IS THIS THE ALBUM OF THE YEAR?
Updated: Jun 5, 2019
When the Manchester lad became a California Son…
As Steven Patrick Morrissey turns 60 he celebrates not only a sell-out US tour but the release of his covers album California Son - for me, perhaps his strongest release in recent years.
Morrissey has always been one to divide the masses. The quintessential Marmite of the UK music scene. I love Marmite by the way and I’m also a huge Morrissey fan. From the iconic Morrissey/Marr partnership of the The Smiths through to his current god-like solo status I’m a sucker for his poetic lyricism, some-would-say maudlin style and his ‘couldn’t give a f**k’ attitude. I’m not on board with all of his somewhat controversial views but I don’t let that cloud my passion for his music – as so many others do. Since The Smiths hit fame in the early 1980’s he’s been a constant source of cannon fodder for a media that like to opt-in to lazy and unoriginal star-bashing journalism.
Love him or hate him there is no denying the success of his latest album release California Son, reaching number 2 in the UK album chart and number 1 in the UK vinyl chart within a week of release – oh, how all the mealy-mouthed, me-too journalists were choking on their giant portions of humble pie following their damming launch reviews. It’s ok, us Moz fans expected nothing less of you!
So, what makes this album so special and why am I sticking my stake in the ground claiming its’ status as album of the year? It’s just a covers album right? 12 tracks of not so familiar songs regurgitated for Morrissey’s own self-indulgence is how some may have described it… but how wrong they are. Moz has been known for the odd cover over the years – The Jam’s That’s Entertainment and Back on the Chain Gang from The Pretenders spring to mind – and what fine versions they are of two songs of which I hold the originals in high regard.
I got my copy of California Son on the day of release, on vinyl, of course, on the 24th May. I’m wearing the grooves out on this album – I just can’t stop playing it – and that’s very rare for me with a new album (with the exception of Tracey Thorn’s Record last year – that’s an excellent body of work also). Maybe I’m mellowing with age – mellowing with Morrissey? That’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one… but I kid you not, this is a very special album. Morrissey’s voice is quite possibly the best I’ve heard it and the arrangements are sublime.
Of the twelve songs on the album I was only familiar with one and that was the Roy Orbison classic It’s Over. I was equally unfamiliar with some of the artists too, so it’s opened up a new journey of discovery for my ever-expanding vinyl collection. In effect I was listening to an album of all new songs on the first listen (with the exception of the Orbison tune) which could have been Morrissey originals for all I knew. But they’re not and that is actually very evident. I can only describe this album as so very un-Morrissey in a very Morrissey way…
It’s a collection of, I presume, some of Moz’s favourites from the 60’s and 70’s. The track listing is as follows:
Morning Starship - Jobriath (1973)
Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow – Joni Mitchell (1975)
Only a Pawn in Their Game – Bob Dylan (1964)
Suffer the Little Children – Buffy Saint-Marie (1969)
Days of Decision – Phil Ochs (1965)
It’s Over – Roy Orbison (1964)
Wedding Bell Blues – Laura Nyro (1966)
Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets - Dionne Warwick (1970)
Lady Willpower – Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (1968)
When You Close Your Eyes – Carly Simon (1972)
Lenny’s Tune – Tim Hardin (1968)
Some Say I Got Devil – Melanie (1971)
I’m not going to review each track individually, that could be quite tedious. As a whole though, the album is simply sensational. Particular stand-outs for me at the moment are Morning Starship, Lady Willpower and Some Say I’ve Got Devil – but that changes daily, every tune has its’ own charm and sophistication.
This is very unlike anything Morrissey has released before but shows an artist at the very top of his game, delivering something in a way that only he can. If people can get over their media driven prejudice and give this album a listen I’m confident that many, if not all, will be pleasantly surprised. For me it’s a very easy 10/10, in fact it’s a positive 12/12.