The Scotsman chimes in on Quarry as well

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Up close and personal

FIONA SHEPHERD

Morrissey: You Are the Quarry ***

ATTACK RECORDS, £13.99

Short of a tragically early death - say, a motorcycle accident soon after the release of his solo debut, Viva Hate - there is little more that Morrissey could have done to preserve his cult of personality so exquisitely. From audacious misfit frontman of the Smiths, a band who are still picking up fresh teenage acolytes 17 years after they split, to enigmatic solo career, he has seemingly exposed his most intimate vulnerabilities in his lyrics, while remaining evasive over real-life controversies (allegations of racism, hostile court cases with ex-Smiths members during which the judge labelled him "truculent, devious and unreliable"), and choosing self-imposed exile in Los Angeles, where he plays concerts for his huge Hispanic following and lives, alone, in film star Carole Lombard’s old mansion in the Hollywood Hills. But he’s ready for his close-up now.

Anticipation of his imminent return is intense. His 15,000-capacity homecoming gig in Manchester sold out in just 84 minutes. His new single, Irish Blood, English Heart, is released on Monday, followed, a week later, by this seventh solo album.

You Are The Quarry is his first album in seven years, a gap necessitated by lack of recording contract rather than writers’ block. As part of his new deal with Sanctuary Records, Morrissey requested the reactivation of Attack Records, an imprint of legendary reggae label Trojan Records - quite a turnaround for a man who once proclaimed "reggae is vile". Did he mean that? Is he softening hardline opinions in middle age? Is there any point to such debate when, on one new track, the contrary curmudgeon himself questions How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?

Yet Morrissey knows that his fans (and his detractors) thrive on trying to decipher his feelings. One thing that can be counted on: he remains gleefully unrepentant. Instead, he is the one dispensing mercy on I Have Forgiven Jesus, with a prime tragicomic lyric: "I have forgiven you Jesus/For all the desire you placed in me/When there’s nothing I can do with this desire". His diary of desolation - "Monday, humiliation/ Tuesday, suffocation/ Wednesday, condescension/ Thursday is pathetic/ By Friday life has killed me" - is only one of numerous archetypal Moz maxims.

But while You Are the Quarry is eminently quotable, it is not particularly hummable. From this unequal marriage of words and music, Morrissey understandably chose to showcase the single and First of the Gang to Die on his last UK tour. Both are musically among the meatier tracks. The latter is a catchy romp, satirising gang culture with an ambiguous, humorous romanticism, while the single wrestles with the thorny issue of national identity, deploying more lyrical sophistication than Billy Bragg’s Take Down the Union Jack. This is Morrissey’s "I have a dream" speech and, fittingly for a song which returns to the themes of The Queen is Dead, it is as close as this album comes to a driving Smiths maelstrom.

It sounds like he has been saving up his bile and humour for the big guns. You Are The Quarry goes for significant targets - nationalism, imperialism, sexual identity - in personal ways. Because it’s Morrissey’s world and, in case we are tempted to forget that, he opens with a track entitled America is Not the World, an ambivalent love song to his adopted home. I say ambivalent - actually, he makes out that he despises everything about the States but rounds off this catalogue of complaints with the words "I love you".

Moz is known for his documentation of dysfunctional relationships. On the otherwise inconsequential I Like You, he sings, "you’re not right in the head/and nor am I/and this is why I like you", and elsewhere ponders, "she told me she loved me/which means she must be insane". These are among his more colloquial observations, but he musters more poetic instincts on All the Lazy Dykes, a melancholy appeal to a bored housewife to embrace her sapphic streak.

On the plodding Come Back to Camden, he diverts his gaze back to his former ’hood and "drinking tea with the taste of the Thames". He wallows some more, using his Random Morrissey Lyric Generator to recall that "where taxi drivers never stop talking/under slate grey Victorian skies/here you’ll find despair and I".

The World is Full of Crashing Bores is another quintessential Morrissey allegation ("I am not one", he eventually decides) but, while the backing is far from inspired, it is impossible to refute his findings about "popstars thick as pigshit/nothing to convey". Which is precisely why there are still legions of fans who will continue to hang on Morrissey’s every utterance, no matter how uninspired the musical accompaniment. In which case, the entertaining old grouch should really have the last word: "The critics who can’t break you/they somehow help to make you."




 
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