27 May 2019 (released)
29 May 2019
This week, music legend Morrissey released his new studio album, California Son. A collection of cover songs, the album contains a mixture of tracks from the past that Morrissey has reimagined and made his own. From Joni Mitchell's Don't Interrupt The Sorrow, and Roy Orbison's It's Over, to Bob Dylan's Only a Pawn in Their Game, Morrissey has traversed the landscapes of several of his favourite songs, pulling them into modern limelight and presenting them to a new generation of listeners.
No stranger to controversy, Morrissey is used to the rattled cages of the media as they find new and imaginative ways to criticise him, but despite their best efforts, his new release proves that Morrissey is as loved, as relevant and respected as ever. As has been seen during his recent Broadway residency, he is as idolised and revered by his audience as he always has been.
Listening to California Son, it's impossible not to be impressed by how he has managed to tackle the work of some of the most esteemed songwriters and voices of the 20th century, and made them so authentically his own. After all his years in the industry, he still somehow manages to breathe fresh air into his projects, resulting in original and engaging art that is impossible to dismiss.
The negative stories from certain presses march on. Try as they might to defeat him, Morrissey is going nowhere. He has earned his place in music history as the man who stole the hearts of an 80s generation and he has carried them with him, through the years, to new audiences across the globe.
He continues to be loved and his music is embraced by music fans to this day.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Morrissey. We discussed his latest release, his future plans and what he thinks of the usual suspects and their stories.
Here is the result of our conversation...
Your latest release, California Son, has been well received by fans and media alike (apart from the usual suspects). How does it feel to you, at the point when you release an album into the world? Is there any element of nervousness at the prospect of its reception?
Yes, because obviously you want people to like it ... because you want people to be as happy as you are about it all. I felt these songs strongly and it's exciting when others say "oh yes, I see what you mean." You feel less insane.
One of my favourites on the new record is your take on Suffer The Little Children, which is a song I was previously unfamiliar with. Was bringing these songs to a new generation and audience something that inspired the project?
I've lived with these songs for ... well, many years. There are some songs that you cannot outgrow ... and there's nothing you can do about it. You might leave them alone for ten years, but you drift back. You might turn your back on certain artists and believe that's the end of it, but once something is triggered within you, you just can't let go. And here they are now ... providing the most proud musical achievement of my life! How very funny.
How difficult was it for you to choose which songs to include, and were there any that you wanted to cover but didn't?
I am nothing but music, and it dominates every hour of my life, and I've been this way since I was 6 years old. I cannot change, unfortunately. So, given the length of that time, you can imagine I've listened very attentively to a wide range of just about everything. It would be easy for me to compile a covers album of purely folk songs, of Tamla Motown songs, of historic Manchester pop songs, and so on. I am constantly writing lists.
Your vinyl sales always seem to soar when you release a new album. Do you think that the decline in physical sales in general has a correlation to the lack of substance/originality from other current artists in the music world at the moment?
I think so, because music of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s was quite incredible. But into the 1990s it was notable how many new groups became successful only and entirely because they sounded like somebody else - from a previous generation. Now, if a modern artist is identical to Nina Simone, it's thought to be astonishing ... and 7 Grammy's immediately follow. So, now, it's as if everyone is simply content to be reminded.
When reading through the lyrics to many of the songs featured on California Son, I felt as if many of the words were directly personal to you, as if your chosen songs were ones you identified with. Is this true? Did recording/performing them feel as personal to you as if they were songs you penned yourself?
Oh, yes. For example, Suffer The Little Children, which explains itself fully, but rings true for my time at school which, as I've previously mentioned, absolutely destroyed my life. Some Say I Got Devil is the trap in which some like best about you the things that others find intolerable. You can't please everyone. But would you want to? It's Over, I have no doubt whatsoever, is the best vocal of my entire life.
Your recent residency on Broadway was absolutely stunning – so many fans came away impressed and moved by the shows. How was the experience for you? Would you consider doing a residency again?
I loved it, and I was surprised by how every night seemed completely different when, really, you might imagine yourself trotting out a choreographed Hamlet night after night. But, no. It was one of the most enjoyable live runs I've ever experienced. I like the idea of 7 nights in Paris, 7 nights in Berlin, 7 nights in Tel-Aviv. England is presently impossible because as soon as I'd announce one concert The Guardian would start chasing my mother around Marks and Spencer's. It's not pleasant.
Can I ask what's next for you, Morrissey? I know you have some tour dates coming up soon but do you have any long terms plans for another solo album or project - or haven't you thought that far ahead just yet?
We have recorded a new studio album, but when it's released depends upon how much breathing space is allowed California Son. So, anything could happen... and anything usually does happen. It's an album of 12 original songs, so is, in its way, the follow-up to Low In High School. We recorded it in France once again, and it's fantastic. I would imagine a January release, but I don't mind if it's later.
Would you ever write another fictional book?
I have lots of ideas. Containing them is the problem.
You seem to be a cross-generational artist, Morrissey. I live in a musical household - my two year old son has taken a particular liking to many of your songs and runs around the house singing some of your lyrics! I have noticed this at your concerts, too. Young and old alike are there, and it suggests you are bringing in new fans all the time. Many other artists seem to have a fan base that lives and dies with them. Is this something that has occurred to you and why do you think it is so?
The songs are very strong, and that's the only reason. Yes, some people come along to examine me physically, but that's not what I'm about... and they soon back off! I am very pleased that I am known for the songs, and really, I don't want to be famous for any other reason.
What are your thoughts on Theresa May's resignation, if any?
It's striking how she's already forgotten ... which tells us how little she was actually a part of anyone's life. You see, you can mysteriously become Prime Minister, but it doesn't mean that anyone actually likes you.
Many of the headliners at music festivals seem to be big artists from the 70s, 80s and 90s. It's a similar story when we look at the highest grossing tours in recent years. It seems to me that current, younger artists aren't drawing in the audiences the same way that many of the older legends and icons are. Do you think the “golden age” of music has gone, or do you think it might be recaptured by the right artists in the future?
It can't be recaptured because many of the people who changed the rules broke through unexpectedly ... no one saw them coming. No one anticipated the Sex Pistols or David Bowie. All of the Greats took the world by surprise. So, now, when you hear of 'the new Ramones' or 'the new Nirvana', it unfortunately registers as quite a useless thing to be. Why not be the new you? Natural success seems to be completely impossible now, and consequently there's little hope of surprise.
Lastly, do you have a message for Mersey Rail and the regular nay sayers?
It's very Third Reich, isn't it? And it proves how only the feelings of the most narrow-minded can be considered within the British Arts. We are not free to debate, and this in itself is the ultimate rejection of diversity. If you ever see Question Time on BBC1 it is always exactly the same panel. I am afraid we are living through The Age of Stupid, and we must pray that it passes soon. I'm only surprised that Mary Whitehouse isn't on the ten pound note. But, no, I'm not about to go into combat with Mersey Rail ... could life get any more mediocre? But, yes, my position in the UK is suddenly so abstract ... the ONLY thing I haven't been blamed for is the Normandy Invasion of 1944. Give them time, I suppose.
Thank you for your time, Morrissey.
California Son is available in stores and online.