Morrissey's new record is simply an amazing piece of art. I say this not only as a long time Mozzer fan, but as a working musician. I can't remember the last time I have felt so passionately about a record. I'm a huge Johnny Marr and Alain Whyte fan, but his current band, along with the stunning production by Joe Chiccarelli, have delivered something truly adventurous and epic. I have only ever commented on here once before, but I've read so many things lately that seem to get this record so wrong that I feel the need to again. I'm not even sure where to begin.
To make a record that sounds like this isn't easy. In fact, it's rarely done in modern times. This record has the decadent swagger of something out of the 70's, while also being modern enough that it feels fresh and alive and of the now. The dark brass of Lou Reed's Berlin, the synth squelches of Nico's The End, and the dramatic glam rock of Bowie all swirl together. But drums never sounded that big and powerful back then. There are also sounds from various global destinations and modern editing and manipulation at play. The mix is clear and yet warm. Everything sounds gigantic while still having space. Whoever mixed and mastered this record knows what the f*** they are doing. It sounds incredible on headphones. It's f***ing cinematic as hell!
The lyrics are somewhere between the poeticism of Ringleader and the blunt clarity of Quarry. When is the last time that anyone wrote lyrics that seemed to make so many people uncomfortable? That in itself is an achievement. This truly does feel like the work of someone that came up during the punk era, but never felt the need to abandon its confrontational outlook. That being said there is a lot more complexity and humanity than most people are giving him credit for.
The song that seems to give most people pause is Israel. I am against the occupation. However, anyone that thinks Morrissey is giving a blank check to the state of Israel simply hasn't read the lyrics to that song, nor viewed them through the context of the record as a whole. More than any other album Morrissey takes on military, security, and police forces. I'm an American that was against Bush's Iraq invasion. How dearly I wished at the time that others would see that it was our government and those that supported it, and not our people as a whole that created that situation. I voted against Bush twice, but that didn't stop the Iraq War from happening. Morrissey's outlook is actually extremely intelligent. He is not judging the people of an entire country by what their government is doing. That being said, I don't think the song Israel is that simple. The name Israel means roughly, "He who struggles with God." If it weren't for other songs dealing with Tel Aviv, I probably wouldn't think the lyrics of Israel had very little to do with the state of Israel at all. Even now, however, I think that they are more inspired by visiting their and the feelings he had while being there, than actually the state itself. The lyrics have more to do with the repression that comes from religion than any kind of expressly current political situation. Three of the worlds major religions come from that place, and they have helped pave the way to an earth that is an asylum for those that are outsiders in society. Israel and Jerusalem have also been used by poets throughout the ages to tackle big topics. I can't help but feel that Morrissey is using his experience there to talk about the topics that have always been near to his heart.
Also with I Bury the Living, Morrissey seems to be updating Buffy Sainte-Marie's Universal Soldier. You may not agree with the viewpoint of either, but it's a debate worth having. Are those that carry out violent orders culpable or not?
There is so much more to say about this magnificent record, but I'll leave it there. Forget about the headlines, the reviews, and actually listen and think about this record. It's an amazing piece of art that I think will speak to us in the years ahead, every bit as much as it does now. Most people just can't seem to see it outside the narrow political climate of today.
There are two other things I want to add to the discussions that have been going on in general:
1. As someone that has given interviews, I can say beyond a doubt that reporters almost never quote exactly what you have said. You combine that with a german translation and google translate and one can imagine how different what he actually said might be from what people are reading. Even if he did say exactly what he said in the German interview, I think we should at least view those comments in the context of his art and life as a whole. Morrissey's political views aren't always crystal clear, but I think it is pretty clear that he is disgusted by violence upon the innocent.
2. The Morrissey is a racist thing is so f***ing tired. His album is dedicated to Dick Gregory. His band is half Mexican. The kid on his cover is Mexican. Morrissey paid tribute to Istanbul, albeit in his usual backwards way. (I always took his line about Pittsburg from Ringleaders to be a wink towards his fans there with his usual dark humor.) Morrissey clearly, from his autobiography, loves his fans from all over the world. He has, however, criticized different cultural and religious beliefs. This is not the same thing as race. Race is something you are born with, that you have no decision in. Religion and culture are things one can leave behind, in the same way that Morrissey is a lapsed Catholic. It's fine to disagree with him on this, but don't confuse one with the other.