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Morrissey's Magnum Opus,
This review is from: You Are The Quarry (Audio CD)
Lyrically, You Are The Quarry finds Morrissey's writing considerably more direct, to-the-point and 'in-your-face' than on previous albums - dare I say Meat Is Murder after the fragile poetry of The Smiths' eponymous first album? As a statement of uncompromising intent, the opening America Is Not the World, for example, rails against Bush, rapacious capitalism and bigotry in Morrissey's adopted homeland (though perversely - and entirely typically - after cataloguing a litany of hates, he then proceeds to offer his heart). Track 6, The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores, again finds Morrissey shooting directly from the hip and the closing You Know I Couldn't Last continues the theme vis-à-vis the music business. "Evil legal eagles...accountants rampant...northern leeches": one cannot but want the roll-call of the detested to go on and on. Despite the familiarity of Morrissey's lyrical themes, only very rarely ("as sick as I am...sick and depraved" on Track 7) does his writing verge on self-parody.
If pushed, I would cite First Of The Gang To Die as the album's standout track. To an infectious guitar accompaniment, Morrissey updates Graham Greene's Brighton Rock (from Vauxhall and I) with 'Hector' as the new anti-hero. Continuing his well-documented love/hate flirtation with violence and street thuggery, Morrissey moves the action away from the south coast of England to the gangs and gun culture of Los Angeles and tells his tale with not a little humour ("a bullet in his gullet") and remarkable attention to minutiae (who else would think - or dare - to mention a Home For The Blind?). In Morrissey's world of ambiguity, remarkable contradictions abound. Hector himself, a Lost Lad to be sure ("he stole from the rich and the poor"), was nevertheless an object of affection ("he stole all hearts away"); the thugs who live and die among "smashed human bone" are called the 'Pretty Petty Thieves' - recalling perhaps the brutes of A Clockwork Orange who perpetrated their vile deeds to the music of Beethoven.
Whisper this if you will, but the real joy of this album is to be found as much in the music as in the lyrics. In the last thirteen years, co-writers Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte have become as much a part of 'Morrissey' as, well, Morrissey. Vauxhall And I benefited from an inspired choice of producer in Steve Lillywhite, whose lush guitars softened the Morrissey sound after the necessary harshness of Your Arsenal, '70s glam references, the brutality of the terraces and the rest (necessary, that is, after the washed-out limpness of Kill Uncle). With Quarry, further inspiration in the form of Jerry Finn has again reaped its reward. The sheer menace of the guitars in Irish Blood, English Heart (with a fabulous roving synth to finish) strengthens the vitriol evident in Morrissey's lyrics and, while the guitar/piano dichotomy in I Couldn't Last is a touch too stark for me - well, what a blisteringly raw guitar sound it is that Finn has conjured up!
But it's the sheer breadth of musical styles that is so wonderfully refreshing. The two singles Irish Blood and First Of The Gang are in The Smiths' mould of classic three-minute pop 45s. Elsewhere, the mood is more laid back: the introduction of keyboards as a major instrument has also added breadth and depth both on record and particularly on stage. As promised, there are gorgeous hooks to be found all over the place (check out I Have Forgiven Jesus, for example, or I Like You); but Quarry contains songs that grow and grow, revealing hidden nuances that make every play a revelation. Particularly effective slow-burners are I'm Not Sorry, (the most understated song on the album, with a great bass line to complement Morrissey's je ne regrette rien sentiments) and Come Back To Camden, which (whisper this as well) both musically and lyrically brings to mind with its wistful, reflective feel Queen's A Winter's Tale, written in the very months before Freddie Mercury's death.
More varied musically than 1987's Viva Hate, infinitely better produced and lyrically more uplifting than 1991's Kill Uncle, less dark though no less angry than 1995's Southpaw Grammar (which Morrissey recently cited - presumably in jest - as his favourite solo album) and more self-confident than 1997's rather unfairly maligned Maladjusted, You Are the Quarry represents the pinnacle of Morrissey's solo career to date - surpassing even 1994's masterpiece Vauxhall And I.