ALBUM REVIEW by Victor Stranges
Some believe that Morrissey never, even remotely, reached the heights of his old Manchester band from his youth, The Smiths. There were some glorious moments over his first six solo albums but nothing prepared me for the majesty of his 2004 opus, "You Are The Quarry."
"America Is Not The World" asserts, "America, your belly's too big.... and don't you wonder why in Estonia they say: Hey you, big fat pig." Holding a mirror up to a nation is no mean feat, particularly when you are no less a Los Angeles citizen than Morrissey is. Yet, he emphatically sings at the end, "And I love you, I love you, I love you." The country that gave us wonderful hamburgers is also the revolting nation of foreign entanglements and political and social meddling.
The first words blurted out by Morrissey on the second track are a stunningly accurate portrayal of his modus operandi. He has never been one to mince words and has had some gobsmacking kitchen sink realist moments as a young lad.
Who can forget the classic line about working a dead-end job in 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'? "Why do I give valuable time to people who don't care if I live or die?" It was not your typical lyrical pop approach, yet the words so directly pierce the soul and yet, are wrapped in such glorious pop musical scenery.
Irish blood, English heart, this I'm made of
There is no one on earth I'm afraid of
And no regime can buy or sell me.
- Irish Blood, English Heart
What we have here is a rare jewel of a record where Morrissey enters the modern world of making records, courtesy of (the late) producer, Jerry Finn. The mixes just jump out without the electronic trickery of a 2004 production. By this time, Finn was well known for his warm guitar sounds of late 1990s punk rockers Rancid and Blink 182.
According to Finn, getting drum sounds were crucial without having to resort to modern-day high levels of over-compression. Audio engineer and music author Bobby Owsinski said that Finn created mixes in his head and first preferred to "get the drums happening to where they have some ambiance... (with) the "kick (drum) and the bass ... occupying their own territory and not fighting each other."
And when using compression, Finn would have a slow setting for attack and a fast release to ensure "all the transients are getting through and (the) initial punch is still there, but it releases instantly when the signal drops below a threshold." Finn claimed that this was "the sound of my mixes. It keeps things kinda popping the whole time." That was the "sound" of this record.
The album takes a dig at organized religion in "I Have Forgiven Jesus" which is a bitter rendering explaining the hardships of being trapped in one's own body, not unlike the apostle Paul in his writings about the limitations of the flesh.
And why did you give me so much love in a loveless world,
When there is no one I can turn to
To unlock all this love?
And why did you stick in self-deprecating bones and skin?,
Jesus do you hate me?
- I Have Forgiven Jesus
"Come Back to Camden" is a highlight of epic proportions with unpredictable key changes juxtaposing with Morrissey's torridly personal lyrics of begging a lover to come back. The structure is lush with arrangements being strangely sophisticated not unlike the intensity of Bowie's "Life On Mars?" from some thirty-three years earlier. "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores" is typical sardonic Morrissey whilst the glorious "First Of The Gang To Die" is kind of like the new soundtrack to "Rebel Without A Cause" but with Sal Mineo being the star, not James Dean. Its nod to the romanticism of Hispanic gangs is truly delightful as it is enigmatic. The song is ear candy.
Of course, we still are exposed to the love/hate lyrics and ironic song titles that turn on a dime. "This is why I like you, I like you, I like you because you're not right in the head." Tracks on "You Are The Quarry" fit neatly right alongside his earlier Smiths songs such as "Girlfriend In A Coma." Oh, Morrissey, you stole our hearts away.