Morrissey is once again everywhere. He still has the ability to inspire loathing, ridicule, or devotion. But does he have anything left to say, 20 years on?
After a seven-year hiatus Morrissey, former lead singer with the 1980s guitar band The Smiths and the undisputed king of introspective indie, is back. His new solo album You Are The Quarry goes on sale on Monday. The first single from the album, a Labour/Tory/monarchy-baiting song Irish Blood, English Heart, is selling well in the UK and receiving, in Morrissey's own words, "blanket airplay" in the US.
Morrissey gave his first full-on TV interview in 17 years to Jonathan Ross on Friday night. He is performing in his hometown of Manchester for the first time in 12 years next Saturday.
And he has been charged with curating the prestigious Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall next month, for which he has drawn together an eclectic bunch of performers, including pre-punk glam band The New York Dolls and quintessential northern English playwright Alan Bennett.
If You Are The Quarry - described both as "one of the very best things Morrissey has done since The Smiths" and as "an album that sounds incredibly dated" - shows that Morrissey can still sing to us, can he still speak to us? Does the man described by music journalist Paul Morley as "the poet of a generation" have anything distinct or relevant left to say?
Morrissey first arrived on the music scene in 1982/83 as the gladioli-waving, bespectacled and bequiffed frontman of The Smiths. With hits that included Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore and Girlfriend in a Coma, The Smiths became a byword for student miserablism and bedsit blues.
When Morrissey sang "I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside", on the 1986 track Unloveable, he seemed to speak for a generation of angsty teens who didn't quite fit in in Thatcher's Britain.
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Twenty years later, Morrissey, now 45 and living in Clark Gable's former house in the hills of LA, still sounds like a tortured soul. He stills sings of being an outsider, of the evils of eating meat, and of "reflecting from my deathbed". Does Morrissey matter anymore - or is it time he got over himself?
According to Mike Spendlove, a 19-year-old fan from Leicestershire currently studying at Manchester University, Morrissey "does still speak to his fans, and also for them in many respects". Spendlove says Morrissey songs aren't all about the angst.
"There's a lot of ambiguity in his lyrics, which is quite deliberate - so a song can mean totally different things to a gay teenager in the closet, a married couple in their thirties, or a hetero teen out on the pull."
From the other side of the Atlantic Jason Newman, a 25-year-old investment banker in New York City, agrees. "Lyrically, Morrissey combines hysterical, scathing lyrics with self-deprecating melancholia that anyone who has been a teenager can relate to."
Newman says Morrissey's voice has a "very soothing quality that speaks to you, not at you - similar to an uncle who knows exactly what to say at the right time. In that sense he is still relevant to young people, and not just angry for the sake of being angry."
Bland and uninteresting
Neil Davenport, a music journalist and sociology lecturer based in London, says Morrissey is indeed "relevant", perhaps more than he has ever been - and that is what makes him so bland and uninteresting today. "Because so much of contemporary society actually sounds like Morrissey, he is bound to sound rather dull by now", he says.
Davenport argues that Morrissey-style introspection and admitting to feeling low has become mainstream, everywhere from confessional TV to angsty young rockers like Avril Lavigne (and not-so-young rockers like Alanis Morrissette).
Vegetarianism meanwhile, which may have been a relatively radical stance to take in 1985, when The Smiths released Meat Is Murder, has become a mainstream choice among today's food-conscious and animal-pitying teens.
You Are The Quarry features an anti-Bush track called America Is Not The World - hardly an edgy sentiment at a time when Michael Moore's Bush-bashing books top the bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
So for all Morrissey's claims to outsider status, says Davenport, in fact the misfit fits in better than he ever did. "His misanthropic view of humans and his childish sentimentality towards animals is more 'relevant' to contemporary attitudes - but is that the purpose of artists and pop stars, to be relevant? I don't think it is.
"In the sense of pop star as agent provocateur, Morrissey is irrelevant or at least not very interesting. You Are The Quarry sounds as dated as a Johnny Hates Jazz album."
Michael Deacon, reviews editor of lads' weekly magazine Zoo, disagrees. Deacon was two years old when The Smiths had their first hit; now 23 he owns every Smiths and Morrissey album and describes himself as a devoted fan.
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"I think Morrissey can say things that are new and interesting precisely because of all the 'depressed introspectives' clogging up the charts", says Deacon.
"Next to them, Morrissey is so funny and vivid. Go on, try to remember something witty Chris Martin [lead singer of Coldplay] has ever said. In fact, try to remember anything Chris Martin has said. The most entertaining thing he's ever come out with is the name of his baby...."
So is Morrissey the kindly uncle of pop who can still soothe angst-ridden teenagers, or an 80s has-been who should ditch the introspection and do something less boring instead?
