Album Review: Morrissey - 'I Am Not a Dog on a Chain'

Morrissey’s career is haunted by controversy and ideological turmoil, and much of his musical output as a result has been shunned by many popular media outlets. Morrissey is an example of ‘cancel culture’ – a modern phenomenon which sees the media suppress the prominence of celebrities who express unpopular opinions on volatile subjects (see such attempts towards Kanye West). In his newest album, I Am Not a Dog on a Chain, Moz turns to electro-pop and experimental rock to grant his listeners an insight into his side of the story. The entire album serves both as an ode to his loyal fans and a warning against allowing oneself to be subject to the manipulation of the media.

Prior to the album’s release, Morrissey dropped three singles: Knockabout World, Love Is on Its Way Out, and Bobby, Don’t You Think they Know? This selection was extremely effective in establishing some of the major themes the album strives to discuss – desolation, artificiality and honesty.

On Knockabout World, Moz puts a mirror to himself through the microphone and congratulates his own artistic survival in a world which, in his opinion, punishes creativity and individualism, or at least, his creativity and his individualism. The single sits naturally in the album in its criticism of the apparent power that media has with regard to constructing and distorting our perception of the world. Morrissey uses this single to plead with his listeners, begging they ‘Be careful in this knockabout world’. By this, he seems to mean that in staying grounded in oneself and one’s own beliefs, it is easier to transcend the clutter, mess and that which is ‘knockabout’ in a society heavily reliant on the influence and gratification of others. This idea is nothing new in Morrissey’s music and, indeed, is one reason he is perceived as problematic among many critics and ex-fans. This philosophy, though important to be aware of in the volatile world which Moz describes, risks an over-indulgence in one’s own views and, as a result, an isolation from objective fact. It might be said that a large amount of the controversy surrounding Morrissey actually originates in his loyalty to this way of thinking – what he thinks, he knows, and this album shows him to be prouder of that than ever.

"Perhaps not a dog on a chain, but a wild hound drooling at the jaws, snapping and barking at his enemies."

Love Is on Its Way Out comes across as a more objective examination of such social issues. Morrissey takes ‘love’, something completely abstract, and attempts to represent its absence in concrete terms such as nerve gas attacks and the slaughtering of animals. Such a presentation of ‘love’ is particularly effective; it insists that the listeners compare their perception of ‘love’ to other objective and material things. Where we may all agree that the ‘nerve gas children crying’ is an image so far from and so empty of any sort of compassion or idea of love and the invocation of vegetarianism - a reversion to his Smiths rhetoric, Meat is Murder - comes loaded with inevitable disagreement and conflict. The single is impressive in its introduction of provocative subjects and, more importantly, Morrissey’s provocative opinions on them.

Something which is revealed by the album in its entirety is the theme of responsibility. Morrissey consistently alludes to a divide between an instigator and a victim, between an artist and his art. In doing so, he draws on ideas of a wider artistic sense persisting in asking the question, as he always has: ‘how far should my public image influence the value of my artistic output?’ This is interesting to consider, particularly in the case of Morrissey, an artist who seemed to fall from a position of power and respectability in the music industry as the lead singer for The Smiths, to one of bitterness and detachment in his later solo career.

Image courtesy of Toby Tenenbaum

It can (and has been) said that the media were largely to blame for such a brutal descent. Often, they are acknowledged as demonising Moz as insensitive, depressing and twistd, but as the media have become increasingly influential, the vigour with which Morrissey fights for his artistic integrity has grown more powerful too; his newest album simply follows suit as perhaps his most vicious response to the media yet. Perhaps not a dog on a chain, but a wild hound drooling at the jaws, snapping and barking at his enemies.