First Listen, Track By Track: Morrissey, “California Son”

New feature. I listen to a new album for the first time, jot down a few lines about each track on a napkin, and type them up (mostly) unedited. This is a first listen, so my opinion is subject to change. That’s the beauty of art. Also, this is not a review.

Morrissey, California Son

I’ve been a longtime Morrissey fan. Yes, he is one of the most important artists of my life. I still love and admire his work, though I disagree with his political views that he has expressed over the past years that have, frankly, left me terribly confused. What I heard about California Son is that it was meant as a covers album (much like David Bowie’s Pinups?). I don’t even know why it’s called California Son. I also hate the cover. It makes the album seem like Morrissey has just discovered Instagram. Maybe he’s trolling everyone. Who knows?

I’ve only heard two of its songs so far – “Morning Starship” from the much-discussed Jimmy Fallon Show performance, and “Wedding Bells Blues,” which I kind of like, not least of all because I like the original tune too. Aside from that, I know little of anything else about this album, though I’ve opened the Wikipedia page for quick reference.

“Morning Starship”

I heard the “How Soon Is Now” effect in the backdrop of this tune. Great stuff. Virtually no chorus, but that bridge is irresistibly dramatic. I had no idea who Jobriath was before I heard this beautiful cover of “Morning Starship,” where homosexuality is accosted to extra-terrestrial-ism. Jobriath’s tragic story alone is worth knowing. I even heard Morrissey looked for him years ago to help him record a comeback album before he found he had died of AIDS years earlier. That’s the beauty of California Son, I guess. It helps keep the memory of these lesser-known artists alive. Respect!

“Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”

I’m a big fan of Joni Mitchell’s sophistication and I guess this song is about female subjugation. Okay, I am already confused. I have heard that some of these songs were “protest” songs. But isn’t Morrissey meant to be a far-right supporter? Is that why it sounds like he’s singing this song as if he were reading out loud the ingredients of a packet of crisps? The poetry of the lyrics is completely lost. The choice of the song is odd. Next!

“Only a Pawn in Their Game”

Things only get weirder… A cover of Bob Dylan’s famed tune about the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers? Again, isn’t Morrissey supposed to be a racist? What is he doing singing this particular Bob Dylan tune? I’m not sure why, but its significance is totally lost on me. It feels as if I were listening to a song from Low in High School. Or a damn bit from a West End musical, like Les Miserables (yuck, yuck, yuck!). Loses all its meaning in this Morrissey project. I wish he’d had the guts to sing things close to the political views he’s been promoting over the past while. I’d actually have appreciated that more…

“Suffer the Little Children”

Another dark, theatrical protest song. This one about how the class structure almost forces parents to teach their children to dream small, fly low. Get a nice, steady job and the whole lot. Bank Holiday weekends and all… The class system that is designed to make sure the oppressed stay oppressed. Actually, this is a theme of “Only a Pawn in their Game.” It suddenly dawns on me why that song’s in California Son. Morrissey is concerned with class, not necessarily with anything else. He does come from a lower class background. Plus, let’s not forget the title of this song recalls “Suffer Little Children” from The Smiths’ self-titled debut LP. By the way, I kind of liked this song. I appreciate its wit.

“Days of Decision”

At this point, I’m actually worried because, with each song, things keep getting worse. This one is simply awful. The original song is already “protest tune 101” dull. What I really hate about this particular version is that it’s easy to read right through it, seeing that Morrissey, just by singing it, has changed its original, anti-Vietnam, leftist sentiments into a celebration of that democratic disaster known as Brexit. Oh, by the way, I don’t actually care that he did that. What bothers me is its lack of self-awareness. He sings it like he means it, which makes it sound all the more like it belongs in a cheesy spot for a political party. Yuck!

“It’s Over”

At first, I thought Chrissie Hynde sang the first line of this song, but towards the end of the song, it seems unlikely. I love Roy Orbison, but I have no time for this West End/Broadway version of the song. Loses all its poetry and even Morrissey’s hoofing sounds terrible. It reaches somewhat of a peak towards the middle, but when a final verse emerges, the urge is to click that skip button. Wow, this listening party is quickly turning into a bloodfest. I’m a bit heartbroken…

“Wedding Bell Blues”

I must admit I had heard this song already and really liked it. I love the original version by The 5th Dimension, its pure domestic drama about a protagonist longing to be married, that anxiety about your partner leaving you for someone better. I feel it close; I’m at that age where people get married. Those who don’t, get a pet. Those who don’t become pregnant. Pure Coronation Street vibes here, boi. Billie Joe Armstrong is on backing vocals here. Not sure why. Is it ’cause his name is “Bill”? Is this as witty as you’re gonna get Moz?

“Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets” [Favorite tune]

I almost cried listening to this. If Morrissey had been here, I would have hugged him, and told him “It’s okay. We’re all sad.” This is the real Morrissey, the voice of a man who gave me strength during my adolescence, who supports me to this day and guides me through my sorrows. It sounds like a song from one of his early solo album. But also keeps the charm of the queen of unrequited love, Dionne Warwick, whom I also dearly love and whose songs always touched my heartstrings – even before I knew of the existence of Morrissey. This is the best song of the album. Two minutes of pure, real emotion. You could dance to this with tears streaming down your eyes. Love, love, love. Tempted to repeat!

“Lady Willpower”

I actually saw a video of the making of this tune before I heard the song just now. My expectations were high but completely let down. This is awful. It’s even worse than I could have imagined. I must admit, I’m not a fan of the original song either. But this song sounds even more aged than that Gary Puckett & The Union Gap Version. “Lady Willpower” does sound like it would have fit into Low in High School easily, I suppose. Which is kind of sad. Those horn sounds do my head in. Feels twice as long and possibly even worse than it is because it follows such a beautiful track.

“When You Close Your Eyes”

I didn’t even expect this; it was round two of being on the verge of tears. Not because I liked Morrissey’s version. I hated it. But No Secrets by Carly Simon is one of the albums I’ve listened to the most in my life and an LP that is very dear to my heart. Morrissey covering it on California Son must be proof that in 10 or 20 years, I will be as bitter as he is now. If a nuclear bomb or an Armageddon don’t come, you best stay away from me. Miss me, instead.

“Lenny’s Tune”

“I have lost a friend and I don’t know why / But never again will we get together to die” is already one of my favorite lines of any song I have ever heard. I didn’t know this tune originally but, I guess, this mess of a version doesn’t do it any favors. At first, I figured California Son was a good way for me to discover lesser-known songwriters and music artists. But now I worry about whether this LP does more damage than good. Not sure I can blame Morrissey for this; he clearly means well. However, the production is so bad… That piano just numbed my brain. I couldn’t even hear anything beyond it.

“Some Say I Got the Devil”

I didn’t know this song either, but I believe its theme opposes narratives that place women in the roles of victims. Anyways, again, the production is so overdone I just wanted to skip. Something weird and pretentious happens in the middle of it too… Just to make matters worse, I presume. Yes, this entire album feels like some type of godawful West End musical. The type that people who people who voted for Brexit probably love… Hey, wait a minute! Maybe that’s the idea!

Oh, by the way, I’m at peace with myself for still being a Morrissey fan. Please don’t judge me for it.

Written by Matt Micucci

I'm an international journalist, reporter, website editor and content creator. I actively work for JAZZIZ Magazine and FRED Film Radio, collaborate with other websites and curate my own projects, including IN ARTE MATT and CineCola. I have also curated and produced my series of films in Galway, Ireland, and photo exhibition and arts events in various European countries. I have a working class background and have and have a postgrad degree in Film Theory + a BA in Film & TV.

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