Mope no more. forsaking the cozy glow of cult-hero worship on his fourth solo album, Morrissey hurls himself into the cold cruel rock mainstream. Your Arsenal is the most direct — and outwardly directed — statement he’s made since disbanding the Smiths. Buoyed by the conversational grace of his lyric writing, Morrissey rides high atop this album’s rip-roaring guitar tide.
Just last year, the meticulously obscure Kill Uncle positioned Morrissey as the postpunk scene’s answer to Elvis Costello: an eccentric major talent perfectly content to bask in a stuffy hothouse atmosphere. Your Arsenal admits a blast or two of less rarefied musical air, and it works wonders. “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side” is not only one blitzkrieg bop of an opening cut, it aggressively sets Morrissey’s new interpersonal agenda. The onetime poet-recluse boldly approaches a fellow neurotic (“with the world’s fate resting on your shoulders”), offering pointed and hard-won counsel: “Give yourself a break before you break down.” All the while, two blunt and fuzzy guitars cough up a glam-metal variation on the Bo Diddley beat.
Onetime Bowie foil Mick Ronson produces Your Arsenal to stunning effect. For all the sonic thunder, he imposes a much-needed pop discipline on Morrissey’s grander instincts. His penchant for maudlin balladry held firmly in check by taut arrangements and riff-driven melodies, Morrissey turns his sharp eye to the crumbling world outside his window. This time, the moody slow songs (“I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” “We’ll Let You Know”) really do linger and haunt. The deeply affecting “We’ll Let You Know” (“We are the last truly English people you will ever know”) and the disarmingly uptempo “National Front Disco” peek into the sad, sick world of Britain’s neo-fascist youth movement; Morrissey probes this twisted mind-set with psychological depth and deftness. Rather than preach against the general evils of racism, as most topical rockers would, he puts us inside this hopeless situation for a few revealing minutes.
Not that Morrissey’s a Brit isolationist, by any means. “We look to L.A. for the language we use,” he insists on the raucous media-age anthem “Glamorous Glue.” Spitting out the line “London is dead” a half-dozen times after that, punctuating the psychedelic groan with his own croons and hoots, Morrissey faces down the wildly uncertain New World Order with dark humor and a clear head. Your Arsenal is stockpiled with the rock & roll equivalent of smart bombs: compact missives that zoom in on their targets with devastating precision. The repercussions last long after the rubble is cleared.