The public’s interest in a public figure is never quite as volatile as with cult heroes. Nearly 33 years on from Viva Hate, his debut solo album, Morrissey is dealing with public backlash a few of his contemporaries have encountered. But, is anything at stake anymore?
Release of new single “Bobby, don’t you think they know?”
For a singer that doesn’t do much shouting on his records, it’s interesting to note how quickly the trained ear can pick up frustration in Morrissey’s singing voice. While I can’t claim to be in on who the character of Bobby, who they are, and what they know, the former singer of the Smiths presents the song in the regular arrogance and passion that he has displayed on tour and on record.
The title of his soon to be released new album I’m not a dog on a chain further found the claim that Morrissey is in fighting spirit. Announced song titles like Darling, I hug a pillow and Love is on its way out could well have sounded like parody titles of Mozz songs had they not been announced officially by the singer.
In fact, a recent NME article accused Morrissey of having fallen into parody. The piece goes so far as to claim that most new song titles seem lifted out of a Morrissey song title generator. This is not, necessarily untrue. But, the Suedehead singer offers few surprises on the new song.
Sure, he duets with soul singer Thelma Houston, who has defended Morrissey against claims of racism. However, the Smiths’ members, Johnny Mars included, always shared affection for soul music.
Of course, Bobby don’t you think they know? is not a bad song. None of his recent albums, the all-covers California Son included, have not been poor, albeit not stellar either. Simply put, songs on caliber to Everyday is like Sunday or Last of the international playboys have been omitted. The rest of the material has been on par with Morrissey’s regular output.
If not much is different with Morrissey’s in 2020, are we to judge him exclusively or his political comments? And, if so, what about the work he did with the Smiths?
Is Morrissey’s legacy at stake?
Yes, but arguably not as a consequence of his work. The quality of the work of the Smiths is beyond much doubt. Objectively, the same can be said about Morrissey’s own solo work highlights.
Like it or not, a lot of the affection music fans have of cult figures has to do with their perception of them outside of their art. For decades, Morrissey was a symbol of various social and political causes, whether or not he had actually officially endorsed them.
Simply put, he was a poster child for those preoccupied with liberal issues and social justice. These are things that most Morrissey fans care about. And, most of his devoted fanbase is formed of people who are wholeheartedly devoted to those issues.
So, what else is at stake? Can Morrissey still become a legacy act as he seemed on the road to becoming a few years back? Yes, but angry fans are less likely to purchase tickets and merchandise.
Will his newest statements rebrand him as a fire starting provocateur? Not really. Whether you agreed with him, or not, the singer has always enjoyed this kind of attention.
Has he ever backed his comments or assumed responsibility for them? Whether you agreed with his statements or not, the answer is “no”. Much like other artists taking a radical political stance, Morrissey has done so in words alone. While few expected him to be protesting in the streets, surely it lends to the idea that he has always seen the world from a comfortable, risk-free vantage point.
Finally, and most importantly, will a great album by Morrissey be judged objectively by the press that has now, largely, turned their back on him? Not the initial reviews, no. But, if this should ever happen, the critics and music fans will likely award his new music a good amount of attention.
Sadly, by showing a lack of empathy for people that, rightly or wrongly, have felt betrayed by his actions, Morrissey has painted himself into a corner. He has adopted the role of victim, which, in a world full of artists whose backs are firmly against the wall, seems contrived coming from a musician that has enjoyed enduring fame and success for 40 years.
The statues are already up and there’s no use taking them down. What we know now, we mostly knew before. The legacy exists and it was both impressive, as well as tarnished well before Morrissey’s political endorsements. There’s little at stake and this is saddest of all.