There are rare moments in rock ‘n’ roll when a record makes a longtime fan feel, as Madonna so eloquently put it, like a virgin. Morrissey’s new record is, sublimely, one of these moments.
As an album, “You Are the Quarry” finds Morrissey’s trademark bon mots at their all-time zenith. His piquant poetics, musings on governments – both of his native Britain and his adopted home stateside – on Jesus, friendship, love and yes, on growing older, are all evidence that Moz has been busy sharpening his sword these long seven years since his last release.
Critics love to turn themselves in knots, pointlessly trying to pin down Morrissey’s messages and degree of autobiographical content. Who cares? Memoir or fiction, it’s just as fantastic either way.
And the music on this record is the best compliment his lyrics have had since the singles that would become “Bona Drag,” perhaps since Johnny Marr. The album finds Morrissey’s usual gang of conspirators at work, so it is not a change in lineup that explains the higher quality. Suffice it to say that this album contains career-high moments for both Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer. Perhaps it can be chalked up to rock’s strange chemistry; sometimes things mix well, other times they blend into utter aural perfection. What accounts for the difference is anyone’s guess.
That Morrissey, both with and after the Smiths, has blended chart successes with cult hero status makes sense. His acerbic wit and willingness to dwell on topics that would make most pop stars run screaming means he occasionally lacks appeal for the knuckle-dragging top-40 set. Some people just can’t shake their booty to something with polysyllabic words and complete thoughts that originate above the waist. Does there exist a Britney Spears fan who knows who Oliver Cromwell was? For those who find the Aguilera, Spears, “American Idol” tripe merchants and their fans stomach turning, there has always been sanctuary in Morrissey records.
But “Quarry’s” blend of strong songwriting and fabulous lyrics finds him enjoying his best chart positions ever, the single “Irish Blood, English Heart” made it to No. 4 here before going to No. 3 in the United Kingdom, and has been all over MTV.
If Morrissey is doing better these days, it is a positive sign, for if the world can live up to choosing interesting and excellent music, perhaps there are other choices we can do better at making as well. This is a superb album all around, and will serve equally well as an entry into this rich oeuvre from which you can proceed backward through the 90s, a great reintroduction for Smith’s fans too bitter or reluctant to pick up any solo stuff, or as a necessary addition to your shrine to the one, the only, the never-better Morrissey.