Morrissey, “I Am Not a Dog on a Chain”

Morrissey
I Am Not a Dog on a Chain
BMG
7/10

Morrissey has never exactly been pleased with the way things are, whether it be affairs of the heart or the state of the nation. That he’s let his misanthropic ideas beyond the lovelorn and lyrical fester, bubble, and boil over into some truly tragic political public opinions has been both ugly and unnecessary. To hear him speak is to long for his silence. 

To hear him sing, however, in that familiar British bellow—caustic, witty tales of missed opportunities, of artifice and chicanery, of isolation beyond the emotional, of torrid and tawdry romances, and of the breadth of possible dissatisfactions, all with a dash of black humor—well, that’s our Morrissey. And it feels good.  

After a palate-cleansing covers album that showed he could sing so many of his old favorites with sentiment, nuance, and strength rather than cynicism, Morrissey has added the very real rancor of aging to his lyrical palette on his thirteenth solo album, I Am Not a Dog on a Chain. Maybe this is what life is like once you turn sixty, grousing about how time “will slide up and shaft you.” Then again, Morrissey has always seemed old and grumpy. Perhaps that’s why this album offers up some of his best performances, wryest lyrics, and most experimental arrangements in years. Moz has finally grown into the old man he always threatened to become.

Crooning about one’s potential for suicide (“If you’re gonna kill yourself / then to save face / get on with it”) on “Jim Jim Falls” might seem like a trademark bit of cutting humor. That Morrissey and producer Joe Chiccarelli use a jungle beat and an electronic sonic wash to give that death disco its luster goes beyond his usual spindly guitar-rock sound. The neo-power ballad “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?” (“know” about the character’s drug abuse, it seems) builds to a crescendo similar to several of California Son’s best moments (such as Gary Puckett’s “Lady Willpower”). Only here on “Bobby,” Chiccarelli’s arranged tones are rich with warm reeds and Hammond organ, and provide a wonderfully woeful wall of sound for Morrissey to lean upon and wail. A full-blooded Technicolor glow—abetted by the blowsy background vocals of R&B queen Thelma Houston—applies to “Knockabout World,” an odd laudatory rouser which celebrates its subject matter when Morrissey sings “Congratulations—you have survived,” and “You’re OK by me.” Is it celebration or snark? Or is it all the same when it comes to Moz?

While further sonic tests are part of the genuinely goofy “Darling, I Hug a Pillow” and “The Truth About Ruth” (each given Mexicali and Latin touches), plus the spaced-out “The Secret of Music” (Moz ticking off a list of instruments to the accompaniment of wobbly noises), the heart of I Am Not a Dog on a Chain comes in its troubled traditions. Bitching about the media after announcing he doesn’t read newspapers (“Love Is on Its Way Out”)? Check. Animal rights (the title track)? Check. Tearing down the upper classes (“What Kind of People Live in These Houses”)? Check.

Occasionally, the record feels long and repetitively mopey, despite being only eleven tracks long. Luckily, Morrissey still gets out in the nick of time, making a grand exit on the mistily melancholy “My Hurling Days Are Done,” wearing his newest obsession on his sleeve. “Oh time, oh time, no friend of mine,” he moan-croons. Somehow, with Morrissey still griping, all feels momentarily right in the world. 

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