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‘California Son’ • Morrissey (review)

California Son
Morrissey
Etienne/BMG

 

Dear Morrissey,

You really need to pull back on all the controversial statements you make in the press.  I mean, sure, you have your hardcore fans that will follow you through any storm, but they stopped buying your albums a long time ago. Now, they’d just rather stream your music online and spend their money on bootleg t-shirts that you don’t make any money on! And if you bother to show up at a scheduled concert, they just want to hear the old stuff anyway. If you are fine with that, keep shocking the press and trying the patience of those that still support your music.  At this rate, in a few years’ time, you’re going to be begging Johnny, Andy, and Mike for a reunion because you need to pay the rent!

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed your solo output.  You continue to surprise me with some interesting musical twists and turns. And that voice of yours? It just keeps getting better and better. You still sound like the same guy on all those Smiths albums but you’re more in control of the emotional elements. Your voice now inhabits the songs instead of fighting for space above the musical racket created by your bandmates. While some might prefer your older material, I think that you still put out great records and that should be celebrated. However, people don’t listen much these days because they just don’t want to take the time to defend you anymore. They shrug it off and just say, “I prefer his stuff with The Smiths.” That is just wrong. They need to set aside social media and accept the music for what it is. You know, no strings or verbal slings attached…

So, when I heard you had an album coming called CALIFORNIA SON, I couldn’t wait to hear a new batch of Mozzer songs! When I heard it was a covers album, my stomach turned.  Fucking hell, I thought, he’s turning into Rod Stewart! Tribute/covers albums are the last resort for artists when the creative well has run dry and they have to fulfill a contract. I expect covers albums from the likes of Sheryl Crow, not from one of the most original and iconic vocalists of the ‘80s and beyond (that would be you). Yet, here we are – a covers album from you, Mr. Morrissey. I’m no Mozzer sycophant so I don’t need to buy a covers if I don’t want to. But dammit, I want to! I still believe in you, Morrissey, and while your interviews and cancelled gigs may tarnish your image, you still make great records.

And let me start this fourth paragraph by telling you just how fantastic CALIFORNIA SON actually is! You’ve done what every artist should do if they make a covers album – arrange the songs to sound true to you, the artist. From Jobriath’s “Morning Starship” to Laura Nyro/The 5th Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues,” this is one hell of  a fun album. For younger fans who may not recognize the originals, this is a seriously great way to introduce them to the songs while also making them feel like they are hearing a fresh batch of Morrissey tracks. Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” is spine-tinglingly wonderful. And to be honest, I’ve not taken a deep dive into the Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, and Tim Hardin catalogs so those sound remarkably fresh to my ears – and they feel like classic Morrissey. With tracks penned by Melanie, Bob Dylan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and more, this might be your most consistently excellent album in a few years. Mind you, your most recent albums have been fab but this is the one that I think will bring some of your fans back to the fold and maybe make a few new ones as well. That is, if they take the time to listen.

Maybe the fact that the album features musical assistance from Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day), Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (Jellyfish), Petra Haden, LP, and others might inspire some folks to dive headfirst into the album… and your catalog!

So, Morrissey, if I can be completely honest, you need to focus on the music and forget about titillating the media. And don’t call in sick during your next tour because your fanbase needs you. They are the reason you can still tour as Morrissey and earn a living.  You still make a difference in so many lives.  With CALIFORNIA SON, you’ve proven that you’ve not lost your ability to make a great record. So, take that energy and use it wisely. With great power comes great responsibility.

 

Your pal,

Stephen

 

P.S. Did I mention that bit about not saying anything controversial to the press and please show up at your scheduled concerts?

 

 

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