I don’t know if there was just something in the water than made 2019 a particularly inspiring year for music, or if it was my ears pricking up more than usual, but it was a very good year for music. I certainly went out of my way to hear more, and as a result, I’ve had to pick more favorites. From old geezers doing what they do best, to new-establishment favorites, to newly-discovered talents holding their own; from huge stars to obscure imports; in every genre and all over the map – it’s just been a really good year for music.
Androgyne – Gyasi
Full disclosure: Gyasi is my brother. But even if he wasn’t, this would still be one of the best records of the year. Because nobody plays glam rock like they really mean it anymore.
Morrissey keep on being a bad person, and I keep telling myself to stop putting him at the top of all my playlists, but then he keeps making records that I love, and I loved every weird minute of this weird record. So Morrissey stays.
Electro-swing is one of those technologically enabled hybrid genres that don’t get much love or publicity, but Caravan Palace has always shown that putting together the best parts of disparate genres like jazz and EDM actually makes the world a better place.
I discovered this Texas-based dreampop group based entirely on their sexy name, and guess what, they’re the new Rhye. As in, a homely guy with the voice of an angel, singing pantie-dropping songs of ambient sadness.
Lizzo was, hands down, the biggest breakout star of the year, and not just because she takes up space (though that’s part of her appeal too.) It’s just that she’s everything we want and need in a pop star, and her album couldn’t be more perfect.
Representing the Scandinavian faction is Aurora. With her appropriately icy vocals and cryptic imagery, she’s an aesthetic package, and her record is highly conceptualized, ambitions, grandly orchestrated.
Rapsody is the antidote to every hoodrat female rapper who talks about stripping, hustling and beefing with rivals. With each track named for a legendary Black woman, from Nina Simone to Afeni Shakur, Eve is a collection of poetry about the embattled lives and deep strength of Black women.
Iggy Pop is already rock’n’roll’s most unexpected survivor, but even more unexpected, he’s one who still loves what he does and fearlessly jumps in entirely new directions. For the Godfather of Punk, a new direction might mean a horn section or a reading of Dylan Thomas, but then, he’s always been deeper than his antics led us to believe.
Say what you will about Morrissey, but he had an undeniably great run in the 2000’s. His solo career had started strong but wilted by the end of the 90’s. Between 2004 and 2009 it was like he had rediscovered his passion and set out to prove to the world that he was still relevant. Again, you can say what you will about Morrissey’s continued relevance. He’ll always be relevant to a certain subset of weepy sadbois, but he’ll probably never be a massive pop cultural touchstone again. But he made a string of really great rock albums just when nobody was expecting to hear anything of value from him again. We wouldn’t be talking about what he’s up to now if he hadn’t stood up and showed that he could still be great when he’d been all but dismissed after a series of flops and bad press. Important artists continually rediscover themselves, despite creative and personal ups and downs, and they find themselves in and out of public favor over the years. It’s exciting to witness a good comeback, when it happens.
Morrissey has finally released a covers album, long awaited by no one but me. In typical aggravating fashion the controversy overshadowed the music. Did he or didn’t he surreptitiously show his support for a right-wing political candidate on late night TV? I don’t know anything about the nuances of British politics and I don’t particularly care; lots of celebrities have supported shitty candidates and/or blurted out ignorant opinions and it doesn’t stop them selling records. Morrissey’s record probably would have earned better reviews without the reminder that he’s a twat in real life, but it sold well anyway. And frankly, I loved it. Morrissey may be a twat but he’s still one of our most inimitable vocal talents, and it’s great to hear him apply himself to something besides his own writing. The problem with Morrissey’s writing is that it hasn’t changed much since the 80’s and he still fundamentally sees himself as a set-upon loser with an achy-breaky heart, which was endearing in a frail youth but less so coming from a successful older man. There’s only so much you can feel sorry for yourself when you’ve been at the top of your profession for decades. One thing he does still have going for him, which I think is an underrated aspect of the Morrissey persona, is his knack for high camp. Morrissey has the camp instincts of a cabaret queen. It’s always been a part of his work, but it’s become more pronounced with age. You could say that his recent string of albums have been leaning into self-parody, and sometimes it’s unclear if that’s intentional. Here, with the writing clearly removed from the man, it’s very much intentional. I think this might be Morrissey’s gayest album yet.
