Record Review: In Conversation
“Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?”
Recently, Alarcon has returned and he has over the years, been our biggest Morrissey booster and a lifetime fan. Alarcon gets his shirts from YSL whether he wears them for gardening or a school run. He drove an aging and unreliable Jaguar convertible until the muffler fell out of it on the 405 freeway, he recently swapped it for an silver Mini... And of course he lives in Southern California like his sometime (and still?) hero.
Ancient Champion is a purveyor of easy listening music for old people -- even for Second Generation Suedeheads. He’s also a producer and occasional contributor to this magazine. But as a younger person, he believed, biblically, that if he was able to merely touch the hem of Morrissey's jeans, his life would go better. That never happened. Perhaps he's holding a near 40-year grudge... We don't know.
Together, they prised The Specials’ “Racist Friend” from the office turntable (it's been number one here since the morning after the UK election, December 13th, a fateful day), to give Morrissey's new single “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know” a spin.
Ancient Champion: Hey! Great to see you again. I always think OUTSIDELEFT misses you, your creativity and well, you're just about their only professional writer.
Alarcon: I love OUTSIDELEFT and I always missed it while I was trying to navigate the outside world. It’s complete disregard for SEO, and it’s depths of obscure content always warms my heart. I honestly believe that OUTSIDELEFT is the last true arts and entertainment outlets on the internet. Everything else just exists for page views -- an industry buzzword that’s yet to be uttered in the OL offices.
The other thing I adore about the OL is how the staff intern sends me memorandums whenever a new Morrissey release is on the horizon.
When I got the text that Morrissey “leaked” a new song off his rumored new LP, it was like Commissioner Gordon shining the Bat-Signal for Bruce Wayne. All of the warm feelings and excitement came rushing back.
But I know new Morrissey music doesn’t illicit the same fervor in the OUTSIDELEFT offices like it used to.
AC: I'm just unable to set aside Morrissey's support for the Britain First political view. From what I understand that's his thing. People like you, A -- people that love him -- do they know what those politics are all about? I mean, I thought Morrissey was gay, like Elton is gay -- well like anyone who is gay is gay, but I didnt think Britain First-ers are wholly tolerant of anyone whose DNA doesn't wholly, totally, conform. But what do I know?
A: Britain First — I think I get why he’s marching lock-step with that group. Wee England, right? Or is it Little England? Morrissey says he came to Britain First’s for their stand against halal meat, but we all can see now that his biggest attraction to the organization is its take on “preserving British culture.”
I don’t know what Britain First thinks of gay people -- my guess is they tolerate gay people as long as they share their views on immigration -- but I assume they welcome Morrissey with open arms due to his cache. If one of England’s greatest modem artists has voluntarily become a Britain First spokesperson, I don’t think Theresa May or Paul Golding are going to complain. To them, it's just good for business.
AC: But Britain First is such a mainstream political view in the UK now, they claimed 5,000 of their members have joined the party of government. Maybe what made Morrissey's lyrics great was that he wasn't the same as us, he did see the same situations as we saw them, but with a rarer clarity. He always swam against the tide. He was our champion, our insider outsider champion. Now he's just going with the flow. He's moved a long way from “Margaret on the Guillotine.”
A: I agree -- he was our champion. But I think the court case with Joyce changed him. I think it was the first time he realized there was something stronger than his will -- British law. He became obsessed with money, and the music gradually became less about unrequited love, and more about politics. I’d love another Vauxhall full of love and loss, but such frivolities will have to wait until the next album.
AC: Vauxhall and Arsenal were high watermarks, so so long ago though… It's like still hanging on to "Little Brown Jug" and hoping Glenn Miller will return. So... Staying objective, might not be easy for me, but let's talk about “Bobby.”
A: Yes, “Bobby, Don't You Think They Know?” I listened to it five times in a row the night is launched, and maybe a few dozen more since then, and I still haven’t fully absorbed it yet. There are layers I’m still working on.
