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“DD Review: Morrissey – California Son.”

Score: 10/10

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Track two on Morrissey’s new covers album, “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow,” poses an interesting discussion point, particularly in terms of the overall message of the Smiths/Morrissey catalogue that’s accumulated through the years (in no part of which Morrissey is the primary composer of music, interestingly) [1]. As Wikipedia reports, the song is originally by Joni Mitchell, but you certainly wouldn’t bat an eyelash to see godfather of doom Morrissey given credit for it, elsewhere associated with “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “November Spawned a Monster,” et. al. Right away, the contents and general concept of this song called to mind this Bukowski poem “Hug the Dark” which concludes with the lines “remain disturbed / slide”. The good news is, somebody has finally developed a paradigmatic, undeniable tenet to live by. The bad news is, it’s really hot out. And the tenet is that.

But this album, in all of its bewildering beauty, is a model of confusion-inducing semantic undulations, all over the place. Right off the bat on the tender, narrative-oriented “Morning Starship,” the events move dichotomously from the main character being in love to having suffered the loss of said love, the music therein not encompassing a corresponding change but it seems rather having always courted some distant, existential rule of the ironic beauty of such a loss. “I carry it with me everywhere I go”, sings Morrissey on this excellent opener, which reminded me of another classic in Tom Waits’ “Take it With Me.”

California Son marks the third consecutive Morrissey album to see Joe Chiccarelli’s production hands active. In a recent Gear Club Podcast episode, Chiccarelli was featured and made an interesting point that a producer, rather than trying to have a “signature sound,” should cater to the specific artist at hand in whatever way emanates as ideal at the time. Certainly, a catalogue that features both Icky Thump and this orchestral grouping of tiptoeing balladry is nothing if not sonically diverse. California Son even sounds markedly askance from Low in High School of just two years ago, which by comparison laid the guitar fuzz on pretty thick, at least by Morrissey standards. California Son turns to an eclectic mix of programmed hand claps, saxophone runs (also programmed, I do believe) and even some drapings of accordion, which close out “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” “Only a Pawn in Their Game” is likely the album’s standout and sneaks up on the listener with the sort of implicit political relevance that’s almost always preferable to the ham-handed overt attempt to explicate an exact political message within a song. Bob Dylan gets original songwriting credit for this tune.

California Son teaches us a lot, but in a way, positions as many questions as it does answer. The obvious one would be what the title is supposed to comment on. Morrissey seems to have found his true identity in the Golden State, and also in the general act of mimicry, as well. LA’s The Eagles famously covered Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55” to great notoriety (well the song itself is more famous than the accompanying fact that it’s actually by DNA a Waits dirge). So California and the art of aping seem to as well go hand in hand and a displaced identity seems to call for identity’s obfuscation, naturally enough. But Morrissey is at peace here and he sounds like every bit the Cali boy who doesn’t smoke cigarettes, his voice as clear and pristine as a glass menagerie.

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[1] It’s true: look at the credits on Wikipedia. For the Smiths work, the Cali son is credited with lyrics and Marr is given musical kudos. For “Everyday (sic) is Like Sunday,” there’s a co-writer by the name of Stephen Street and for “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get,” there’s a songwriting partner listed as Boz Boorer. A similar situation goes for all of the other material pertinent to this discussion.

 

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