I’m too much of a fan. I don’t want to get into why I defend a man who occasionally becomes a flaming racist. These things definitely get the aging indie rock mainstay into trouble, but what they also do is show us the ebb and flow of Morrissey’s career. I want to talk about why Morrissey’s current slump won’t stop him, but might force him into trying other things. He might—gasp—grow up a little.
Morrissey underwent a much-needed rejuvenation after 1991’s largely disappointing Kill Uncle. The stand-out tracks, rockabilly-flecked “King Leer” and “Sing Your Life,” were precursors to Morrissey’s golden period; the Kill Uncle sessions led him to Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer, mainstays in England’s rockabilly scene, who would ultimately help Morrissey write his two best records of the ‘90s: 1992’s glam-infused Your Arsenal and 1994’s ballad-heavy Vauxhall and I.
Cue disappointment. 1995’s Southpaw Grammar is an overcompensated muscle-flex next to Vauxhall and I’s ethereal delicacy. Southpaw has Morrissey experimenting with, well, prog rock? I’m not so sure. “The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils” opens with a sample from Dimitri Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, two tracks run past the 10-minute mark, and its his only record with a two-minute drum solo. The more conventional songs? They’re certainly lacking in lyrical quality and clever songwriting.
I don’t want to get into 1997’s Maladjusted, but I have to. This is probably the worst Morrissey record next to Kill Uncle. Maladjusted mixes Vauxhall’s somber, confessional lyrics with a blanket of blah over Your Arsenal-like umph, resulting in a dull bread knife of a guitar sound. Morrissey was also embroiled in a royalty dispute with ex-Smiths members Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke while he was making this record, which is painfully and obnoxiously obvious by the record’s end, the thinly veiled threat “Sorrow Will Come in the End.” And, please, let’s not talk about “Roy’s Keen.”
But I’ll defend Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted to the ends of the earth, past thousands of bad Morrissey tattoos. I’ve spent a lot of time with these records, and I will tell you that there are good things about them. Morrissey tries something new on each of them, and you’ve got to commend the man for staying on his toes. You’ll be surprised at how similar 2006’s “The Youngest Was The Most Loved” is to 1995’s “Do Your Best and Don’t Worry.” I thought You Are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors were, while good, pretty boring efforts from Morrissey. It’s because I’ve already heard him mix the torch song with indie muscle flex. He pumped up his mid-90’s slump in his mid ‘00s comeback. And one wonders why Morrissey didn’t include the stellar b-side “I Can Have Both” on the original release of Maladjusted. Or “Honey You Know Where to Find Me” on Southpaw. For how mid-career these albums are, there’s classic Morrissey here. I always argue with fans about these two records. They’re great, despite many persuasive faults.
But it’s 2013, and it’s been a terrible year for Morrissey. Tour cancellations, personal and family illness, political gaffs. Heavy, unrelenting, and muscular songwriting really brought Morrissey to something new on 2009’s Years of Refusal, but the loss of Alain Whyte as a live member of the band hasn’t been without its pitfalls. He’s overcompensating now, as evinced in the beyond mediocre tracks of 2011: “People Are The Same Everywhere,” “Action is my Middle Name,” and “The Kid’s a Looker.” “Action” is too much like “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” and “People” is just pure laziness. And, as far as releases go, it’s patronizing, almost insulting: two greatest hits collections and an overpriced reissue of Kill Uncle, smattered with deluxe singles that barely make up for how middling these new songs are. Morrissey, are you even trying?
I expect that the next Morrissey record will garner the same kind of reputation that Southpaw and Maladjusted have. Us fans will find kernels of classic Morrissey inside of them, but I’m predicting he’s going to retreat into hiatus after its release, if he releases anything at all. I think the saddest thing about all of this is how tangible Morrissey’s apathy is in 2013. He’s apathetic about being, well, Morrissey, and not in his signature camped up way. He’s legitimately tired of being himself. And I don’t blame him: the recording business that Morrissey once helped rule has completely changed. Amanda Palmer’s advice to Morrissey to crowdfund his next effort was probably the best advice he’s gotten in the last three years. But Morrissey would never do something like that. He’s too stubborn. But he’s got the right to be. He’s Morrissey.
I’m not even sure that Morrissey’s next effort will be pop music. Fans have been anxiously awaiting any news on the release of Morrissey’s autobiography, which has been delayed since 2012. And it hasn’t been good news for us fans lately: “The future is suddenly absent,” Morrissey wrote on True to You, “...and the only sensible solution seems to be the art of doing nothing.” This mid-career slump is a bit worse than his first. Morrissey had a safety net. He had a record label, he was still capable of writing those heartrending ballads and wry anthems, and he was a younger man. But I know, after he falls, he’s going to come out with something that will totally come from left field, and we’re going to celebrate Morrissey for it, as we did in 2004.
So on the 29th, I’m going to be disappointed to hear Morrissey give up on singing “Everyday is Like Sunday.” I’m going to be disappointed about how blocky and careless his band plays “Still Ill.” But will I lose my shit during “Alma Matters”" and “Maladjusted?” Fuck yes. They’re his best worst songs. They are, paradoxically, a promise of Morrissey trying something radically different once he’s out of his slump. He might be open to letting his fans in a bit more by letting us participate in his life. Maybe he’ll take a more gentler route musically. Maybe that book will come out. Either way, we all eagerly and anxiously await new Morrissey. We love you. But can you stop wearing two watches?