Well, here I am asking myself if it’s wrong that I still enjoy Morrissey’s newer records. Morrissey once said that being his fan must be very hard, and ever since, he’s thrown down the gauntlet to make it even harder. Why does he keep saying all these nasty racist things? Is it because he’s a racist old white guy? The best I can say for him is that he has the very immature mentality that he should be allowed to say whatever he likes and not expect any pushback, and when he says dumb shit and earns negative pushback, he acts shocked and wounded. More to the point, I would say that he is an elderly man who has calcified, as people tend to do with age, into someone more ignorant, more conservative and more deeply out of touch than his younger self used to be. (Although his younger self was kind of a jerk too.) Can we just accept that most of our icons are scum? Most people are scum when you look at them closely enough, but especially if they’re white guys of a certain age and too much money in their pockets. That’s just demographically factual. Even the so-called good ones. They were all raised to believe that their shitty behavior is somehow ‘charming’ or symptomatic of inner depth or is negated by their talent, or whatever. And then we all collectively threw money at them and hung their picture up in a frame. Every day there’s another breathless news story about some old dude saying or doing or being accused of saying or doing some shitty stupid shit like they don’t understand that the entire culture has changed and people are no longer going to shrug and say “oh, you!” like a put-upon sitcom housewife. And lest you ask, female elder statesmen are in no way exempt from this; Brigitte Bardot, for example, is absolutely abhorrent in her politics, while the likes of Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand have decided that defending Michael Jackson (a man who did sex to little boys, on the scale of shitty things to have done) is the hill their reputations would die on. Does that mean that Morrissey is canceled, as the kids say? Well, no. If every shitty person’s art was canceled, there would be no art left, because we’re all shitty people and we all have done things we’d like to not have dredged up on Twitter. Even Michael Jackson is not canceled.
I can see Morrissey having an alternate career singing lounge jazz. If he had more musicality and less dysfunction, he could have made it on the cocktail lounge scene for sure. He would, of course, be a very a very campy lounge singer, perhaps the kind who specializes in warming up the crown before a drag show. Alternate universe. As it is, Morrissey turned out to be a campy old queen of a very different stripe, and he certainly made his mark with the choices he made. It’s his life to wreck in his own way, after all.
This is certainly the call to arms you need to hear while browsing at Hot Topic. Morrissey encourages you to stick it to the man in the quietest, most unobtrusive way possible. Meanwhile, I would not be surprised to find that ‘shoplifting’ is some obscure north of England palare for acts of a homosexual nature. “A listed crime” you say? Well, no doubt, stealing is a crime, and if you were to confess that you’ve got a sticky set of five fingers, that would be a fine double entendre too. You could be stealing some nice boy’s virtue. Yes, indeed, this is some of the most thinly coded gay agitprop to be seen on English television in Our Year of the Lord 1987 (very much not a good year for gay people.) I’m sure that it was, to those that got it, discreetly incendiary. I suspect that Morrissey’s swaying hips are still enough to set gay sadboys’ hearts aflutter with validation. I mean, it works well enough for those of us who are merely sad and romantically discombobulated without the extra burden of needing code words for it. Morrissey’s brand of bedsitter emo – miserabalism – knows no sexual boundaries (because his fans don’t have sex and when they do they hate it, haha) which may be why he’s never publicly committed to having a sexual orientation. When he quipped that genitalia is a cruel joke, his words rang true. But really, it’s the heart that is a cruel joke, and the genitals are just its unruly henchmen.
So somebody really likes Scandinavia a lot. This is Morrissey, who is not given to liking things a lot. It’s also a very melodramatic song, I would almost even say bombastic. Which are things late-stage Morrissey is very much given to. He likes being pompous is his old age. Frankly, I can understand if you no longer want to see or hear anything about him at this point. A lot of people think Morrissey stopped being relevant a very long time ago and needs to just go quietly already. I would agree except that he still finds time to write the occasional song that just speaks to me and my mental state. Or, failing to be emotionally on-point, he’s still frequently very funny. A lot of us keep coming back just for the wordplay. There’s just not enough articulate songwriting in the world, and nobody writes lines like Morrissey.