It was all going so bloody well for Morrissey, too. Last year there was ‘Autobiography’ and, more crucially, this year along came ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’: two back-to-back documents which proved that his trademark wit, sharp-tongued barbs and oddly moving poetry were still intact. Deck the halls with boughs of gladioli, for pop’s arch miserabilist had returned.
But then, if any Morrissey fan knows anything at all, it’s this: you can always trust ol’ Bigmouth, aka Stephen Patrick, to chuck a spanner in his own works. This time, it’s his ongoing spat with Capitol-Harvest records. He says they dropped him; they say they didn’t. He also claims they sabotaged the release of his album (which still charted at Number Two in the UK Charts and 14 in the US) by not promoting it properly.
In particular, he’s irked that they refused to make proper music videos and instead blew the budget on a series of spoken-word videos in which he recited album lyrics while gazing awkwardly at Baywatch icon Pamela Anderson. “I ploughed into them insisting upon proper band videos, where the band play and I sing,” he said scathingly. “An evidently confusing concept that required seven weeks of explanation, detailed graphs and several drawn-up maps.”
It’s an odd, petulance-tinged tug-of-war, and some people have deemed this snarky severing of ties tantamount to career suicide. Me? I’m not convinced, because this is what Morrissey does. Read Autobiography again: when he’s not slagging off Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis for a) being clueless and b)having terrible taste in jumpers, he’s narking at his old label Sanctuary for making a typo on the sleeve for ‘You Are The Quarry’. “It’s enough to make Van Gogh cut off both ears,” he says, and while self-mutilation seems a slight overreaction, it makes sense – because, Morrissey is a pop fan. He always has been and he always will be, and like you and me and all other pop fans, he still obsesses about those silly things like artwork and videos and legacy. We need more of those people – those artists – who still care, not less of them.
He’s also making up for lost time, too. Morrissey’s been quiet since 2009, and that means he missed out on a good five years of the panic about the decline of the music industry. He didn’t get his chance to fret and frump and bemoan ever-dwindling album sales then, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to miss his chance now. He’s given himself a leading role in the ongoing saga of the death of the album. Can you imagine not having a Morrissey-shaped chapter on this pivotal time for music, when the old forms are dying out and the new ones are yet to be born? It’s unthinkable. It would be like leaving Jesus out of The Last Supper.
Most of all, though, it’s proof that Morrissey’s really back; that he’s in here in spirit as well as body. Because make no mistake about it: even now, some 30 years after the start of The Smiths, Morrissey still thinks he should be Number One in every country in the world, and he can’t fathom why that isn’t so. It must be someone’s elses fault. That’s part of what makes him such a unique character: a grumpy sod with a chip forever lodged on his shoulder, always sniping at those around him for failing to meet his high standards. I’m sure that makes him a pain in the arse to work with, but in an anodyne landscape where artists are content to kowtow to labels and be manipulated willy-nilly, having someone hellbent on kicking up a fuss is surely worth the odd rump-ache.