Morrissey

California Son

BMG

May 28, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Let's get the trigger warning out of the way: despite being a collection of 12 new cover tracks, California Son is still a record by the individual known as Morrissey. If his increasingly frustrating public statements, his lenient (at best) attitude toward honoring tour dates, or his associating himself with racist, far right political causes have forever put you off the ex-Smiths frontman's musical output, turn away now. There's nothing here worth the effort defending him over. Even many of the biggest fans of his unique and, at times, unparalleled songwriting skills, or his perpetually-forlorn singing voice have a hard time thumping their Morrissey fandom in light of his growingly antagonistic public persona.

Being a covers album, California Son can obviously only lay claim to one of Morrissey's two chief virtues, that being his vocal talent. (But given the uncharacteristic lyrical laziness of 2017's Low in High School, perhaps we're better off for the time being.) The dozen selections all come from the 1960s and '70s, and include works by numerous songwriters as highly regarded as Morrissey himself, or better: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Roy Orbison, and Carly Simon among them. You can also look at this as a "Morrissey with..." record, as he's joined by a rotating cast of special guests, including current-day indie rock luminaries such as Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste, Broken Social Scene's Ariel Engle, and Petra Haden.

The best cover songs reinvent or at least transform the source material in some interesting way, which doesn't happen here as often as you'd hope for on a collection from one of music's most polarizing icons. His take on "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow," for example, is a nearly straight cover of Mitchell's original, adding little more than a cheesy sax solo; similar can be said of his plain rendition of Phil Ochs' "Days of Decision." In worse cases, he manages to water down his inspiration: when he sings Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Suffer the Little Children," it's less dynamic than her original, and (surprisingly!) lacks the vitriol she instilled within its message. When he does settle on a new direction for Dylan's "Only a Pawn in Their Game," the choice to re-shape it in the vein of a pseudo-military march feels a little too obvious. More often than not, the songs here are approached in the same way they would be by a local tavern's Saturday night covers band, but one which just happens to have Morrissey as its lead singer. If no liberties were going to be taken with the songs, you wonder why the choice was made to cover them at all, if for no other than to align himself with the artists or their words.

It's not all entirely bad, however. Orbison's melodramatic "It's Over" is perfectly suited to Morrissey, who blows up the song's naturally melodramatic quality into a grandiose, operatic ballad with vocal accompaniment by singer LP. Wisely released as a single, Moz's take on The Fifth Dimension's 1969 hit "Wedding Bell Blues" comes with the unexpected assistance of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Lydia Night of The Regrettes. Pining for the same masculinely named "Bill" to which Laura Nyro penned her lyrics a half century ago, this version of the song has a sexual ambiguity that was so often present at the top of Morrissey's songwriting abilities, long before he switched into full-blown grumpy old uncle mode. California Son is uneven at its best, and borderline sacrilegious at its lowest points. This level of steady, maintained mediocrity will only make it harder and harder for all but his staunchest fans to continue caring. (www.morrisseyofficial.com)

Author rating: 4/10

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Allan Coventry
May 28th 2019
11:29pm

this album is great .