I don’t think any solo artist that has left their former band will ever quite eclipse the high point of their work. Damon Albarn’s solo career will never take precedent over Blur or Gorillaz, Jarvis Cocker will never quite escape the alluring pull of Pulp, and Morrissey will never be able to topple his rebellious classics that he performed with The Smiths. But I Am Not a Dog on a Chain could be the album we remember this misguided solo journey with.
You can imagine my surprise when diving into this album, it sounded nothing like what I’d come to expect from Morrissey. It verges on experimental in its approach to typical music making. Jim Jim Falls opens the album with a gorgeous bassline lingering throughout the background of one of Morrissey’s best songs in decades. The opener to the album is a reassuring beginning, a return to form for a man whose dwindling exposure in the music scene has led to a string of completely mediocre and redundant albums.
His songs are often verbose, and I’ll be honest, it’s not a bad thing. His wordplay is still as tight and effective as it was when he was writing classics like This Charming Man or Barbarism Begins at Home. The biting statements and commentaries made within are still there to pick apart throughout the album, particularly in Love Is on Its Way Out and Knockabout World. His new music is full of avant-garde showcases, an unexpected turn for Morrissey who at this point could’ve played it safe with a similar sounding album. Saxaphone solo’s, backup singers, guitar solos and an understanding from himself that his voice has changed over the past few decades. He’s made peace with a different style of singing. He’s still warbling and monotonously pretentious, but a tad more rugged now.
Rather strangely, the titular track is possibly the weakest on the album. It’s not bad whatsoever, it’s just a pull back to reality when we head into a traditional Morrissey song that reflects on his more political side. “I do not read newspapers / They are troublemakers.” I’m sure we can all take a guess as to what that references. As far as Morrissey goes with his meanings and ideals, the only benefit I can give him is that at least they’re subtle, contained within lyrics that the average listener won’t pull apart. The eponymous title track is far too on the nose for what Morrissey is attempting here though, charging forward at the critics, sword in hand, it’s no surprise that he falls on that sword rather quickly.
Some prior listening experience of Morrissey’s solo work is without a doubt necessary to wade through the self-deprecation and mockery on display throughout I Am Not a Dog on a Chain, and thankfully Morrissey’s politics don’t taint the album as much as you’d expect. In fact, it’s probably one of his strongest solo albums. Certainly satisfying, anyway, and that’s a lot more than we could ever expect from Morrissey these days. Experimental, avant-garde and creative. There are disjointed scribblings of all three throughout a solid album.