I think you've pretty much nailed it, here. "Notre Dame" is, as you say, the first time that his worldview of the last 5-6 years, after the Manchester attack, has fully manifested itself in a song lyric. And it's going to render him absolutely untouchable in the eyes of the industry. Which kind of breaks my heart.I've been looking back at his so called "controversial" post-Smiths output and concluded that Notre Dame is the only lyric I wouldn't even attempt to defend.
It's the first time that the combination of a right-wing world view, conspiracy theory and clearly implied racism - evident for several years in interviews - has indisputably manifested itself in an actual song lyric.
I believe that the combination of the death of his mother - who had she heard Notre Dame would surely have had some harsh words for him - and his effective exclusion from the music industry (other than touring) has resulted in him going down a conspiracy rabbit warren never to return. With Notre Dame, on the back of Bonfire of Teenagers, his career as a popular mainstream artist is absolutely irrecoverable. With Notre Dame it is impossible in my opinion to argue that the lyric is anything other than M expressing his own view that there has been a government sponsored conspiracy to cover up the cause of the Notre Dame fire and that France, indeed Western societies are, under attack from malign outside forces. It is not too much of a stretch to infer than Islam is responsible. Hot on the trail of the Bonfire of Teenagers lyrics, there is no other reading, also taking into consideration alt-right conspiracy theories that would appear to be the basis for the song.
I would be interested in anyone's views about my take on this, in particular that other earlier 'controversial' songs were all quite reasonably defensible against accusations of racism or right-wingness, but that Notre Dame represents a significant escalation in seriousness which now renders a record deal with the sort of major label he hankers after completely impossible.
So here's the charge list and why all but ND were defensible.
Bengali in Platforms (1988). A bit clumsy perhaps, crass even, but M had long explored the theme of 'belonging', isolation and alienation. As such there was continuity of themes popular to be found within his earlier writing with The Smiths. The imagery within the lyric suggests the song was possibly set in the 1970s, so a generation prior to its writing. As such, the song could be argued to reflect British societal values of the time, shifting the song from necessarily reflecting M's world view.
Asian Rut (1991). Aside from the title itself which could be considered flippant there was nothing essentially racist or offensive about this bleak tale of a racist attack. Indeed the musical backing is sombre and the lyric sympathetic towards the victim.
National Front Disco (1992). The "England for the English" refrain raised eyebrows but the racist protagonist Davy is portrayed as a misguided loser. The refrain could easily be justified as flowing from the mouth of Davy himself, so with Morrissey speaking in the voice of Davy or even as a 'flawed narrator' rather than expressing his own views. On the face of it, less a racist song than an anti-racist one comsisering the song purely on its own terms.
This Is Not Your Country (1997). A song exploring national identity and political / military occupation, this song side-stepped very much criticism due to its B-side status and M appearing to side with the ‘occupied’ ‘underdog’ (Ireland) against British 'occupation'. As such a song which would be sympathetically viewed by the British left.
Israel (2017). Not a lyric which would please the sort of liberal, leftie, Smiths fan base, however expressing warmth towards the people of Israel is not in itself offensive in any sense. Also, the lyric is on the face of it quite careful not to overtly mention the Israeli government, it’s miitary activity in Palestine or pit it against its enemies other than in heavily nuanced language. As such, though this lyric didn't really speak to his historic fanbase, it didn't render him unpublishable.
I Am Not A Dog on a Chain (2020). Not a song which addresses matters of race or is right-wing per se, it does however powerfully warn against conformity and the apparatus of society such as the press, with such vigour and aggression that I am of the view that this lyric is an important staging post in his journey towards writing something as batshit and artless as Notre Dame.
Bonfire of Teenagers (2021). For me this is a pretty artless and offensive song, however there are multiple mitigations when compared to Notre Dame. M was singing about an atrocity in his home city and there were some legitimate points made in my opinion about politicians and the British middle class liberal intelligensia ducking the issues raised by this bombing, taking the easy route out by emphasizing solidarity rather any outrage or showing any particular interest in confronting the developing issue of Islamic terrorism in the UK . However I do believe it was rather lazy and misleading of M to create the refrain of "go easy on the killer". After all the killer was killed in the explosion along with his tragic victims. The song also fails to deal with the issue constructively (although this is not necessarily M’s aim or responsibility) however the lyric is in my opinion insensitive to the victims.
Views, observations, comments anyone?