Neil Davenport reckons Morrissey could "only say something new or interesting if he engaged with the world a bit more". "Perhaps if he declared himself a football fan or in favour of animal experiments...that's the kind of reinvention Moz needs."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
It took the whole of the article before somebody finally said that Morrissey is funny. Surely that is the thing that all his critics miss out on. They must have a really gloomy outlook on life not to see the humour.
Steve Riley, England
I disagree that Morrisey's performance on Jonathon Ross was arrogant or weird. I think if Ross had concentrated a little more on engaging Morrisey in conversation rather than touting his own comical talent we all would have had a more interesting interview. Ross can treat people with respect on his film programme, why can't he do that with a guest like Morrissey. It's great to see Morrissey back here. My god, look at the type of music we have had to put with since he left.
Paul Byrne, Manchester UK
I like the new Morrissey album, however find it very hypocritical. If he thinks america is such an arrogant uneducated country, why has he chosen to live there for the past 11 years???
What made and still makes Morrissey so important is less his distinct brand of melancholy but his ability to describe and conjure nebulous feelings with devestating accuracy. How Soon Is Now's unbearable poignancy, or Everyday is Like Sunday's call for the atom bomb are prime examples of a unique and compelling lyrical quirkiness and powerful empathy that ensure Morrissey will always, always remain relevant and loved. And lest we forget that voice, so soothing and recognizable. As a teenager with eclectic musical and cultural tastes - I'm certainly no indie kid sitting in my attic in an anorak - I am sure that Morrissey will always have a place in the music fan's heart, regardless of age and trend. Long live Moz!
Why the fuss? Because he's one of the best lyricists to ever come out of the UK. His songs can provoke the listener in so many different ways unlike many of his contemporaries.
Andrew, Manchester, UK
It's clear why he hasn't done a tv interview for 17 years: they don't suit him. That same bitterness and inability to compromise a somewhat annoying personality, have also led him to create some of the great music and lyrics I've heard. I think I'd rather not be a genius, though, and get on better with people.
Matthew Revell, Wolverhampton, UK
What's all this about The Smiths and Morrissey being so depressing! Listen to the lyrics - they are hilarious. Their music has never made me feel depressed.
Michael Deacon hits the nail on the head when he refers to Morrissey's sense of humour. It is the humour and wit with which he tempers the angst which sets Morrissey far above the self-indulgent tosh of the likes of Alanis Morrissette and a lot of Radiohead.
Dauvit Alexander, Scotland
I watched Morrissey on Jonathan Ross's show last Friday. I thought he was quite rude and totally up himself but he demonstrated what an excellent chat-show host Jonathan Ross is - he managed to keep the dialogue going (if not smoothly-flowing) and he managed to keep a straight face throughout. If Morrissey didn't want to talk, why go on a chat show for goodness sake? "I never perform, only seals perform" - what a load of old tosh. It's one thing to be an angry young man when you are young, poor and living in a hovel, but exactly what does the LA resident, middle-aged, multi-millionaire Mr Morrissey have to be angry about these days? I think his whole life is one big performance, pretending to be so depressed and hostile, when he has such a lovely, comfortable life. He portrays himself as political, but admits he never bothers to vote.
The man is a national treasure. He'll be remembered as one of the great British eccentrics and poets for a long time after he's gone.
I didn't realise it was Morrissey's 'job' to be interesting and relevant. He can sing about anything he likes, like anyone else, and he is perfectly free to express whatever views he wants to. Or do songwriters now come under EU legislation?
John Whapshott, England
One has to agree that Morrissey is a masterful lyricist, but the article keeps mentioning the 'fact' that Morrissey can sing. Personally I've been pleased by the abscence of his unimaginitive tuneless droning for the past decade or so. To say he can sing is like saying a Stylophone is a grand piano...
The reluctant Zeus of the Manc pop pantheon, Mozza lives on. Go back and revisit "meat is murder" as real and raw as the day it was released. Why hasn't Birmingham or London produced anyone of this stature?
The Emperor has no clothes, folks: Morrissey was untalented 20 years ago when he hooted his rubbish on TOTP. He's just as bad today. And as for his lovingly maintained mystery - give me a break. He is a Sphinx without a secret.
Morrissey attracts obssessive fans because he is an obssessive fan himself. He inspires devotion in people who are completely in love with pop and rock music. And that's not a bad thing.
David T, UK
It's cool to have views and opinions but did you see him on Johnathan Ross, saying: "Theres no performance it's all real"? And how arrogant to stick his fingers in his ears at Harry Hills impression of him! His music in The Smiths was great but as a guy you have to say he is perhaps the least charismatic front man of a band ever!
Ben Wilson, UK
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