I like it, but it suffers from over production. The bones of a chart topper are there, but it sounds sterile. The lyrics are interesting though -- it’s like “Sunny 2.0.” I wonder who Bobby is, and I want to know what Morrissey is referring to when he sings “I know... your torture below.”
Is he singing about his swollen genitals? You probably don’t know this, but Morrissey’s sung about his balls before. Do you remember “Dear God, Please Help Me” from Ringleader of the Tormentors?
“There are explosive kegs between my legs.” The world grimaced!
What did you think of “Bobby” on the first listen?
AC: My first impression was... two things: when the snare drum came in, I winced. Here it comes again -- almost lazy. The sound. It seems like a terrible signature on Morrissey's records, the snare. Like simple minds keep using the same sounds forever. And then Thelma Houston soars above. In Hollywood, the star never works with anyone thinner or taller than them. Morrissey mustn't be paying attention, everything here just makes him sound bad.
A: OK, production problems. Objectively speaking, I’ll give you that. The quality of Morrissey’s studio recording have been hard to swallow since 2006. In regards to studio production, things went out the window after Tony Visconti produced Ringleader of the Tormentors.
For his last four LPs, he’s used Joe Chiccarelli who has produced for some respectable acts, but when he produces for Morrissey, he tends to sterilize all the personality out of the music, which was one of Steven's strong suits. Think back to Kill Uncle and Your Arsenal -- those early albums had personality to spare. Chiccarelli has figured out to extract all personality from Morrissey’s music, and “Bobby” certainly suffers from that. And I agree with you, Thelma Houston is a curious choice, she sort of upstages the star.
As for the snare drum, it sounds like the click track Chiccarelli forgot to delete from the final mix, but did you hear that organ solo that comes in at the 3’ 30” mark? It’s remarkable, and reminds me of James Johnston’s organ work with Gallon Drunk, and the Bad Seeds.
What do you of his band these days?
AC: Maybe as far back as the Smiths -- millionth paragraph, first mention! -- Morrissey wasn’t always present when the music was being created, but maybe back then he was accompanied by a very rare and singular talent, and a rhythm section that just got it. Having professional session players and producers isn’t the same thing, it’s not how that magical thing, how that frisson arrives.
A: Good point. Can you imagine, being a singer/lyricist as yourself and your backing band consists of Marr, Rourke, and Joyce? From everything I read, Morrissey never sat in during the recording process.
He'd ask Marr to extend a middle eight or shorten an intro, but that was the extent of it. Now, from what Chiccarelli has said in interviews, Morrissey is in the control room behind the soundboard during every session. He’s the one who’s asking for more flamenco guitar and didgeridoo on the songs.
Maybe Joe Chiccarelli is a great producer, but Morrissey won’t let him fully perform his studio magic. I think Morrissey has too many ideas, and he wants to implement them all -- on every song. Have you read “List of the Lost?” Morrissey isn’t exactly the greatest editor in the world -- it’s a blessing and a curse.
AC: I don’t know. Whatever you say, I can’t escape thinking that while I don’t really pay much attention to Morrissey anymore, I suppose I was thinking maybe he’s glad to see Meghan Markle sent back to North America for very different reasons than me. I’m going back to playing my old Specials record.
A: Ooooh, why haven’t we heard Morrissey’s take on -- what is it being called now -- Megexit?
AC: Next time you call, can we talk about my worries about Field Music?
A: Absolutely. In the meantime, I think I’m going to dust off Kill Uncle and give it a few spins. Remember not too long ago when Kill Uncle was considered his weak spot? It’s absolutely charming in 2020, and if it were released today, it would shoot straight to the top of the charts. “Asian Rut” might ruffle feathers, but we’ll roll that into the Field Music discussion for next time.
Morrissey's single is available now, from his forthcoming LP I Am Not A Dog On Your Chain (BMG)
main photo: Randall Michelson (for ShoreFire Media)