Morrissey: I Am Not a Dog on a Chain (BMG) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, January 26th, 2021  


I Am Not a Dog on a Chain


Apr 07, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

What to make of a new emission from Planet Morrissey at this point in history. There was a time when global self-isolation would have been the ultimate dream scenario for a new Morrissey album; now, it is merely a deflated punchline. Imagine that 1994’s Vauxhall and I had dropped in the week that the threat of Covid-19 had forced people to curtail their social and professional lives, with its songs of the promise of emotional fulfilment and paeans to friendship (and, admittedly, songs about stalking and drowning, but they were…well-meaning?). Now, with this thirteenth solo album, I Am Not a Dog on a Chain, what we get is bitterness, self-defence, and provocation.

“I see no point in being nice,” Morrissey concludes on the title track. It is curt and wry in the familiar Morrissey way, but where this might once have been a galvanizing moment of inner determination for willing listeners, now it is hard to forget that Morrissey appears to mean this literally. He continues with an attack on the media (“Listen out for what’s not shown to you/And there you’ll find the truth”), both a long-standing Moz trope and a fair subject, until you remember that the key subjects of his recent wrath have been The Guardian, those notorious fake news peddlers, for accurately reporting his support for far-right British political parties.

On “What Kind of People Live in These Houses?” he offers the bon mots, “They vote the way they vote/They don’t know how to change/Because their parents did the same,” both fundamentally misunderstanding the actual voting patterns of the British public at the recent General Election and overtly alienating many typical Morrissey listeners. It has always been true that Morrissey has the keys to his audience’s inner lives, their insecurities and frailties, but how is one supposed to keep those doors open when he expressly throws barriers up himself. His audience is becoming an increasingly more specific group.

It is Morrissey’s fourth consecutive collaboration with producer Joe Chiccarelli, a period that few will hold up as a golden age for the former Smiths man’s sound, with the subtlety of Tony Visconti’s touch or the dramatic rush of Jerry Finn’s period replaced with a lumpen, impersonal energy. A decision has been made that it is time to introduce new flavors into the Morrissey sound palette, with the well-established Boz Boorer-led guitar sound taking a step back in favor of a measure of electronic tampering, instrumental variety, and sonic effects. If change was needed, this wasn’t it. “Love is on Its Way Out,” for example, features synthesized whines, assumed to stand in for the cries of the hunted animals his lyrics lament, but they come off as more shrugs than sighs. If you thought the track “Meat is Murder” was mawkish, you ain’t heard nothing yet. 

Morrissey’s vocals remain strong, those wrought girders that with age have reinforced what was once a floral and decorative voice standing firm. He continues to have a knack for finding an elegant vocal melody too, mining inflections in his songwriting collaborator’s tunes that most would not, as evidenced in opener “Jim Jim Falls” and in the album standouts “Once I Saw the River Clean”—a wistful, nostalgic throwback to Morrissey’s childhood—and “The Secret of Music”—a shifting, rhythmic love letter to the art form that he has given his life to. They are two examples that when he is on common ground with the majority of his erstwhile fans, he is still capable of creating compelling music. Those whose bridges have not been burned entirely will find some joys in amongst the frustration. (

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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