Stephen Patrick Morrissey, the famously bleak singer for the Smiths and the solo artist who later forged a political career as mayor of Moz Angeles, has died and gone to heaven. He was 1,000 years old. Well, technically he was 49, but his years in L.A. alone added up to several lifetime’s worth of the Mexicali blues. And while we’re checking facts, let’s make that heaven on earth. It’s a little death he has experienced—”There’s explosive kegs between my legs,” he moans uncharacteristically in the epic ballad of a horndog “Dear God Please Help Me”—but his eighth studio title renders it as only this megalobrainiac can: in the form of a concept album about life’s various ends, conclusions and goals alike. It’s the midlife crisis of a perpetual teenager. Who’s finally getting laid. Concept album, hell. Tap a keg: It’s Morrissey’s party album!
Ain’t no party like a Moz party. Ringleader of the Tormentors is a simmering, sultry affair. On the cover, he’s playing a violin. On the front of 2004’s bold return to form You Are the Quarry, he held a tommy gun. In song he opened fire on easy targets—the U.S., Oliver Cromwell, crashing bores—with a piercing mix of stateliness and verve more George Clooney than Fat Mike, producer Jerry Finn (Green Day, Blink-182) notwithstanding. Turning inward, he conserves that creative momentum; where Finn turbo-charged, new (to Morrissey) producer Tony Visconti (T. Rex, Moody Blues) finesses.
“The Youngest Was the Most Loved,” a breezy meditation on the unremarkable genesis of a killer, is a lame sequel to the sweeping street rhapsody “First of the Gang to Die.” But the pleasures here lie in how accurately Morrissey sketches the face of this peculiar death, and how extravagantly handsome it looks. “You Have Killed Me,” the elegant first single, reads first as a breakup lament, then as pillow talk between jagged breaths. From this simple double-take springs a profusion of existential binds, snug and comforting as you’d expect for such a repressed soul. “On the Streets I Ran” casts a noirish, sidelong look at the troubled history that bequeathed Moz “popular song”—and then, “unpopular song.” In the pulsating “I Will See You in Far-Off Places,” he relishes the unassailability of distanced memory, and celebrates the camera that captures those who didn’t get bombed by the U.S.A.
By imagining all these ends, Morrissey arrives at his now.