- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

Some artists have powers of observation. Others favor the art of the confessional. Still others combine the two forms into an ugly narcissistic hybrid: the obsessive observation of the self.

An unusually monstrous chimerical creature has a new product out this week.

Its name is Alanis Morrissey.

Morrissey

You Are the Quarry

Attack Records

An eight-year layoff can indicate three things about a songwriter: that he’s been perfecting a masterpiece; he’s out of ideas; or he’s just plain lazy.

The first possibility is almost never true. It wasn’t uncommon for the Beatles to release two masterpieces in a single year, and it took five years for Def Leppard to make “Adrenalize.”

“You Are the Quarry,” Morrissey’s 21st-century comeback, is some unknowable combination of possibilities two and three.

For someone of Morrissey’s stature — he of the influential ‘80s alterna-rockers the Smiths — the low-yield payoff of “Quarry” is inexcusable. The album, with its highly compressed sheen and cheapo synthesizers, sounds as though it could’ve been made 15 years ago, just before the Nirvana era.

A drum loop shuffles along here and there, offering fleeting evidence that Morrissey and producer Jerry Finn have listened to the radio since 1997. Throughout the set, the guitars lack edge, and drummer Dean Butterworth sounds like he was crammed into a broom closet.

The stuck-in-amber quality isn’t even the most off-putting thing about “Quarry.”

No, that would be Morrissey himself, and I don’t mean his torchy voice. If you don’t care for the way in which he preen-sings, luxuriating over syllables like they’re gourmet chocolates, then you’ve never cared for Morrissey, who’s about to turn 45.

I mean his pouty, self-dramatizing arrogance.

He opens “Quarry” with a pair of political broadsides, one aimed at America, the other his native England. On “America is Not the World,” he tells us “big fat” Yanks where we can shove our hamburgers. On “Irish Blood, English Heart,” he spits on the name of Oliver Cromwell, the radical Puritan.

What’s striking about these tirades is how condescendingly self-absorbed they are. America is overfed and imperialistic but, don’t fret, he still loves us: “I just wish you’d stay where you is.” And it would really endear us to him if we’d elect a “black, female or gay” president.

A female prime minister didn’t change Morrissey’s opinion about his homeland (remember “Margaret On the Guillotine” from “Viva Hate”?), which makes him feel “baneful, shameful, racist and partial.”

On “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” Morrissey, a celibate homosexual, finds it in himself to let God off the hook: “Why did you give me so much desire, when there is nowhere I can go to offload this desire?”

Elsewhere, on songs such as “I’m Not Sorry,” “The World Is Full of Crashing Bores” and “How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?,” the solipsism throttle stays wide open.

“You Know I Couldn’t Last” is the final graceless note. Morrissey claws at all who have done him wrong: critics, lawyers, accountants and old fans who grew tired of him.

You know what handicappers say about thoroughbred horses: Never bet on one that just took a long vacation.

Alanis Morissette

So-Called Chaos

Maverick Records

Alanis Morissette’s favorite word is “I.”

Alanis Morissette loves to sing in the first person.

Alanis Morissette loves to repeat herself, no matter what she’s singing about.

Alanis Morissette’s lyrics read like this paragraph.

“So-Called Chaos” is the fourth album for the 29-year-old singer, who recently cut her long locks and found a steady boyfriend in actor Ryan Reynolds.

“So-Called Chaos” occasionally reflects this contentment with songs such as the new radio single “Everything,” about being with someone who’s uncommonly tolerant.

“So-Called Chaos” also finds Miss Morissette singing of letting go of grudges and of self-serving excuses, and of someone who “makes the knees of my bees weak,” which is a very silly line.

“So-Called Chaos” is very pretentious.

“Doth I Protest Too Much” begins with the sounds of a sitar, which is a very bad sign.

“Doth I Protest Too Much,” modernized from the Shakespeare, would read “Does I Protest Too Much,” which is pretty stupid, when you think about it.

“Doth I Protest Too Much,” like all the songs here, starts out folky and midtempo, then brightens into a canned Top 40-clingy hook.

“Doth I Protest Too Much” and “Spineless” are girl-power anthems with all the delicacy of a wild elephant.

The song “Ironic” shows that Miss Morissette doesn’t really know what irony is.

The song “Eight Easy Steps” shows that Miss Morissette is still amateurishly fascinated by paradox, with mock-counsel lines such as “how to keep smiling when you’re thinking of killing yourself” and “how to hate women when you’re supposed to be a feminist.”

The song “Out is Through” tries to hide cliches in passive voice, as in “Every time our horns are locked, I’m towel-throwing.”

The song “Not All Me” uses the word “lest” with a straight face.

Alanis Morissette says in one song here that she and her special someone “love physical humor,” which makes sense because she’s incapable of verbal or written humor.

Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” was the biggest-ever debut for a solo artist.

Alanis Morissette, therefore, has enough money and enough of a loyal fan base to continue making records such as “So-Called Chaos.”

Alanis Morissette has friends like director Kevin Smith who put her in movies.

Alanis Morissette will probably never go away.

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