Separating the art from the artist is a moral quandary all of us face, especially since many talented celebrities are utter twats in real life. So what do we do with Morrissey; the pro-Tommy-Robinson, anti-Islam, anti-Chinese wanker who also made some classic songs and albums with his group The Smiths? It’s somehow easy to give art a bit of leeway when we’re judging something from the past; for instance pre-alleged-rapist R. Kelly also made some classic songs but would you go out and buy his new music (if he ever gets the chance of putting some more out)? Whilst nostalgia keeps older art intertwined with your memories, knew art has yet to have a link to your personal life, and knowing what you know sullies anyone’s art after you gain certain knowledge about its creator. All this is by-the-by of course, since Morrissey’s latest solo LP I Am Not A Dog On A Chain is not The Queen Is Dead or The Smiths. It’s pointless talking about “separating the art from the artist” because in this instance there’s no need; you’re never in two minds about said art because for the most part, it’s crap.
The album opens with “Jim Jim Falls” which wavers between electro-pop and Manc. rock and this schizo production doesn’t always match the potentially humourous lyrics (“If you’re going to jump then jump… If you’re going to kill yourself then, to save face, get on with it”). But with Morrissey’s dreary delivery, even these anti-suicide-for-attention lines don’t pack much of a punch.
In “Love Is On Its Way Out”, the potentially poignant lyrics “Did you see the headlines? Did you see the grablines? Did you see the nerve gassed children crying?” is followed by the abruptly paused and jarringly non-rhyming line “Did you see the sad rich… [pause] …hunting down, shooting down elephants and lions?” after which the song descends into meaningless and repetitive “The wrong one”.
The lead single is middle-of-the-road “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?” which sounds like it was composed by a granddad with a slang dictionary. Alongside the amateur organ sounds, the track features lacklustre vocals from Thelma Houston. Thelma was quoted by Pitchfork as saying “I don’t believe Morrissey is racist”, and yet a quick glance at what Morrissey famously said about black music back in the ’80s means she’s a sell-out. The fact that he enlisted a black singer for a track about drug use is racist in itself but I suppose not by Morrissey’s standards. Either way, this song is utter shite.
On the title track there’s some very basic rhymes (“I am not a dog on a chain; I use my own brain… I have patience and I have time, both of which are mine”). The song has echoes of The Divine Comedy but without the humour. The topics also seem to dither; whilst flinging animal cruelty dirt at Canada Goose there’s an anti-news sentiment (again with rudimentary rhyming). At one point Morrissey says “I see no point in being nice” which sounds like he’s countering his critics but he seems to be missing the point: it’s not about being “nice”, it’s about being a bigoted prick. But I digress.
“What Kind Of People Live In These Houses” is the best track on the entire album and it comes the closest to sounding like The Smiths. If only the rest of the LP was like this. Unfortunately after this standout song, the album gets progressively worse.
Aside from the aforementioned let-down that is Thelma Houston, there’s a few sonic choices in this album that means Morrissey is a sellout too. I mean didn’t this man despise synth-pop at one point in his career? Well now he’s unashamedly venturing into the land of synthesizer. From “Jim Jim Falls” to “Knockabout World”, there’s too many electronic elements and they feel at odds with Morrissey’s personality and past persona. That being said, it’s not like there’s any credible electronic production here, it’s more Depeche Mode reject sounds (“Once I Saw The River Clean” and “The Secret Of Music” which sounds like a tribute act recreating mid-’90s Bowie). Additionally, much of the rhyme-schemes are couplets which gives most songs a dumbed-down feel. In “The Truth About Ruth” for instance, you can witness this musical genius sing “sleuth, truth, youth, truth (again), and Ruth” amidst a plethora of juxtaposed instruments that don’t gel together; it’s like an opera singer, an Italian mandolin player, a heavy metal guitarist, and a piano player got into a fight. There’s also lots of substandard female backing singing (“Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?” and “Darling, I Hug A Pillow”) which is less Rosie Gaines with The New Power Generation and more Bananarama with Fun Boy Three.
I’ll admit that there’s a few brilliant lines here and there (“Time will send you an invoice; and you pay with your strength, and your legs, and your sight, and your voice” in “My Hurling Days Are Done”) but for the most part it’s unpolished lyrics such as “Darling, I hug a pillow in absence of you. Darling, I hug a pillow to replace your face” (shouldn’t it be “body”?) in the terrible “Darling, I Hug A Pillow”.
Morrissey’s unaccompanied offerings have never matched his work with The Smiths and I Am Not A Dog On A Chain is in a long line of disappointing solo releases. Similar to Madonna’s Madame X, when singers get old, their music also becomes sonically wrinkly as they fanny about in far-flung, foreign recording studios trying to recapture their youth.
I Am Not A Dog On A Chain is something Anne Marie Waters may play in her car as her sat-nav directs her to Paul Weston’s gaff but it’s not for me. Aside from one song, this is bland music for die-hard fans of Morrissey who’ll buy anything he spews out. Having said this, a few publications have already started kissing his right-wing arse. Although a paywall obscures most of the review, The Telegraph seems to be fawning over this average album like Moz’ inexplicable Latino fan in Ant-Man And The Wasp.
Since I’m critiquing all elements of this LP, the album’s title whilst attempting to convey that Morrissey is someone who can’t be controlled, upholds the idea that dogs should be leashed or chained, which for someone who apparently cares for animal welfare is a daft title to pick. Alongside a confused soundscape that wanders aimlessly between out-of-date electronic, rock, country, power ballad, marching drums, Irish fiddles, and poorly-played trumpets, not to mention an amateur-looking and completely unconnected photo on the album cover (that looks like he’s just pinched one off after a vegan korma or just cum onto a For Britain leaflet) if this is the “very best of [me]” (as Morrissey described this album) then I’d hate to hear his worst. His best is definitely in the past.
Morrissey may not be a “dog on a chain” but with his dog-ugly face, pudgy torso, and propensity to attack obvious, alt-right targets, he is for all intents and purposes a dog on an elasticated leash. Like DMX’s deceased canine, this boomer is dead to all of us.
Not Soz, Moz.