REVIEW: Morrissey – California Son

Morrissey. Morrissey. Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrisey.

All to be read accompanied by the heavy shaking of a head. I was once a fan. I would go as far to say a great fan. I would go as far to say I once loved the man, in my own way. Certainly, he’s involved in the production of music that has, at various points, meant a lot to me. He fascinated me. I read those NME interviews and they felt like electricity. I defended him when he draped himself in a flag and flirted with what I felt at the time was ambiguity. Ah but he’s a provocateur, I think I said.

But no more. These days he spouts the kind of ignorant, errant shit you expect from a Daily Mail reading ex-pat comfortably ensconced many miles from the reality of life in dismal old England. He defends Tommy Robinson (FFS). He wears tiny badges that admit his attraction to far right political parties (FFS). All of those quotes (from many, many years ago) about disliking black music, finding reggae vile and the Chinese a subspecies – well, now, of course, it’s a little like watching Daenerys burn the Tarleys. Of course she went mad. It was all there, staring us in the face. Morrissey is as dirty a racist as Farage. It’s sickening – and impossible to hear anything he does outside of that filter – impossible to unknow what is now glaringly obvious – impossible to see him as anything other than a despicable poster boy for all of the confused, ignorant, stupid pond dwelling scum busy telling people who have lived here all of their lives that they should go home.

But hey! A covers album! Curiously described by Morrissey as a protest album. With non-protest covers thrown in for good measure. Things to know up front: like his last (sour, dreadful) album of actual Morrissey songs, the arrangements continue to welcome the kinds of instruments you would have been unlikely to hear on albums by The Smiths; unlike his last album, this is all relatively upbeat, polite, pleasant even (for the most part).

He’s covering Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and Buffy Saint-Marie and Carly Simon. If I’d bought this album a decade ago, there are songs here I would have got along with (Laura Nyro’s ‘Wedding Bell Blues’, for instance, which features Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong, or Tim Hardin’s ‘Lenny’s Tune’, which isn’t a million miles away from the duet Morrissey did with Siouxsie Sioux a few years back). But after you hit the Dylan cover, ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’ (track three), which was originally about the assassination of a civil rights activist and the trial of the person that killed him and which appears to be a plea for tolerance that recalls nothing so much as Trump saying there were bad folks on both sides – you hear the rest of the album with a furiously knotted stomach. It doesn’t matter how jaunty ‘Suffer Little Children’ is, how apparently heartfelt ‘Days of Decision’ seems to be – you can’t hear anything but disgusting racism oozing into your ears.

Will Self has (now famously) said that while not everyone who voted to leave the EU was racist, all racists voted to leave the EU. The same rule sort of applies here: not all of these songs seem to espouse a racist world-view; but all these songs are sung by someone who espouses a racist world-view. To buy this record, to listen to this record, is to condone the ignorant, wrong-headed, misinformed, fake news spurting bullshit of a Tommy Robinson supporter.

Even if Morrissey is just reading the wrong newspapers and listening to the wrong people and believing internet bullshit and conspiracies in a way that should inspire our sympathy – like, say, Ishiguro’s Lord Darlington in The Remains of the Day – the day has now passed when we can let it go and separate the art from the actions of the man. Simon Hattenstone said he was done. So are we. Fuck off Morrissey. Keep your poisonous opinions to yourself. Skulk off back to your California mansion, son. Lock the door. Drop the blinds. Your legacy is for shit. The world isn’t listening any more.

Words by Pete Wild.

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