Rebels Without Applause released as a single track - initially on some region's YT, now to buy & stream (November 24, 2022)

UPDATE (Nov. 25):

This Charming Bowie posted the story from official_morrissey_central / Instagram:

Morrissey's Rebels Without Applause is available today worldwide (including Britain) on Spotify,
courtesy of Capitol Records. The track is produced by Andrew Watt. This is Morrissey's first 'single' release since 'It's Over', taken from the 'California Son' album in November 2019. 'It's Over' peaked at number 1 in the UK vinyl chart.

Also now on Morrissey Central. Link posted by Famous when dead.


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Had you heard "Knockabout world" live before the studio version, you would hate it now. Same for "Rebels". Stop listening to the live versions or you will ruin your album experience 😉
I much prefer the live version of Knockabout World to the studio version which I find overproduced. And the same goes for RWA. After 5 listenings or so, the recorded version feels more acceptable, but I had hoped for better based on the work that Watts recently did for Iggy Pop and Eddie Vedder.
I’ve been doing some rough and ready inspection of some of Watt’s other tracks using my Stem player and studying a few edits on YouTube that isolate vocals. After looking at both Watt’s recent collaborations with Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop, it appears to me that Watt doesn’t use natural, untouched vocals in his mixes. Such a design philosophy is liable to rub many rock fans up the wrong way.

The latest Iggy single is rambunctious and invigorating, but if you attempt to recover the vocals, you’ll find that they have been rendered somewhat scratchy. The track works, as it is a loud affair, and Watt and company have matched the energy of Iggy at the level of production. You won’t be able to find an ‘authentic vocal’ delivery here; you probably won’t feel the need to. As has been mentioned before, Ozzy’s last two Watt produced records have had a similar treatment. Some fans have condemned Watt’s production choices with Ozzy’s vocals - compressed and machine manipulated - but it is easy to understand, and even appreciate, his choices, given Ozzy’s age, as well as the inherent possessed (processed) nature of his gloomy, gothic vocal performances.

The below link will illustrate this. It should remind us that separating vocals off a track can be quite uncanny and unflattering. Peeling off a synthetic vocal line, however, from its accompanying production will create the most jarring effect.

For a while, I wondered if the raw vocal stems submitted by Morrissey to Watt for the Bonfire sessions already had the ‘flaws’ present in them. Klinghoffer, after all, had said that Morrissey wanted the vocals to be preserved and left unchanged. I don’t think this request can be honoured completely, as vocals are always subject to mixing decisions of the producer in charge. It is most likely that Klinghoffer was simply describing the sequence, spacing and arrangement of Morrissey’s lyrics. I also expect (or hope) that Morrissey has a good enough microphone to record some clear vocals as the basis for some speculative songs.

Having absorbed and considered some of these other productions, I now believe that Morrissey has been subject to the same treatment that Watt has provided on other recent projects. So now we have a question: is this approach to vocals the best one for Morrissey’s style and vocal idiosyncrasies?

Unlike with the shaggy dog deliveries of Iggy and Ozzy, Morrissey’s voice is probably best foregrounded in all of its small nuances and timbres. As soon as it is modified, dedicated fans who have become habituated to his vocal signature over time will be struck by something new and potentially unwelcome. Morrissey has always had an unconventional voice, but his fans have never dreamed of a day in which it could be corrected or changed for the better. Watt has taken a risk by drawing Morrissey into his wider production schemes. I definitely don’t think the production is a technical disaster, a deliberate rush job or the elaboration of a rough demo. We have no reason to think Watt wanted to prematurely end his working relationship with Morrissey. He also has his reputation as a producer to uphold and will be connected to any outright duds that he signs off on. Moreover, there was no label interference during the production of Bonfire.

All this being stated, I don’t dislike Watt, or see Rebels as being an outright disaster. More specifically, it isn’t a disaster for being different. You have to see the vocals in the context of the wider mix, which is bold, populist and (admittedly) addictive. I suspect Watt has changed Morrissey’s voice to fit the wider architecture of the song. Excuse my overly forgiving layman’s approach to sound engineering - I do believe these vocals could have been better handled and the mix could be refined further. But as the whole piece swings with admirable gusto, I can see why the vocals were not privileged as the most precious (or sacred) aspect of the mix. The inclusion of (overtly manipulated) backing vocals may have also had some consequences for the tuning of the main vocals.

The vocals have a fragile and endearingly faint quality about them at times; I’m probably in the minority of listeners who enjoys the final stretch where the vocals become exposed and the instrumental temporarily fades. Morrissey’s journey to the higher notes is strangely supported by the struggling impression the vocal mix supplies. In general, I think the vocals are sweet, naive and ultimately rooted in Morrissey’s vocal profile.

Other commentators have discussed how the vocals conjure up the qualities of a ghost or antique microphone, and these resonances may have been in mind when the mixing was being achieved. In order to create these (contested) effects, Watt has employed some kind of vocal processing, which will always be controversial. Hence a debate about sonics that is not conducted in bad faith. From what he has said, Morrissey has been really happy with Watt’s work on Bonfire. There is no hint of betrayal here, at least in his mind.

The other tracks on the album will better illuminate Watt’s general efforts to maintain the appeal of Morrissey’s vocal charms and eccentricities. I remain strangely captivated by mega producer Watt steering the upcoming Morrissey record. I know that Boz has had a hand in the Rebels track, but it is important to remember that Watt (alongside others) has constructed the wider musical experience of Bonfire at of the skeletal vocal submissions of Morrissey. If we can compliment the music, if not always the mixing, then Watt deserves some credit. He’s also given Morrissey a chance to create a new LP so quickly after IANADOAC, when his public reputation seemed to be reaching its nadir.

I’m still optimistic that Bonfire will be a strong work. I don’t expect Watt to return on the next album, so those that have been (legitimately) displeased with his creative touches will not necessarily have to stomach them again.
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