Music Week - Fiona Dodwell review 4/5
I Am Not A Dog On A Chain
20 March 2020 (released)
An in-depth review of the artist's upcoming release...
On March 20th, Morrissey's new album I Am Not A Dog On A Chain will be unleashed from its shackles into the wide world. The 11 track collection, produced by Joe Chiccarelli (who has worked with the artist on his last few releases), is an intoxicating mix of powerful lyrics (passion and anger fuel several of the tracks), masterful musicianship and melodies that slide into the mind – firmly staying there.
When it comes to Morrissey, few can argue that his work is unlike any other. At times one may be able to draw pale comparisons to other artists but he remains distinctly unique, his songs a personal signature to his own life experiences. That quality makes it hard to date his work – it's easy to select any track from his back catalogue and listen without the date of its conception “telling tales” on it. His music essentially possesses a timeless quality – and that continues today, with I Am Not A Dog On A Chain.
Opening with 'Jim Jim Falls', which is a dark, energetic and engaging entry to the album, Morrissey immediately grabs hold of the listener's attention. Swift and bold lyrics carry the song, with the artist singing, “If you're gonna run home and cry, then don't waste my time,” before then touching upon the subject of suicide, with lyrics that present an audible punch to the listener. The track carries you away into the darker recesses of Morrissey's mind and leaves an immediate impression. A strong start to the album.
Morrissey's passion for animals bursts through the speakers on 'Love Is On Its Way Out' (which was one of the first song releases from the album), as he sings, “Did you see the sad rich, hunting down, shooting down elephants and lions?” One can't help but feel with Morrissey; the poignancy of the words and the way he so genuinely means them is all-too obvious. There's simply something haunting about the lyrics - a mourning so much at contrast with the booming music.
'Bobby Don't You Think They Know' was the first single of the album, a duet with soul singer Thelma Houston. It's a vibrant, catchy and sweeping track that really sticks with you, even after the first listen – it was a perfect choice for the first single and highlights the power of the artist's vocals as his voice glides effortlessly around Houston's own. They match beautifully; the partnership works well.
Then we come to the title track of the album. 'I Am Not A Dog On A Chain.' “I am not a dog on a chain, I use my own brain,” he assures us. “I raise my hand, I hammer twice, I see no point in being nice.” Apparently biographical, with a clear reflection on the criticisms he's faced for being “outspoken” on certain issues, this song is powerful, and it's easy to see why it was chosen as the title track. It is certainly one of my favourites. Quirky, off-kilter and … different. It's one to look out for. There's a noticeable and direct outpouring of anger in this track at one point – the passion this ignites in Morrissey results in a dramatic and captivating vocal delivery. One can feel the anger spitting through the speakers.
'What Kind of People Live in These Houses' is a track full of cutting lyrics. Morrissey, who perhaps has always seen himself as quite distanced from others, seems to be pondering who the people are that share this world with him; they are apparently alien to him. It is quite a retro-sounding song, with a gorgeous splash of guitar in the mid-section.
In 'Knockabout World', an enchanting track with quirky instrumentals and a great mid-section, the listener is carried away by Morrissey's vocals, the lilt and journey of his delivery a pleasure to listen to. Listen out for the vocals on the last section of the track – outstanding.
On 'Darling, I Hug A Pillow' it seems that Morrissey explores the perils of lacking physical closeness and intimacy with the one he desires. Wistful and perhaps even a bit dreamy, this song seems a bit different for Morrissey. “Why can't you give me physical love?” he asks, “everything else is in place, except physical love.” The track is an intriguing addition to the album.
Like a memory come to life, the next track - 'Once I Saw the River Clean' – is outstanding. The violin is a beautiful accompaniment to the song, and there is a charm and warmth to it, the lyrics bringing to mind the roots of Morrissey's family and perhaps bringing life lyrically to his earlier memories.
Next comes 'The Truth About Ruth' which has, after repeated listens, become one of my favourites. There is a splash of worldly flavour to this one, brought to life with beautiful piano. It's haunting and captivating. “We do what we can just to get along,” the artist says, with a shade of defeat to the words.
Perhaps a love song of sorts, the track 'The Secret of Music' comes to life with Morrissey singing passionately about the world of music. It is by far the longest on the album, coming in at just under 8 mins. There is a kind of strangeness to this track, if that's the word – it's quite unlike any other Morrissey song that's come before it. There is a significant portion devoted to an instrumental section, which is beautiful. Somehow, this song reminds me of something Kate Bush might have done on Aerial or Hounds of Love - it is experimental, an almost devotional prayer to the power of music.
Finally, the last song is 'My Hurling Days Are Over.' “Time, oh time – no friend of mine,” Morrissey sings. These are very reflective lyrics, of the artist looking back on all that's gone – and how quickly. The backing vocals – a children's choir - add an innocent and surprising depth to it. If the album was a box, this song would be the bow tied around it. A nice and fitting end to the album.
All in all, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain is great album from Morrissey. The sound, the style, the vocals, the deeply personal lyrics, they all mix together to bring out what the fans love about the music legend. Yet there is something very different, here, too. The production has certainly given Morrissey a new direction. Perhaps unexpectedly, there are new sounds to be found – longer tracks and captivating musical interludes.
At 60, Morrissey proves he is not standing still on past successes: he is clearly still an energetic, inspired and creative soul. A wonderful album, certain to delight his dedicated fan-base.