Oh, Morrissey. So much to answer for.
The former Smiths ringleader and self-described “humansexual” released his twelfth solo studio album in May, a collection of covered songs from the 1960s and ‘70s backed by such names as Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Broken Social Scene’s Ariel Engle. It’s a release anticipated by just about anyone with a political affiliation and a penchant for music by myopic British men, and Morrissey has managed to pull off the impressive feat of delivering by disappointment.
Following the release of such snarky records as Low in High School, 2019’s California Son is an eclectic assortment of covers that pretend to be innocuous. For the most part, that’s accurate, but the inclusion of such tracks as “Only a Pawn in Their Game” or the opaquer “Lenny’s Tune” serve as poorly-disguised political and personal statements that work towards two conflicting goals: public appeasement and playing dumb.
Morrissey’s latest effort deserves criticism for reasons other than its obvious political pandering, particularly in its composition and execution. As frontman of The Smiths, Morrissey displayed a talent for combining seemingly unrelated elements of pop in the band’s songs, a trait that is alarmingly absent in California Son, in which tired tropes and clichés are used to reinterpret classics in a way that feels more like a cheap cover band’s takes than a genuine creative effort.