Rating – 3/5
Always divisive, yet unquestionably talented and progenitor of some of the most iconic music that helped to shape the contemporary British scene; Morrisey returns with his thirteenth solo effort ‘I Am Not on a Dog on a Chain’. Granted, this magical, musical heyday of which I speak was of course established by none other than The Smiths; the influence of equally talented, disenfranchised young men that was galvanized at an appropriate and culturally relevant time. It’s no secret that Morrisey’s solo work is widely regarded with side-eyed skepticism when compared to the lightning-in-a-bottle captured with The Smiths; forever overshadowed by his own legacy.
It’s difficult, therefore, to consider this music independent of what came before; not that we have to constantly be comparing the “good old days” to the seemingly slow creep of auditory homogenization, but when it comes to a figure like Morrisey it’s impossible to appraise his output without at least glancing in the rearview mirror from time to time.
Right off the bat, let’s say; Morrissey’s vocal performance is excellent. He doesn’t appear to be slowing down with age, well that’s clear given the continuing musical output; but the command he has vocally is still impressive. The usual sauntering lilt to his voice is ever-present yet there are moments of soaring elation contrasted with defiant, guttural lines that peek through every now and again.
This record, as with the other solo albums, is clearly a vehicle for Morrissey’s views and ideas about the world, how it should be and how the other inhabitants haven’t quite understood life in the same way that he has. Let’s leave aside the very real and quantifiable things that he has controversially said, and let’s focus on the exploration of qualitative ideas expressed on record.
The titular ‘I Am Not a Dog on a Chain’ lacks subtlety, it’s in Morrissey’s nature to be as direct as possible it seems, even at the expense of any nuance that may or may not have ever been present in his thinking. “I do not read newspapers, they are troublemakers”; a penned insight which we might expect from a first-year politics student having just unmasked the great conspiracy of the wider world and all its self-interest. Not to deliberately miss the wider point that is being made, but come on surely there’s still room for the fine art of craftsmanship when expressing yourself. A self-pitying portrait, going so far as to suggest being “skinned alive” because of his views, it’s hardly martyrdom to advocate animal rights now, is it?
Conversely, ‘What Kind of People Live in These Houses?’ is a nice satirical observation of the dull, suburban lives of the middle-class masses. Granted you need to step into Morrisey’s world to appreciate his perspective, but the humor is nice and curtly condescending. The jangly accompaniment works nicely and Morrissey’s pitying vocals add an undercurrent of sadness.
For all the caricature of a sneering impresario, Morrissey is also capable of genuine vulnerability and sweetness. ‘Darling, I Hug A Pillow’ is schmaltzy but comes from a real place; an expression of humanity, love, and longing. Similarly ‘My Hurling Days Are Done’ laments Morrisey’s own acceptance of the inevitability of aging; a bittersweet sonnet to time and it’s the inexorable passage: “There’s no one to tell and nowhere to run”, it’s a problem we all face and we must all face it alone.
It seems that whilst striving to focus on ideas and concepts that should be relevant, Morrissey manages to do the opposite; the division amongst the fans in relation to the political nature of the solo records seems to achieve the opposite of a unifying experience . Whereas, the honesty expressed with The Smiths was universally latched onto and consumed hungrily; the harder he pushes, the harder the non-believers push back a catch-22 for the Morrissey doctrine.
Then again, design by committee sounds the death-knell of the artist and compromise is unlikely; he makes the music he wants to make and that’s fine. For fans of the man this is an interesting album, an earnest attempt to diversify with a dose of electronica and the usual dose of self-reflective musings. He’s not a dog on a chain, that much is abundantly clear and no one really thought otherwise, so I guess it does what it says on the tin and for that, we can’t begrudge him. Hey, and look we only mentioned The Smiths a few times, don’t count this last one.
Review by Theo Wildgoose