Bigmouth strikes again! The media world is up in arms, ready to pounce at the Master of Miserablism and Prince of Pain. Morrissey has always been a cultural and political activist to begin with, so the sharp tongue and satirical wit that he never fails to express in his lyrics should not be any more surprising. He has the right to do that—just like anyone else—to criticize issues that afflict the world at large. After all, the miserable yet charming man does it well—music and all.
Thirty-two years since embarking on a solo career immediately after the dissolution of his legendary band The Smiths, Morrissey has long proven his eloquence and prolificacy. With a studio discography of 13 albums—from 1988’s Viva Hate to the newly dropped I Am Not a Dog on a Chain, the indefatigable wordsmith is really someone to contend with. He is truly a class of his own, already up there in the pantheon of great songwriters in Alternative Rock music, alongside the likes of David Bowie (27 albums), Elvis Costello (30), and former Soft Cell singer Marc Almond (22).
Released on March 20th, 2020, via BMG Records, and produced by Joe Chiccarelli—who was at helm since Mr. Steven’s last three offerings—Morrissey’s new napalm bomb is a worthy addition to his sonic arsenal. Derived from the Bob Dylan song “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” which Morrissey covered in his last album, California Son of 2019, I Am Not a Dog on a Chain starts with the proud, chin-up, scathing sneer of “Jim Jim Falls.” A dark and ominous, ripe with orchestral melodies and synth elements, the lyrics are unapologetically stark and harsh yet sensibly true! “If you’re gonna jump, then jump / Don’t think about it / If you’re gonna run home and cry / Then don’t waste my time / If you’re gonna kill yourself / Then, for God’s sake / Just kill yourself!”
“Jim Jim Falls” is Morrissey’s song for the so-called whiny and woke generation, who are more talk than act and more rant than strike. In fact, this first track is an enough reason to go out amidst the community quarantine and buy the record; that is, if the stores are not closed. Or, better yet, order online while supplies last.
The bomber opening track is then followed by the undulating and rhythmically cascading, straightaway-on-one’s-face sentiment of “Love Is on Its Way Out,” which at first glance may sound romantic but is actually political and environmental: “Did you see the headlines? / Did you see the nerve-gassed children crying? / Did you see the sad rich—hunting down, shooting down elephants and lions / Love is tired / Love is broken….” Then there is the raging bull that is “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?”—a Gospel/Blues-inspired track; the album’s first single, featuring vocals by the American R&B singer Thelma Houston; followed by the equally unrelenting title-track, swaying and swinging coolly, obviously teasing and taunting whoever Morrissey has written the song for: “There is no point in being nice!”
Morrissey with his gang—Boz Boorer (guitar), Jesse Tobias (guitar), Matt Walker (drums), Gustavo Manzur (keyboards), and Mando Lopez (bass)—then treats the listener to something musically relaxed and atmospheric—“What Kind of People Live in These Houses?” and “Knockabout World”—but still lyrically brazen. The ensuing horn-laden “Darling, I Hug a Pillow” is sweet and tender, reminiscent of Morrissey’s early works, such as “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” and “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.” With “Once I Saw the River Clean,” Morrissey then takes the listener to Synthpop realms—textured, washed, subtly foreboding, but hopeful.
With Manzur’s piano prowess and Walker’s percussive creativity in “The Truth about Ruth,” Morrissey is then able to showcase once again his flair for Vaudeville balladry. The theatrical antics then continues with “The Secret of Music.” Finally, Morrissey confesses, “My Hurling Days Are Done.” Really? Only he can tell! Hope that he is only bluffing.
Morrissey is a polarizing personality, having millions of fanatic followers all over the world as well as countless critics who always declare that he is already irrelevant. However, at the end of the discourse, Morrissey’s records speak for themselves. Music is not only about the lyrics nor it is just about the instruments. With I Am Not a Dog on a Chain, Morrissey triumphs in both.
At 60, still actively writing songs and touring them, and not afraid to dip his hands and toes in the world’s affairs, Morrissey is simply unstoppable. D-Day for this victorious miserablist is still not within sight, at least not in the foreseeable future. I Am Not a Dog on a Chain is a bulletproof statement of this. That is why Cryptic Rock gives it 5 out of 5 stars.