One of my reasons for my antipathy towards Morrissey (and the Smiths) is the music, and I must say the music here is much artier and weirder than I was expecting. (I think we can thank Vini Reilly for that. He’s a musically interesting guy in ways that Street and Morrissey normally are not.)
But the lyrics remain a problem. It’s not that Morrissey is a bad lyricist – of course he isn’t. It’s that I don’t like the guy and the lyrics here do nothing to make me like him more. This is a man with the ability to write really great lyrics, but he is so caught up in himself and his feelings – which are always more legitimate than anyone else’s – that he’s insufferable.
Let’s take “Bengali in Platforms” as the most egregious example of Moz being Moz on this record. Moz fans will tell you it’s not racist, that Moz is expressing empathy. But it’s a curious kind of empathy that projects your own emotions on to other people, rather than trying to understand their point of view. Morrissey tells someone who doesn’t look like him that, because Morrissey is mopey, depressed and angry about everything, everyone else must be too, and so immigration is a bad idea, or something like that. (The condescension in “shelve your western plans and understand” is just dripping from his mouth. Moz knows what it’s like to be an outsider in Britain. You can’t possibly want to go through half of what he did.) Moz can’t imagine this person wanting to live in England for a better life, or for whatever reason. Moz can’t empathize because, well, he’s fucking Morrissey, and he’s smarter (and feels more deeply) than the rest of us.
Morrissey demands understanding from others (“Suedehead” for example) but refuses to extend it to others. What a piece of shit.
But the melodies are catchy (as always), the songs have more muscle to them (at times) than I ever would have suspected – from this man who claims to love early punk music but really doesn’t want to sound like a punk band – and, as much as I don’t like the lyrics, I must say that they are literate and often clever. (He is a good writer of lyrics, I just don’t like the perspective.)
So I give this a grudging rating because if you think Morrissey is this deep, complex character (and that these lyrics aren’t confessional, as they are), then what comes out of his mouth is less insufferable.
Never forget: Morrissey is an asshole. He’s always been an asshole. Just because we’re all trying to be more sensitive of other’s subjective experiences doesn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole in the 1980s.
PS: In many ways, Morrissey’s subjectivism exposes problems with radical subjectivism. When we elevate our own personal experience to the universal, it’s pretty damn hard to relate to everyone else – who are both similar and different to us, and experience the world in a necessarily different way – which is a requirement of living in human society.