Morrissey’s official channels have recently been stressing the 60-year-old’s virility, citing reviews from his US tour that praise his “ageless” voice and undimmed power (albeit from little-known publications).
The sales patter makes sense given his declining status – though it’s at odds with his new album, which finds Morrissey lamenting the ravages of age: how time “will slide up and shaft you” on My Hurling Days Are Done; how he considers himself an “out of tune” violin on The Secret of Music, a banal yet absurd list of instruments and their respective qualities that unspools like Michael Gove reading Dr Seuss.
He appoints himself a witness to lost, kinder times (Love Is on Its Way Out), and a wise veteran of life’s cruelties that the rest of us are only now waking up to (Knockabout World). But looking back in despair lets Morrissey elide responsibility for his diminished reputation. He frequently references his taste for inconvenient truths – “I raise my voice, I have no choice!” he exclaims on the title track, an anthem for fake-news types – yet few such sentiments penetrate his lyrics, beyond references to animal rights and his contempt for the bovine masses (the “duckface in a duplex” of What Kind of People Live in These Houses?).
This hollow posturing is contrasted by I Am Not a Dog on a Chain being his most striking album since 1992’s Your Arsenal. Its skittish harpsichords, cabaret pomp and enjoyably aggressive oddness suggest that he (or at least producer Joe Chiccarelli) has been listening to plenty of Perfume Genius.
Oleaginous and rasping, Morrissey is often lost among the strident music as he hectors people afraid to be themselves: the high camp of Bobby, Don’tYou Think They Know? torments a closeted bloke, while torch song The Truth About Ruth wields insipid rhyme to suggest gendered subterfuge.
Morrissey knows exactly who he is: a victim, though he’ll never admit he does it to himself. His coyness undermines his apparent glee as a truth-teller, while his recourse to superannuated lamentation ignores the potential for later-in-life artists such as Bowie and Cohen to outdo their youthful glories. At this rate, he’ll never sit alongside them.