Morrissey takes a lot of stick and for the most part deservedly so. His off-the-cuff comments about British identity, immigration and multiculturalism have gotten him in hot water with fans and critics alike. At root, his views are one part working class contrariness, one part auto-didact sloppiness. He comes out looking good defending animal rights, lambasting heartless Conservatives, and criticizing foreign wars, but can’t seem to get his default working class politics sorted, sometimes directing it to odious English nationalist outfits like UKIP and For Britain. It’s why pop stars make poor politicians – people consume music apolitically most of the time and the stars are seldom able to be accountable for their occasional outbursts. Expecting different is shopping for disappointment.
What Morrissey does well is channel alienation, that inarticulate and lumpy feeling of exclusion, at times with palpable dread but sometimes with a peppy spring in his step. His now long solo career is arguably so built on misery that its become mundane, truly the essential Morrissey cliché. But occasional flashes of brilliance still emerge. Like “Spent the Day in Bed” from his 2017 album Low in High School. Here Morrissey combines sympathy for the ‘enslaved workers’ with a critique of media sensationalism, less in a ‘fake news’ sort of claim than an old school left media criticism of the social control functions of modern media. As Morrissey opines:
“Stop watching the news
Because the news contrives to frighten you
To make you feel small and alone
To make you feel that your mind isn’t your own.”
But ultimately “Spent the Day in Bed” works as a tune or not at all. And here some reliable Morrissey hooks emerge to give it staying power. From the skipping electric piano riff that opens the song to the earworm shift that occurs in the chorus the song is a winner, with a nice spacey bridge thrown in for good measure.
I loved The Smiths but can offer up only a lukewarm ‘like’ for the solo Morrissey canon and persona. Musically Morrissey has often exceeded my expectations as a solo artist, lyrically he stalled. But that doesn’t mean he can’t craft a great single from time to time.