Judge Bill Gibron hopes that more than just the shoplifters of the world will unite and support this sensational concert DVD by the enigmatic singer.
Hang the DJ!
He is the ultimate expression of unbridled teenage angst, the poster boy for rock's non-machismo, more insular other half. During his tenure with the seminal '80s Britrock combo The Smiths, he helped craft some of the most clever and clarion pop songs ever to storm the charts. When the massively popular Manchester musical mainstay finally called it quits in 1987, everyone assumed that its lead singer would limp off into obscurity, a forgotten icon to elements that status as a solo artist could not maintain. But a certain Stephen Patrick Morrissey proved the pundits wrong…at least for a while. With the stellar starter, 1988's Viva Hate (which produced three huge hits—"Suedehead," "Hairdresser on Fire," and "Everyday is Like Sunday"), it looked like the Moz—as he is lovingly referred to by fans—was in it for the longevity haul.
As music morphed in the '90s, moving away from the sparkle of Smiths-like jangle and into darker, industrial realms, Morrissey couldn't maintain the momentum. By the time of his 1997 album Maladjusted, critics has written off the singer as an odd duck dinosaur with a sound from a forgotten era. Moz was eventually dropped by his record label and went into a kind of career seclusion. For the seven years he was away, the songs he created, both on his own and with Smith guitarist Johnny Marr, moved from triumphs to timeless, and his rank as a certified cult legend only increased. By the time he was ready for a comeback, it appeared Morrissey's maniacs were equally anxious for his return.
In support of his 2004 CD You are the Quarry, Morrissey launched a world tour that proved he'd never stepped too far away from his dour, dry-witted wonderment. A highlight was his May 22, 2004 show at Manchester Evening News Arena in his hometown. It also just so happened to be his 45th birthday. Captured for release as a live album and a DVD, Morrissey: Who Put the "M" in Manchester is a stellar record of the mature Moz, fully functional in his mythos, and damn glad to be performing for packed houses again. Those hoping for a nostalgia packed night will be sadly mistaken. This is Morrissey version 2005—digging deeply into his new material (eight of the songs here come from the new album) while paying only minor lip service to prior periods in his career. Indeed, he skips over many of his seminal singles ("Suedehead," "Last of the Famous International Playboys," "November Spawned a Monster") to pay homage to lesser material from those salad days. Specifically, the set list here is comprised of the following material:
• "First of the Gang to Die"—from the 2004 album
You are the Quarry
This is a killer concert, a faultless example of electrified entertainment presented in a near pristine manner. While there is still a little too much reliance on the MTV jumpcut (if Morrissey is ever milking an emotion or focusing on a single lyric line, we'd never know because of all the quick cutting), director Bucky Fukumoto does a great job with his compositional and framing choices. Our star, decked out in full dapper dandy mode, truly gives his all, using his aging voice to graceful greatness. His longtime backing band (guitarists Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, bassist Gary Day, drummer Deano Butterworth, and keyboardist Mickey Farrell) are as thick as thieves and twice as tight. They provide a potent polished soundscape for their leader to languish in, and Morrissey definitely complements the sonics.
Highlights include the Moz's first look back—though why the brief few bars of the New York Dolls "Subway Train" is melded onto the devastatingly brilliant "Everyday is Like Sunday" remains a mystery. Still, the song flourishes live, with the crowd providing a breathtaking backing vocal. Equally evocative are several Quarry numbers, including show opener "First of the Gang to Die," the dramatic "I Have Forgiven Jesus," and the amazingly goofy "Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice." When drawing from the substantial Smiths catalog, there is a tendency toward the obscure ("Rubber Ring") or the showboating singalong ("There is a Light that Never Goes Out"). The audience really adds a lot to the performances. This is their hometown boy, after all, and Morrissey's cult fanbase is nothing if not rabid. They mouth the lyrics along with their idol and erupt in joyful cacophony the minute he offers up the slightest nod of knowing recognition. Morrissey doesn't play to the crowd so much as for them, and they respond with blissful, blitzed-out bombast.
Still, there will be those diehards looking for "Panic" or "Hand in Glove," unable to move beyond the singer's stint as a member of the best band of 1980s Britain. It's unfair to hold Morrissey's feet to the fire over the lack of more recognizable fare. He is trying to maintain, not memorialize his career, and the choices here reflect an artist comfortable with his legacy and feeling free to experiment. The inclusion of the Raymonde cover version is a good example of the new and improved Moz. He's willing to gamble his fan's goodwill to indulge in sounds that make him happy. And Morrissey does indeed look content here. He is less mannered and more open with the spectators, indulging their whims and responding to their scattered shout outs with an impish grin. Compelling from beginning to end, and proof positive that live rock and roll played by real musicians is far from dead, Morrissey: Who Put the "M" in Manchester is a winner. This is a great souvenir of an old star's return to form.
Sanctuary, who specializes in offering up high-caliber DVD product, does not disappoint with this amazing technical presentation. Beginning with a reference quality 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image, the visual aspects of this disc are just remarkable. We get several snapshot images of Manchester, picture perfect postcards that, oddly enough, give a real depth to the man and the music we are about to witness. The colors are super sharp and crisp, and there is not a single video defect to be found—and one would expect them, especially with the blazingly illuminated "MORRISSEY" marquee lighting up, blasting brilliant and bright red just behind the band.
Sonically, the situation is even better. Sanctuary gives us a great Dolby Digital Stereo mix, but the better aural offerings are the 5.1 mixes, available in either DTS or regular mode. There is a real sense of the venue, an intensity in the spatial relationship between the instrument, the singer, and the crowd that really sells the concert setting. The digital recreation is incredibly dense, making each song sing with auditory wonder. As good as the image is, the sound is even better, making this a solid one-two punch of performance and presentation.
As for extras, they run the gamut from videos (for songs from this concert DVD as well as from You are the Quarry), to additional live performances (all taken from the Move Festival and overlapping material performed in the May MEN concert) and a strange feature—a nauseatingly detailed animal abuse video presented by PETA (and narrated by Alec Baldwin) entitled Meet Your Meat. It is not for the faint of heart. While it makes sense for Morrissey to include such a feature (the artist is a staunch vegetarian), many may not cotton to its geek show strategies.
There is no denying the power and the passion of the Smiths' mythos. They were a throwback to guitar power and superb songwriting in a decade dominated by electropop and synthesizers. That Morrissey survived to redefine himself while Johnny Marr, who wrote the magnificent music for the group, is a forgotten favorite, is one of the band's more baffling legacies. But Who Put the "M" in Manchester is reason enough to understand the Moz's lasting impact. Even in the throes of middle age, Morrissey makes music matter more than young whelps half his age. This is a sensational concert DVD, and a signpost for great things ahead in the lexicon of one sweet and tender hooligan.
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Scales of Justice
• Five Live Performances from Move Festival, Manchester, 2004
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