I Am Not A Dog On A Chain – Morrissey

DOGONACHAIN

The righteous.

The right on.

The right…by which I mean, of course, correct.

All would have it that M*******y is now irredeemable.

Worthy only of reproach and reprimand.

They may be right.

It’s the music what matters.

And here he is again for the third time in as many years.  Following on from “Low In High School” which I thought was, at best, lumpen and last years “California Son” covers collection which I thought was, at best, flawed but occasionally beautiful.  What will “I Am Not A Dog On A Chain” deliver?  More the lumpen, and frequently joyless, dirges of “Low…” or some of the adventure and guile of the likes of “Morning Starship” from “California Son”?

The answer is neither.

The thud and drone of “Low In High School” has been replaced with eighties electro, disco, Smithsy guitars and masterful moments of Morrissey melancholy.  It is, without any question, his best album since “You Are The Quarry” in 2004.  Each album since then has had moments of genius, wit, verve, vim and guile but all in shorter supply than at any point in his long career.  Here though there are thrills and spills aplenty.  Interestingly it is the first album since “Your Arsenal” where long time musical collaborator Boz Boorer doesn’t feature as a writer on a single track.  While other band members are credited I think the secret of the albums success lies with producer Joe Chiccarelli who seems to have gained Morrissey’s trust and who also appears to have successfully dragged the Pope of Mope into new territory…something few others have ever managed.

“Once I Saw The River Clean” is the song that best explains where Morrissey is in 2020.  It is strident, bold, mournful, futurist-retro, with an eye turned to the streets where he roamed, his family and the music that formed him.  It sounds like The Smiths had they decided to go New Romantic or electroclash.  When he sings about walking the streets with his grandmother to buy her ciggies and to demand a copy of “Metal Guru” I felt tears begin to stream.

There.

I’ve said it.

This now divisive figure, the once charming and now, arguably, charmless man is still capable of drawing tears from hearts that are, at least partly, turned away.

Some people will tell you it doesn’t matter how good the art is, that the artist must be beyond reproach.  That the value of a thing is dependent on the morals of the creator.  I’m not sure I can fully get on board with that.  A lot of art I adore has come from the minds, hands and hearts of people who were, very often, unpleasant.

Oh this is a minefield.

The hardcore disciples of La Moz will come crashing down on me for even suggesting that their masters voice has ever so much as whispered something that could be considered questionable and, at the same moment, the virtuous will decry me as a fascist sympathiser for refusing to consign him to the dustbin of history.

Only Morrissey.

But I have to be honest don’t I?

I have to say that “Bobby Don’t You Think That They Know?” is utterly brilliant and his best “single” in nearly twenty years…don’t I?

I have to say that his voice on “The Secret of Music” made the hairs on the nape of my neck stand to attention and that “…fat bassoon clears the room” made me giggle like a naughty schoolboy.  Don’t I?

I have to say that “Darling I Hug a Pillow” broke my already fractured heart with one line…”Darling, you will cry for me in years to come, in the hope of a moment that cannot return”.  Don’t I?

Yes?

No?

The truth, whatever that might be, is that you have already made up your mind and that you expect me to have done the same.  I can’t have both.

Well.

I’m not prepared to accept that.

I can find issue, violently, with some of the things he has said…but I can still enjoy this and, in a funny way, enjoy him.

I’m sorry if that offends you…but I am not a dog on a chain who you can bring to heel with one sharp pull.

This is the album that proves, beyond a single doubt, that Morrissey is still capable of being something other than the skinny boy from a welfare house in NHS glasses or whatever wet dream vision of him floats your boat.  He remains worthy of your attention as an artist.  His voice has never been better, his writing remains inimitable, he continues to confound and divide and I have a suspicion that this is exactly as he wants it.