After one full listen to "I Am Not a Dog on a Chain," I wondered what the writing process was for this record? More specifically, who were the writers behind this refreshing batch of songs, and did Moz work more openly with these authors than in the past? Usually, with Marr, Street, Nevin, White, Boorer, and Cobrin, the songs were brought to him with the arrangements in place. Now, with Tobias, Lopez, and Manzur at the helm, I'm wondering if the songwriting was more collaborative? Boz didn't write any of the songs this time around, which leaves me scratching my head. Maybe there was a reason for that break, and maybe, that break was good for everyone involved.
Jesse Tobias became a prominent part of Morrissey's writing team during Ringleader of the Tormentors, while Gustavo Manzur and Mando Lopez made their writing debut on Low in High School, and continued residency on I Am Not a Dog on a Chain. Tobias fits in so well because his style is akin to past writers, while Manzur and Lopez bring a contemporary sound with the keyboards and synthesizers. Used a million different ways, these tools have created a new blanket of sounds for a man that has so desperately needed a style upgrade. I say that as a fan.
Even Marr saw it coming as he began to incorporate more piano and keyboard parts into Smiths' songs. Morrissey's sound can be very one dimensional, but, when stretched, that beloved voice is capable of miracles. Hence the reason why he's still relevant and has lasted this long in the music industry.
With I Am Not A Dog On A Chain, his thirteenth studio album, Morrissey has exceeded all expectations, and written one of the best of his career. Of course, not without the help of those three fairly new songwriters we just talked about. I imagine him pouring over these skeletal arrangements with new vigor and a tenacity for redemption. Maybe even a bit of nervousness as he approached compositions that challenged him while enduring the blowback from a slew of off-handed comments that much of his dark army has grown tired of, myself included.
Over the last few years the artist has said some ignorant things, none of which I standby, nor need to get into here. But I think he confronts the demons on this album and takes a shot at leaving a lasting legacy.
At first listen to "Jim Jim Falls," there's almost a New Order vibe. It's brave and daring for the man who has stuck too close to old habits.
"If you're gonna kill yourself/Then to save face, Get on with it," is a long way from "Oh Mother, I can feel, the soil falling over my head."
"Darling, I Hug a Pillow" feels innocent, honest, and vulnerable, like when he was a Smith. Have we ever heard this man ask for physical love?
"Why can't you give me some physical love? Everything's in place except for physical love."
"What Kind of People Live in These Houses?" might be my favorite thing he's done since Vauxhall or Viva Hate, and that is mostly due to the guitar arrangements, band augmentations, and epic lyrics. “What RoughTrade strangers/frail around these chambers.”
"They look at television thinking it's their window to the world,
That's got to hurt/Who cares what people live in these houses?"
"Love Is on Its Way Out," reminds me of The Beautiful South, or Paul Heaton at times, which is a refreshing nod. I love the gritty touch of soul Thelma Houston adds to "Bobby, Don't You Think They Know." The band wrote a soulful rocker that spawns into a complete jam session, touching upon the prog-rock of the 70s. Moz crushes it, mostly by letting the band go and singing in all the right spots.
"I have now produced four studio albums for Morrissey. This is his boldest and most adventurous album yet. He has pushed the boundaries yet again, both musically and lyrically." -Joe Chicarelli
"Knockabout World" feels like an ode to the past. A delicacy that could have sat on the shelf next to Viva Hate or Interesting Drug.
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