Apparently, the formula required to go from near has-been with record label troubles to a glorious return to super-stardom is taking seven years off. You Are the Quarry cemented Morrissey’s status as an icon of not only British rock, but in the world of pop culture in general. I remember an argument that my former roommates had about what an icon truly was, and who was, was not, could be, or couldn’t be one. While some simple definitions simply call it either `one who is the object of great attention’ or `an important and enduring symbol,’ these two guys made their definitions loftier, insisting that to be an icon you had to be immediately recognizable to a majority. Neither disputed that actors such as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were icons, the person in question was William Shatner. The argument, if you care, revolved around whether or not he was separable from his character of Captain Kirk in his icon status. But I digress. My point is that not many people in the music community can argue that Morrissey is not one of its icons.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not big on live albums. Most of the time I prefer an original studio version to a live one, but there are, of course, exceptions. Some bands were simply meant to be heard live such as the Grateful Dead and Phish. While that may seem contradictory, recordings of live concerts are those bands milieu and are sometimes more popular than the studio versions themselves. That said, I don’t care for either of those bands, so I don’t buy those live albums either. Then there are the live recordings of those who have passed before their time, Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-É and Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York being two glowing examples. I’ll usually pick up an item like that. The last exception is the one that Morrissey fits into, when an artist has such a large and varied body of work, when that artist is an icon, and when said artist is making a triumphant return to hometown stages after a long absence.
Live at Earls Court is a recording of a concert at the end of the You Are the Quarry tour in December of 2004. The set list did not vary too much on the last leg of the tour which took him through the U.K., but this particular show is that played at London’s Earls Court, duh, on December 18th. And what a set list it is! How do you wow audiences after a seven year hiatus? Apparently by opening the show with his former band’s most popular single ever, “How Soon Is Now?” which does not sound dated in the least. Four other Smiths songs are included on the CD, “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and encore “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me.” After seven years of hearing countless others covering the master, it’s nice to hear the original belt them out. The majority of the songs are naturally going to come from the last album which is represented by six tracks. The rest of the album is filled out by B-sides which appeared on some of his UK singles as well as being collected on the Deluxe Edition of Quarry and two covers, “Subway Train” by the New York Dolls and “Redondo Beach” by Patti Smith.
For someone who is about to celebrate his 46th birthday, Morrissey has not lost a step. While he could have easily fallen into the `washed up but influential’ category after having been covered prolifically, including a fantastic tribute by Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, he chose to rise again, releasing one of the best albums not only of his career, but of the last five years of popular music as a whole. Live at Earls Court is a celebration of a pop icon, a man whose lyrics are legendary, whose voice is often imitated, never duplicated, and who, despite his plea at the end of the concert of “Don’t forget me” after “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” will always be remembered.
The Smiths- “Rank”
Morrissey- (You Are the Quarry)
Jeff Buckley- Mystery White Boy