When Morrissey released his last album, California Son, there was much hype around this release. The hype did not centre on the collaborators who joined Morrissey on this cover album such as Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day), the release being within days of Morrissey turning sixty or that it was his first release with BMG records; rather, the focus was on who was boycotting the LP. Spiller Records, the world’s oldest record shop and Mersey Rail made the headlines for boycotting California Son. The boycotts have continued for I Am Not A Dog on a Chain with Monorail Music record store in Glasgow leading the way.
Morrissey boycotts are nothing new. For example in 2008 Morrissey boycotted himself pleading with fans not to buy his Live at the Hollywood Bowl DVD because of the “appalling” sleeve art. Whether boycotts are justified or not; an album review (positive or negative) cannot be held as a defence or exoneration of an artists’ comments. This album review solely puts Morrissey’s talent and creativity, not his ethics and political stances on trial.
“Jim Jim Falls” opens I Am Not a Dog on a Chain taking listeners back to the early and mid-1990s. The electronic explorations meshed with guitar distortions will take listeners back to a darker rendition of the Charlatans “Weirdo” and a more up-tempo version of Inspiral Carpets “This is How it Feels”. The sound is youthful, powerful and energetic and despite the darkness of the lyrics if you’re gonna kill yourself get on with it” and despite the satirical nature this song is surprisingly uplifting.
As “Jim Jim Falls “reminds listeners of the nineties; “Love Is On Its Way Out” will take listeners back to the eighties not to the sound of The Smiths or early Morrissey but to Depeche Mode. The resemblance to “Enjoy the Silence” is undeniable. The emotions across “Love Is On Its Way Out” are top-heavy and Morrissey’s sadness over the hunting of endangered animals is addressed as he lambasts the “sad rich shooting down elephants and lions”. The piano solos and harp before the explosion of guitars produce melancholy beauty.
Lead single just shy of six minutes “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?” featuring Thelma Houston whilst in many respects is lyrically incoherent boasts of Houston’s glorious gospel vocals, tenor sax and glorious early The Doors organ style arrangements giving this song an authority making people stand up to listen attentively. Album title track “I Am Not a Dog on a Chain” is musically far more light-hearted and draws influences from The Smiths “Nowhere Fast”. Without naming specific tabloids Morrissey labels newspapers as “trouble makers” but is more concerned about being “skinned alive by Canada Goose”.
The nice thing about “What Kind of People Live in These Houses?” is how much it reminds you of Australian three-piece DMA’s songs “Warsaw” and “Lazy Love”. Whilst DMA’s in many respects draw influence from The Stone Roses; “What Kind of People Live in These Houses?” has a twenty-first-century feel to it. “Knockabout World” follows mixing The Stone Roses and Mock Turtles sounds together to make a song about survival. This shoegaze musical theme continues on “Darling, I Hug a Pillow”, a song about substituting a partner that impresses with awesome trumpets.
“Once I Saw the River Clean” sees Morrissey again turn to a plethora of electronic influences from Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” to Diana Ross’ “Chain Reaction” where he sings about growing up to be a good looking young man and reminisces about walking with his grandmother.
Opening with Chopin piano arrangements Morrissey plays detective to find out “The Truth About Ruth”. The song suddenly changes key with passionate Mexican guitars and marching band drums along with operatic background singing. Queen and Muse stained guitar arrangements also blend into this unlikely musical combination to create harmony.
The penultimate “The Secret of Music”, the most experimental and longest song on the cusp of eight minutes long opens with the lyrics “I am out of tune”. Bizarrely verbose and accidentally comedic; there is also pantomime and jazz. “The Secret of Music” is a marmite number requiring several listens before an informed decision about this song can be made.
Playout track “My Hurling Days Are Done” induces the melancholy any Morrissey fan would want to experience. The Smiths “Cemetery Gates” fuses with a downtempo take on The Stone Roses “Waterfall” and the Doves “Caught by the River”. If the lyrics “No, oh no friend of mine”, “time will send you an invoice” fail to evoke emotions; the children’s choir will.
I Am Not a Dog on a Chain musically draws mostly from the period just after The Smiths split up and lyrically motivates listeners with opaque code-speak mysteries to blatant what you see is what you get stances. Whilst the publics’ continued reception to Morrissey’s comments can be associated with the number thirteen; album number thirteen, I Am Not a Dog on a Chain is nonetheless hungry, tenacious and valid.