It’s been 5 years since Years of Refusal, the last album Morrissey released, and in that time I dived deep into his and the Smiths’ back catalogue, so that this was the first album of his I was eagerly anticipating. I kept telling myself that I would love it no matter what, because Morrissey’s flair for melodrama seemed to flow from an endless well and I’d be able to relate to his overstated misery.
Unfortunately Morrissey has decided to fervently champion topics close to his heart, but not necessarily dealing with matters of the heart. You can tell he’s very passionate about these subjects, but he doesn’t really give the listener a reason to be passionate about them as well. The title track, “Istanbul”, “The Bullfighter Dies”, and “Neal Cassaday Drops Dead” feel largely impersonal. They’re more just a reading of his experiences and thoughts on the subject matter. The tracks that don’t revolve around societal commentary veer into silly territory- “Kiss Me A Lot” seems like Morrissey realized he needed some romance on the record and wrote an exaggerated love letter to make up for the lack of it.
The bigger issue is really just that Morrissey is revisiting old ground, both lyrically and sonically, to the point where it seems like he’s parodying himself. “Kick the Bride Down the Aisle” has a quintessential Morrissey title and sounds like an extended cut of “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”. “Staircase at the University” features lyrics about someone’s head getting smashed open, not unlike the vastly superior “The Last of the Gang to Die”.
Nobody was expecting another Meat is Murder; even another You Are the Quarry wasn’t necessarily in the cards. But a Morrissey album so bereft of genuine Morrissey is kind of a letdown.
Ironically the best song off the album, “Art Hounds”, comes from the deluxe version, and it’s about critics and what dumb stupid-heads they are and how they can’t make good art. So Morrissey has already preemptively addressed this and all other reviews that are less-than-glowing. Smart man.