You Are the Quarry
t does seem that anyone expecting a balanced, accurate, impartial review of a Morrissey album, from a UK resident in 2004 at least, is going to be sorely disappointed. Two generations of British music listeners have invested far too much time, energy, and emotion onto The Smiths and their music, be it positive or negative, and as such we expect a return on our investments. A such, You Are the Quarry can be seen as some sort of musical Rorschach that people can project onto whatever views of the man they’ve held over these past twenty years or so. As a result, critical reaction to this album will probably be split between those who are going to pretend that this comes on like a 12-track The Queen Is Dead redux, and those who’ll hallucinate that the inlay art features Morrissey wearing a white hood lynching mute Bengalis.
Problem being, Morrissey himself hasn’t helped matters much by giving us an album so… bland. Bland may be the wrong word, for what You Are the Quarry can be said to be is an album that has a great quantity of gaping holes in it. Cynics may well claim that all Morrissey albums contain a hole in them, and that hole is in the shape of a Mr. J Marr, but, witticisms aside, there was a definite buzz around the campfire that this album would be “it”, the comeback, the return to form. We hate it when our friends are unsuccessful, and, as such, Morrissey’s new label home of Sanctuary have been trading in on the anticipation this album has received, surely the biggest pre-publicity for any of his entire career. Thus, Steven Patrick has had his mug all over the place these past 28 days: the NME, Esquire, Mojo, Time Out, Radios 1, 2, 6, Virgin, XFM… they’ve all been getting their pound of bequiffed flesh to plug this album. His cachet is so high at the moment than only the potty mouthed bickering of Eamon and his missus could keep “Irish Blood, English Heart” off of the number one spot. We all took a great intake of breath, laid the red carpet down for the man… and he responded by taking a large shit at the bottom of it.
Let’s look at the positives on this album. All two of them. Firstly, the single, “Irish Blood, English Heart” has at its very core a kind of St. Patrick’s Day promotion on Jamieson mentality, a variant of patriotism that seemingly only manifests itself in people when England have been safely knocked out of the World Cup. Standout lyrical confuddlement about Oliver Cromwell and royalism aside, this is where new Moz producer Jerry Finn continues his maturation of sound that’s been evident on Blink 182’s recent work, a radio friendly approach to the grandiose, indeed, this can be looked at as an elder, gaunter brother of “I Miss You”, with The Nightmare Before Christmas replaced by Andy Capp. That’s one thing to get excited about.
The other thing is pinnacle OMGWTFLOL track “First of the Gang to Die”. Beginning as it does with a beautiful reference to Starship’s “We Built This City on Rock and Roll”, it pairs one of those kitchen sink epistolaries that the man is so beloved of to a 1997 style indie backing—all high ass frets and weird keyboard sweeps. His voice manages to hold up to the task as well, no mean feat considering, as he verily swoops all over the track, hitting all areas required. Indeed, if this is the second single, he’s looking at another couple of weeks in the top 10.
And then… the rest of the album. Opener “America Is Not the World” kicks it on some hopelessly ignorant sixth form political tip, as the Americans get cussed down hard for being overweight (oh, the irony), and because the “president is never female, black, or gay” (as long as he’s not Pakistani, hey Moz?). The intense ineptitude of it is enough to make you wonder who Morrissey’s spiritual antecedents in modern music actually are, because, listening to these lyrics (the backing isn’t going to hold your attention at all, so there’s no need to worry about that), all you can think of is that fucking Travis tune about the war.
Oh god, I’ve just realised: he’s the English Beastie Boys.
The biggest problem is that, despite how lacklustre a group of session musicians he’s surrounded himself with, he appears to be writing music for virtuosos, which his new bandmates are clearly unable to play. So, whereas back in the day if he dropped the lyrical ball for a few seconds it could be disguised by Johnny playing some riff he nicked from the 70s on a capo, here we get… well, The Thrills. Or Keane. Or Starsailor. Anodyne, “real music for real people”.
What the man, and his fans (as in a fan of him, not his music) have is a massive desire to be popular combined with an inordinate fear of being pop. Here, he’s somehow managed to combine both preposterousness and anonymity—he’s a man who doesn’t live in the real world commenting on it. Particular nadir, “The World Is Full of Crashing Bores”, with its lazy LA Rock 101 chordery, is a prime example. He bemoans “Lock-jawed pop stars / Thicker than pig shit who are/ So scared to show intelligence lest it smear their lovely career”, seemingly unaware that Britain’s current biggest pop star is a gay left-leaning politics graduate, or that the biggest hit of last year equated American governmental institutions with the Ku Klux Klan. Combined with the strain of misogyny that runs through it (“policewomen/ uniformed whores”), it just makes the man… well, as the legendary Viz headline wisely put it: “IT’S OFFICIAL: MORRISSEY IS A TWAT!”.
Twat he may be, but in the past that wasn’t any barrier to his music, indeed, one can forgive the lyrics to “November Spawned a Monster” because of how simply great it is. Nowadays, though, we’re being sold a package, as cynical and staged as the Cowell-acolytes that Morrissey seems to be bashing in every interview he does nowadays. Personality has overtaken the music, which is no problem when the personality is an engaging one, but here all that happens is that Morrissey builds walls between himself and the listener, and then, on traditional “me and me against the world” finisher “You Know I Couldn’t Last”, throws water bombs over it at us. But, of course, people will allow themselves to be taken for a ride with this, Morrissey’s public want what Morrissey’s public get.
Of course, anyone expecting a new Smiths album from this was always going to be disappointed. However, anyone expecting a good album from it is going to be disappointed as well. What we have is a man entering middle age, motivated solely by vengeance, and no desire to make good music any more. Yep, we hate it when our friends are AOR.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2004-05-18