Morrissey - California Son - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Morrissey - California Son

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2019-05-24
Morrissey - California Son
Morrissey - California Son

These days many would prefer to have less, not Morrissey. The man who once called for Thatcher’s head and mocked the National Front in song is now sporting a far-right For Britain pin. How did this happen? I suppose there can be only one explanation, “Fame, fame fatal fame, it can play hideous tricks on the brain.” So, yes gone is the flower wielding nerd of yore, replaced by a privileged, self-righteous diva and insufferable bore. To quote another Smiths bon mot, “In the days when you were hopelessly poor, I just liked you more.”

But who said you have to actually like your musical idols? Many of mine have been salty vessels. Lou Reed. Nina Simone. But none of them ever sported a pin for a racist, xenophobic political party and then whined about what a victim they were amidst the backlash. Well, if your musical heroes must be assholes; at the very least they should make good albums. And the very last thing I wanted to hear amidst this latest shit storm of his was another Morrissey album. Even less, a covers album.

Well, love or hate him, California Son is pretty damn good. ‘Morning Starship’ gorgeously lives up to the live version I caught a few weeks ago at Morrissey’s Broadway debut. It’s not only tailor-made, it’s enough to make you forget what an obnoxious git he’s been.

I confess I approached the notion of Morrissey tackling a classic 60’s Dylan protest song with real trepidation. However, his version of ‘Only A Pawn In The Game’ is not only poignant but painfully relevant today. His take on Buffy Saint Marie’s ‘Suffer Little Children’ surpasses the original in my estimation. It also brings in some welcome humor. Furthermore, there’s something remarkably bittersweet about his version of Phil Ochs’, ‘Days of Decision’. It’s not only possessed with defiant idealism in these cynical times, but it’s also filled with a gentleness that questions rather than preaches. And I’m grateful for that because the thought of Morrissey on a soapbox these days makes me cringe. It also beautifully reveals how great and criminally neglected Phil Ochs is as a songwriter. I must confess, in light of Morrissey's ultra right conservative posturing, these songs stand in direct opposition to such leanings. What's more, the conviction with which he performs them, only serves to make this contradiction even more inexplicable. There's a real disconnect here. Here's a guy who claims he isn't racist then gets on national TV and sports a pin promoting a racist political party. Its similar to my own parents and others in their support of Trump. Question I think we all need to ask is, what is going on here?

Back to the record, I admit I flinched when I saw, ‘It’s Over’ in the track listing. I am a massive Roy Orbison fan. And have been since a kid. Of course, I’m well aware of Orbison’s influence on Morrissey. In fact, it’s one of the things that drew me to the Smiths and Morrissey in the first place. Well, I must admit Morrissey’s attempt at this undeniable classic is a feat he pulls off with style. No, it doesn’t top the original. Nor is it trying. It’s a tip of the hat with just the right touch of cheek and camp. Same goes for ‘Wedding Bell Blues’, a song I’ve always detested. A cover that perfectly balances kitsch and sincerity.

As evidenced by his take on the Dionne Warwick hit, ‘Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets’, Morrissey seems quite well suited to Bacharach. In fact, based on this, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the prospect of a whole album of Bacharach covers. Less successful is Morrissey’s stab at Joni Mitchell’s ‘Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow’. It just seems to slip through his fingers. In addition, ‘Lady Willpower’ doesn’t quite rise above its lounge lizard sense of camp. But it does make it entirely evident, California Son isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously. Which is a relief, because when Morrissey takes himself seriously, its likely to make you wince.  

‘When You Close Your Eyes’ is another really strong, infectious offering while, ‘Lenny’s Tune’ is perhaps the most off the wall choice. What begins with the sound of footsteps falls into a gorgeously maudlin piano ballad. Despite being a big Tim Hardin fan, I have to admit Morrissey’s version surpasses the original. It’s a dark, desperate tale of addiction that lends gravitas to the proceedings. Not only is it California Son’s bleakest moment but possibly its most rewarding. ‘Some Say I Got Devil’ follows and despite being dramatic and moody, it makes for a rather anti-climactic closer. While I think it’s an album stand out, sequence-wise, a more welcome send-off might have been his recent cover of ‘Back On The Chain Gang’. Conspicuously missing here. 

