I listened to The Smiths a great deal when I was younger. It was the fateful year of 2004, just before I made my first failed attempt at University that I discovered this band. It was the year of Morrissey’s big “comeback” after a seven year hiatus without a record deal. I remember seeing the odd, slightly cranky but ever so fascinating Jonathan Ross interview. Then I went to Woolworths in a small Norfolk market town and purchased You Are The Quarry. Then the melancholy blisters on the soul became seething, and for a cult band, I was lost.
I listened attentively. Who was this man who had created a mythology – a mythology designed in opposition to rock and roll cliches? A mythology that was invested in every song: a big Morrisseyesque arc hung over his every word. Would even Morrissey, eventually, find this too much? Yes, I felt he would.
You listen now to some of the songs, some of the lyrics on Years of Refusal and World Peace Is None Of Your Business and its not the same. I heard Bob Dylan once say you can’t do the same thing for ever. That is true. But surely there must be a thread of evolution, of development, of maturity? It feels as though Morrissey’s music disdains such development and relishes resting on an antiquated faux mythology. You hear the spiraling vignettes of The Smiths lyrics for instance, the thundering post-punk band with Morrissey on the spicier tracks like These Things Take Time – the angular, dynamic fire of all of these lyrical gems loaded at you with such beautiful speed. Now there seems to be a coarse emptiness, a sense of hanging together some threads of ideas for songs. And this is a shame, because the production and music on World Peace Is None of Your Business is actually quite good. I love the sound. It feels like what used to be the rarest of occasions: Morrissey is letting things lapse.
The Smiths had a sensibility and an aesthetic. Morrissey was part of that, but he was not the soul originator. In many ways his lyrics only feel like a drench of melancholy poetry because the music underneath and around them too is also melancholic and poetic. In many ways Johnny Marr was a musician-poet to the words in Morrissey’s heart. I feel this cannot be denied however heard the Morrissey name resounds.
I listen to them less these days, and I had only just noticed. And today, I started listening again with wonder to The Smiths. I like a lot of Morrissey solo, it just seems as if some of the ideas have run dry, and the rigid mythology has become an arid fix. With news of a new album I cannot help but feel excited and hope once more that there will be some lyrical gems, maybe not like before because things always change, but maybe a sign that he is singing again, composing again, feeling the world in song again, with less of the legend haunting him than is good for the pen.