The six solo albums that Stephen Patrick Morrissey has released since the Smiths broke up are models of iconoclastic British record making. Occasionally these albums have been goosed by hot producers, sometimes they have glam-rocked up a storm, but generally they have clung fast to the bass-guitar-drums foundation that helped make the Smiths superstars in otherwise popped-out Eighties Britain. That expansive stinginess was part of Morrissey’s charm; his albums were like absorbing old books — nineteenth-century histories of badminton or moths. They weren’t larger than life; they were barely larger than breakfast or an e-mail.
You Are the Quarry, Morrissey’s seventh album, reverses this career-long complexion. He submits a dozen songs to crystalline modern engineering and arrangements that place selective bits of mandolin, flute, harp and synthesizer in guitar-and-rhythm grooves, moving forward without losing his identity.
The songs are top-shelf. On “America Is Not the World,” Morrissey rises up to speak for the current European hostility and heartbreak concerning U.S. foreign policy. “America, your belly’s too big,” he sings; but before you can write him off as just a player hater, the Los Angeles resident finishes the song by repeating, “America/I love you.” On “Irish Blood, English Heart” and “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” Morrissey returns to his famous critiques of, respectively, U.K. society and organized religion. In a spectacular bit of contradiction, he follows “Come Back to Camden,” a stirring ballad where Morrissey ends up promising a lover that he’ll “be good,” with a calmly defiant no-apologies dance tune titled “I’m Not Sorry.” The album, like Morrissey’s tenor, never stops defining and reinventing itself. The world, as Morrissey leaps to declare in one song, continues to be full of crashing bores. But You Are the Quarry is a triumph ofmaladjusted vitality.