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In a world paralyzed by fear, marked by cultural and literal isolation, it’s a relief to discover evidence that there are still fearless artists among us. Morrissey’s latest album, I Am not a Dog on a Chain, is exactly that evidence.
The album opens with “Jim Jim Falls”—a synth-driven jam in which Morrissey croons “If you’re gonna kill yourself / then to save face, get on with it,” a shocking and provocative lyric that is offset by another, later imperative in the song: “If you’re going to sing, then sing / just don’t talk about it.”
While at first it seems like a suicide anthem, it transforms itself into an affirming anthem about taking risks and singing your life. It’s legitimately one of Morrissey’s best songs in his solo career.
It’s set off against a culture that incessantly updates, shouts into voids, and screeches for relevancy. While at first listen these lyrics are an indictment of each of us, it turns out that they are a license to free yourself from the confines of expectations, from the limitations of our physical confines. They offer a blueprint for a better reality. Be your own, they say, you don’t have to talk about it all the time, or seek validation.
While Morrissey has cancelled his tour, much to our dismay, it makes a kind of new world order sense that he stayed put in the UK instead of venturing back to the US. The album drops into downloads on Friday, and in many ways this is the ideal quarantine record. It’s from an artist who is a perpetual loner, who inspires us in our own solitude. The social contagion is one Morrissey’s fans have long avoided, preferring the universe inside ourselves.
Another standout is the album’s title track. “I Am not a Dog on a Chain” is a rollicking tune reminiscent of “Journalists who Lie” with a nod to Dylan’s “Only a Pawn In Their Game.”
Morrissey is perfectly British here as he croons “I am not a dog on a chain / I use my own brain / I do not read newspapers / They are troublemakers / Listen out for what’s not shown to you / And there you’ll find the truth.” It’s a proper condemnation of the establishment media’s corrupt gaslighting game. It’s also pitch perfect advice.
What we experience daily in the world of our own four walls is the constant chatter of newsheads spelling doom and dismay for humanity as a whole, disparaging governments and national leaders, criticizing solutions while offering none of their own. When we turn it off the silence is a relief but the loneliness is real. These are songs that can see us through.
For those who yearn for the Morrissey of yesteryear, with wistful reminiscences of Old Blighty, fear not— “Once I Saw the River Clean” is a gorgeous stroll through Morrissey’s youth. “I walked with my grandmother / Along the groan of Talbot Road / In the gardens by the graves / I can just about behave.” Morrissey’s Irish heritage shines through—with strings and all—in this instant nostalgia-driven classic.
“What Kind of People Live In These Houses” is catchy pop-stylist Moz at his best. Ditto “Knockabout World”—an ode to the unpersoned and cancelled. “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know,” a duet with Thelma Houston, is a bold choice that pays off in droves. These are songs to listen to on headphones while strolling your empty neighborhoods.
Before the bleak reality of pandemic and self-isolation set in for us all, there was the ideological scourge of identity politics that compelled many of us to self-isolate. Morrissey simply refused to comply—daring to speak simple and plain truths despite character assassination upon character assassination. In I Am not a Dog on a Chain, we see the result of not giving into the woke mob. We see a true artist declare his own independence and individuality in a world where everyone has been forced to wear a mask and stay on a short leash.
He’s showing us how to be ourselves again. To not care what anyone else thinks, in that real way where you just don’t care, and don’t post about it to see how many other attention-seeking iconoclasts like it. This record asks us to free ourselves, to legitimately let go of the endless antiseptic layers piled on us. We’ve never needed him more.