Seven goddamn years ago, Morrissey put out Maladjusted to surprising acclaim from critics and not-so surprising acclaim from his legions of rabid-psycho-mope-fans. It was a B-minus effort at best, but the point was clear: Morrissey was still producing something worth touring for, and that made depressed Mexican and Japanese teenagers and everyone who ever liked the Smiths and early post-Marr Morrissey very happy. Morrissey, all of 45 years old as of last month, found himself in the same boat as David Bowie, producing semi-crap albums and touring to support them, retaining demigod status. But said tours have been a throwback to what made him great in the first place — he’s not exactly sparing with the Smiths covers and Viva Hate-era gems at the crazy flower-ridden shows.
With You Are the Quarry, the Mozzer can’t rightly be said to have "returned to form"; the arc of his post-Smiths career has been mixed, ranging from the coy balladry of his 1988 solo debut, Viva Hate, to the balls-out rock of 1995’s Southpaw Grammar. On You Are the Quarry, he and his band are closest to his 1994 solo career highpoint, Vauxhall and I, with a careful balance between balladry and guitar rock — not neglecting, of course, the typical Morrissey solipsism we’ve all come to love and loathe.
The first single, "Irish Blood, English Heart," is not quite as biting a political diatribe as "The Queen is Dead," but Morrissey does manage a defaming call to "denounce this Royal Line that’s still saluted," while nonetheless making the song more so about his own duality, given his Irish roots. It’s all about Morrissey, and it does rock, thanks to Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte’s guitars licks and an explosive chorus. The gloom lingers on with "I Have Forgiven Jesus," a sweeping ballad recalling Vauxhall‘s "Used to Be A Sweet Boy" in the Moz’s lost innocence: "Why have you put me in/ self-deprecating bones and skin/ Do you hate me?/ Do you hate me?" It’s good to see not too much has changed since he declared himself half a person way back in the ’80s.
All derision aside, there are some truly great songs — some of the best of his career — on You Are the Quarry. "Come Back to Camden" is his best ballad since Your Arsenal-favorite "Seasick, Yet Still Docked," with the longing and sadness that made those non-ironic Smiths songs so great to wallow to. "First of the Gang to Die," a nod to his working-class Mexican fans, is probably the best pop song he has done, with Boorer and Whyte trading-off riffs and Morrissey claiming you’ve never been in love "until you’ve seen the dawn rise/ over smashed human bones." The pop continues with "How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel" — incidentally, one for the list of all-time best Moz song titles — and it becomes clear that this was no slapdash effort. Each of these is well-crafted and intricate. You Are the Quarry is no leap forward, but a statement on how some things age very well.
Most coy is the closer "You Know I Couldn’t Last," a slight suggestion that this is it for Moz — it’s over and he’s through. "CDs and T-shirts, promos, God knows/ Oh! You know I couldn’t last," he croons in his usual manner of addressing his fans and referring to "himself." This is a taste of the irony that Morrissey veils himself in, an amusement that has lasted since 1984. And one that I, for one, hope will live on.