I confess I’ve always been more of a Smiths than a Morrissey fan. I think it can be argued his solo career has always lacked that vital spark which made the Smiths so special. In his 30+ of moaning and groaning on his lonesome, I can count the Morrissey albums I love on one hand: Viva Hate, Bona Drag, and Your Arsenal. And given his political posturing of late, I confess its somewhat maddening to report, California Son is one of his strongest releases in ages.

It's like a scene out of a Smiths song. Record stores are boycotting his albums. Commuters are tearing down and defacing his subway posters. And lo and behold, here's a new Morrissey album! Actively promoting a notoriously racist and xenophobic political party strikes me as a rather clueless and unproductive way to promote a new release. And as much as he might play the victim, he really has no one but himself to blame for the backlash. Call it the audacity of idiocy or a willful act of self-sabotage but safe to say his head-up-his ass politics, have done a bang-up job of trashing this release. To quote yet another Smiths song, “Big mouth strikes again, and I’ve got no right to take my place with the human race”.

Comments (4)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I can't think of another musical icon that has had such a role reversal as Morrissey, except maybe Gary Glitter. The racist signs have always been there, the lyrics to Bengali in Platforms are suspect from 1988. Does he even live here? The last I...

I can't think of another musical icon that has had such a role reversal as Morrissey, except maybe Gary Glitter. The racist signs have always been there, the lyrics to Bengali in Platforms are suspect from 1988. Does he even live here? The last I heard he lived in L.A. or Rome. Why is it OK for him to live abroad while he supports a 'political party' that wants zero Muslims in Britain. Read more about them here.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Yes, I think his support of the For Britain Movement is reprehensible. But I don't think its always been there. Bengali In Platforms is about prejudice. That's pretty apparent from the lyrics which have a ton of sarcasm. Its about how West does...

Yes, I think his support of the For Britain Movement is reprehensible. But I don't think its always been there. Bengali In Platforms is about prejudice. That's pretty apparent from the lyrics which have a ton of sarcasm. Its about how West does not allow immigrants to assimilate. Prejudice has always been a theme in his music. National Front Disco was also a scathing rip on a far right movement as well. "England For the English?" That was clearly sarcasm. A lot people seem to forget that. Including Morrissey. His support of FBM appears genuine, and it sure as hell does not endear me to him. When I saw him live, I went because a friend was really torn up about seeing him. I went for my friend, not Morrissey. And damn, it was a good show. Which is why all this For Britain shit is so goddamn disappointing.

Read More
Comment was last edited about 4 months ago by Kevin Orton Kevin Orton
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I'm not so sure I agree about his past, I think his lyrics can be taken both ways. He once supported Madness in the early 90s, in front of a load of skinhead fans, draped in the Union Flag. He got a lot of stick for that and at the time I wasn't...

I'm not so sure I agree about his past, I think his lyrics can be taken both ways. He once supported Madness in the early 90s, in front of a load of skinhead fans, draped in the Union Flag. He got a lot of stick for that and at the time I wasn't sure if he was goading them or trying to win over new fans. This latest stunt is him finally revealing his true colours in my opinion. He makes absolutely no sense, one of his biggest fan bases are Hispanic Americans, if he agrees with For Britain's policies of ridding Britain of Muslims, shouldn't he agree with Trump's view on Latin Americans?

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Morrissey has always goaded people for sure...

I think a lot of people are trying to make sense of this bullshit from him. And perhaps taking sarcastic lyrics literally is a means of doing that. I've read/ heard interviews from him going back to...

Morrissey has always goaded people for sure...

I think a lot of people are trying to make sense of this bullshit from him. And perhaps taking sarcastic lyrics literally is a means of doing that. I've read/ heard interviews from him going back to the 80's and he held the exact opposite views he appears to hold now. He certainly didn't have these views when he fronted the Smiths. But he's changed a lot since then. I basically stopped following him after Your Arsenal. And let's face it, he's always had a fetish for thugs.

To be honest, he's never struck me as the most in touch or stable of individuals. If you read his response, it was woefully inadequate and delusional. I suppose he can afford to live in his own fantasy world. Where he can insist he isn't racist and then support a political party that is clearly racist. You see the same in the Trump supporters I know. Its delusional thinking 101. Others, who are victimized by such movements don't have that luxury.

Read More
There are no comments posted here yet
Related Articles