Tonight’s Friday night music open thread is a tribute to Morrissey who released his new album California Sun today. He’s been under attack for his pro-freedom views, opposition to jihad terror and sharia oppression. I urge everyone to download or, depending on your level of coolness, get the vinyl. I am a huge Morrissey fan and have been since my twenties.
Morrissey’s new album features 12 covers that span some of the greatest tunes of the ’60s and ’70s. Among them are songs by classic acts Joni Mitchell, Dionne Warwick and Bob Dylan. Petra Haden, LP, Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear, Ariel Engle of Broken Social Scene, Sameer Gadhia of Young The Giant, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Lydia Night of The Regrettes also feature. Morrissey never does covers. So why these protest and love songs? Perhaps because these are his musical heroes or maybe because all of the songwriters took pro-human stances on the issues they’re singing about. So does Morrissey but the left elite are too far gone to see it.
Listen to the whole album here: https://morrissey.lnk.to/sonID
For a guy who rarely records other artists’ work, Morrissey truly sinks his teeth into this past specific moment (loosely between 1964 and 1972) in much the same way Quentin Tarantino is looking to the same time period, and with a similar nod to Hollywood’s Hills. The time-traveling “California Son” brings weird brio, rich melodramatics and full-blooded vigor, all possibly commenting on the present, with a wink.
Roy Orbison, Jr. said in a statement that the he reminded him of his own father. “We love Morrissey! Morrissey’s hair, and melancholy and poetic lyrics always reminded me of my dad. His version of ‘It’s Over’ is great,” Orbison, Jr. said.
Morrissey has always worn his influences on his black-on-the-outside sleeves. For as much as he crowed about the New York Dolls and the Cramps in his youth, his music both with and without the Smiths has reflected more erudite lyricists with an overall lighter musical touch. For California Son, the Pope of Mope has picked 12 lilting tales of injustice and unrequited love by some of his favorite artists and re-orchestrated them for his voice, improving some and turning others into head scratchers.
The best here are the ones with adventurous arrangements. “Some Say I Got Devil” was originally an eerie, self-reflective folk number by Melanie, but producer Joe Chiccarelli has helped Moz turn it into a dramatic, almost Ennio Morricone–inflected expression of existential pain. Where Melanie sounded scared and disappointed, Morrissey sounds confidently resigned to a life of disappointment (no surprises there). Similarly, he and his band have beefed up Joni Mitchell’s arrangement of “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” — a hypnotic track off her underrated The Hissing of Summer Lawns LP — and Morrissey croons it like a modern easy-listening number, echoing Mitchell’s “you’re darn right” rejoinders with extra conviction.
How better to explain Moz’s lustrous Laura Nyro-written “Wedding Bell Blues,” its choir of carousels — sung in part by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong — and its “Bill, I love you so / I always will” lyrics? Is Morrissey tipping his hat to the approval of same-sex marriage (in his 2013 book, “Autobiography,” he acknowledges sexual relationships with men and women), or just hewing toward camp, as the tune, like the entire album,is epically overproduced by Joe Chiccarelli?
A similar digital sheen is layered over the spaced-out chamber-glam of “Morning Starship” (from Pennsylvania glitter rocker Jobriath), a chintzy syn-brassy take on the insistently ascending AM radio staple “Lady Willpower” (Gary Puckett & the Union Gap!!), and a plush-ly purple “It’s Over” from Roy Orbison. Burt Bacharach’s Brazilian-inspired, two-octave “Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets” doesn’t have the same cosmopolitan poperatic sass for Moz as it did Dionne Warwick. Then again, little does.
These pop songs, classic or not (Jobriath all but died in obscurity), are given impactful, clarion-clear renditions from Morrissey either in a fit of pique or the throes of l’amour.
What wind up as more interesting then, in a lyrical, political sense, even when they don’t exactly work, is Morrissey’s choice of socially conscious tracks, especially when these anthems are pushed up against his own pointed (and not always popular) personal rhetoric.
Take his version of Bob Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” Written about the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and showing the author’s hand in solidarity with black America and the whole of the civil rights movement, the song has Dylan pointing fingers at rich, white bosses everywhere for creating a smoke screen with the assassination. Morrissey’s glossy, Celtic take is certainly ferocious, and even cutting, if not a bit cold and distant.
[political propaganda redacted]
Tim Hardin’s “Lenny’s Tune” is an ode to that late folk songwriter’s pal and controversial comic Lenny Bruce, and therefore speaks indirectly to the nature of censorship. Yet this interestingly haunting cover misses what it means to truly feel an absent friend’s loss. Thankfully, Morrissey pull together lyrical intent and his own vocal prowess up by the bootstraps for Phil Ochs’ “Days of Decisions.” Speaking to “the mobs of anger roamin’ the street / From the rooftops they are aimin’ at the police on the beat,” Moz and Ochs could be talking about last night’s news. Or tonight’s, or tomorrow’s.
Committing to kitschy ’60s bliss as much as that era’s real or imagined war zones allows Morrissey and “California Son” a chance to find a (literal) voice in a way he hasn’t in ages. It would just be an even greater feat if Morrissey could make more of its finer musical moments jibe with his personal vibes.
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