Listening to Morrissey’s between-song banter is like listening to a high school custodian recite a one-act script he found while cleaning a bathroom stall. He’s timid. He’s awkward. And, most of all, he sounds stiff.
It might be unfair to judge a live album on the performer’s pseudo-charismatic between-song chatter, but this stiffness engulfs such phrases as “Time will prove everything,” spoken before “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get,” and “If you’ve got the time, and you don’t mind, let me kiss you,” said before (you guessed it) “Let Me Kiss You.”
Morrissey is an icon, and one word that most inaccurately describes him is “pseudo-charismatic.” He could croon the pants off a deaf horse, if someone dressed said horse in loose-fitting horse sweats. But this awkward banter is representative of a greater conflicting stiffness prevalent throughout Live at Earls Court.
The album comes as another push to Morrissey’s triumphant return to quality songwriting. Last year’s You Are the Quarry was his finest work without former axe-man Johnny Marr, but if there was any criticism, it was about the production. The album was crystal clear, synthetic almost to the point where it was questionable whether Moz was singing with backup musicians or if he’d hired robots.
A live album, as an idea, sounds like the perfect remedy to glossed-over studio production, and recording it in London in December in front of 17,183 screaming fans sounds like the perfect opportunity for Morrissey to let loose his seductive voice and let his band fling forth with carnal grit. Well, guess what: live Moz sounds just like studio Moz, only with a few trilled consonants.
Beginning with the Smiths’ painfully overrated, or at least best-known, “How Soon Is Now?,” the set contains every highlight from You Are the Quarry, most notably Morrissey’s tribute to his fans in Mexico, “First of the Gang to Die”; the thrashing first single, “Irish Blood, English Heart”; and the late bloomer, “I Have Forgiven Jesus.” He can still sweep hearts away by performing some of the Smiths’ finest moments, including “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” Morrissey even takes a successful stab at Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach.”
But if there’s anything plaguing Live at Earls Court, it isn’t so much the quality of the music — mix old Smiths classics with new solo heartbreakers and you can make just about anyone smile (or cry). It’s Morrissey’s missed opportunity to show fans something different, something less crisp. Instead, we get boneheaded statements such as “Thank you for coming here. Thank you for being you.” And those will never suffice.