Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 76)
By 2004 Morrissey had been musically dormant for 7 years, with 1997’s just-okay Maladjusted
failing to perform commercially while bands that simply wouldn’t exist without his influence (Jarvis Cocker owes him spiritual royalties) cleaned up. So Morrissey did the smart thing and fell back, biding his time until he could mount a roaring comeback.
And if there’s one thing in particular to applaud You Are the Quarry
for, it’s that Morrissey really does roar. With the exact kind of piss and swill you’d hope from someone that’s been in this game for decades, he rails against America, England, Jesus, Camden, crashing bores, lazy dykes, and, most of all, himself. Vocally, he’s as much of a treasure as he ever was, a magnificently preserved tambre that delivers crippling insults on a silver platter.
That voice can croon almost anything and make it worth hearing but Morrisey is writing with fire here. Lead single “Irish Blood, English Heart” is far from a safe bid for radio play, using only a small handful of lyrics to take England’s archaic monarchy, along with its glory days nostalgia and latent racism, to task. This is right after he describes America as “Steely-blue eyes with no love in them/Scan the world/And a humourless smile/With no warmth within”. Later he uses an indelible melody to forgive Jesus for making him such a self deprecated wrench, culminating in the ultimate Morrissey bridge: “Monday, humiliation/Tuesday, suffocation/Wednesday, condescension/Thursday, is pathetic/By Friday, life has killed me.”
Settling into the crotchety old man stage of his career, Moz levels a finger at “Lock-jawed pop-stars/Thicker than pig-***/Nothing to convey” in the middle of a song about how incredibly boring everyone else is. At first he’s convinced he’s one of these “Crashing Bores” but by the end of the song he’s convinced himself otherwise, “You don’t understand/I am not one of them” before slipping back into familiar Morrissey for the close (“Take me in your arms and love me”). His description of Camden (“Come Back to Camden”) as a place “Where taxi drivers never stop talking” is so uniquely evocative of a certain circle of hell that you feel Morrissey's despair long before he moans “Here you’ll find, despair and I”, the beautiful sweep of strings mocking him all the while. “The First of the Gang to Die” handily dismantles the song’s romantic criminal story during the bridge (“And he stole from the rich, and the poor/And the not very rich, and the very poor”) before leaving us with a little romance (“And he stole our hearts away!”) to close what might be Quarry
’s most enduring track.
You Are the Quarry
producer, the late Jerry Finn, crafts the sonic approximation of a business card, clean and professional. Aside from a few interesting touches, like the flute and sonar pings of “I’m Not Sorry”, Finn creates too much space for Morrissey to shine. Now, trying to outshine Morrissey was always a hopeless task but Finn’s work on Quarry
makes you appreciate just how skilled the rest of The Smiths were at filling in every possible crevice around Morrissey with their own unique contributions. The band at Moz’s back are content with bland power chord riffing and mild electronic flourishes. For all I can tell, it’s the same group of guys that laid down Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and hit the door.
“The teenagers who love you/They will wake up, yawn and kill you,” Morrissey states plainly on closing track “You Knew I Couldn’t Last”, “Loaded and aiming right between your eyes/CDs and T-shirts, promos and God knows/You know I couldn't last.” Nice of Moz to leave a little warning for the lock jawed pop stars of the world even if it goes unheeded. Indeed by 2004 Morrissey had seen enough of the pop game that he was in a great position to start dispensing advice and even though nobody can last, not even Morrissey, they can always make a comeback. You Are the Quarry
proved to be a massively successful one for our pope of mope, every single released from it made the top 10 in the UK. This success would kick off an unexpected (but certainly not unwelcome) renaissance for Morrissey, a time that would find him putting out some of his best solo work (along with fighting off Smiths reunions of course) and taking to the stage as an aged bachelor, somehow just as idiosyncratically sexy as he was when he was an uncouth youth. Today, You Are the Quarry
remains a melodically lush, clever, and wise rampage on everyone and everything that might have stood in Morrissey’s way. Even Jesus.