, Hughes et al) - and make no mistake, he is a popular music poet. As I say, the odd lyric (First of the Gang, Camden) still shows he can cut it, but if we are honest, this is an entertaining version of Moz rather than a truly great one. His last truly great album was Vauxhall and I - which gets a 9 out of 10 from me because it is the nearest he has got in his solo career to replicating the greatness of The Smiths, both musically and lyrically.

              I dearly wish (and don't all start dissing me - I know it won't happen, but as Simon Goddard sais "a boy can dream, can't he?") that he would collaborate with Marr again. A Smiths reformation would be impossible given relations with Joyce, but if only he would collaborate with Johnny once again. Yes, they are older now, but they could do a more mellow, acoustic album which I believe could be truly beautiful since they bring out the best in each other (consider 'Back To The Old House' (Peel version), 'Half A Person', 'Asleep' and many others). Marr has said that if they were to get back together it would be as Morrissey/Marr and not as The Smiths - fine! That would be manna from musical heaven, it really would. (No offence to Boz and Alain!). I mean, can't they get over past hurts now? Together they are startling; apart they just make you wish they WERE back together. Marr's Healers album - go look at the song titles alone - SO prosaic compared to those supplied by the Moz. On the other side - Moz's lyrics, no matter how good (and this latest batch aren't brilliant), are always supported these days by solid but unspectacular music. I do wish they would see that there is still time for them to create something brilliant together, I really do. They would challenge each other to create the best - Moz would (I think) respond to Marr's music with lyrics befitting its quality, as once he did.

              Ah well, rant over, back to the real world!
              Anonymous -- Tuesday May 11 2004, @02:14AM (#101528)
              Harris (Score:1)
              Even,I as sick as I am,I would never be you.
              And you in your Q,your smelly Q,and your Times...

              Your scabby reviews,
              Bring you no luxuries.
              The Squalor of your Mind.
              O'Muirgheasa -- Tuesday May 11 2004, @10:21AM (#101651)
              (User #7536 Info)
              Perhaps my best years are gone.When there was a chance of happiness.But I wouldn't want them back.

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