The man who is perhaps the most unlikely pop star of our time is returning to Phoenix. Morrissey son of librarians, celibate singer of sexual songs, violent vegetarian, bundle of endless contradiction and controversy graces Celebrity Theatre with his presence on Friday, August 9.
The question is: Why? The former vocalist of the Smiths has no new album, no new retrospective, and is backed by no sudden resurgence of the music of the Smiths. He has been a solo artist much longer than he was a Smith anyway, beginning with Viva Hate way back in 1988. His biggest-selling record in America was 1994's Vauxhall and I, which spawned the self-parodying hit single "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get." His career appears to have been in a steady decline since then.
The warbler is currently without a label, not that he needs one. His last release of new material was 1997's critically disdained Maladjusted. While these elements would seem to spell anything but "tour," Morrissey is opening his tour one that has already seen him cancel and reschedule nine dates with this Friday's show.
Although the Mozzer is currently adrift in a musical neverland, things were quite different when the Smiths first came to Arizona in August 1986. Touring behind their critically acclaimed and crossover-friendly album The Queen Is Dead, the band played Mesa Amphitheatre to a sold-out audience of "apostles," as Mr. Mozz so dearly called his fans in those days. The yin/yang perfection of the Morrissey/Marr collaboration was in full glory. Johnny Marr's intricate guitar melodies beautifully contrasted with Morrissey's tone-challenged, introspective musings.
Now it's 16 years later and Morrissey's lyrical topics are similar, the music is less dynamic and the flattop has thinned out. But Morrissey is still an enigma, a specimen of an unusual person thrust into celebrity.
As on past tours, Morrissey brings a backing band of well-coifed ruffians and played selections primarily from his catalogue of solo material. He is quite a presence on stage, a naturally shy man converted into showman, sticking his tongue out and thumbing his nose at his own making.
While his star currently may be in retrograde, he is an engaging if unlikely performer, and he understands and appreciates the fans who have stayed with him on his bumpy ride. Though the man sometimes conjures the clichéd image of crying all the way to the bank, Morrissey has had moments of brilliance. The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now," perhaps the most haunted and yearning declaration of individuality ever to become a dance hit, single-handedly introduced all things Oscar Wilde to otherwise-unknowing adolescents.
Morrissey is a genuine talent and a master of lyrics. So go buy some Aqua Net, bust out the beads, bring some flowers and do your best to look miserable while you enjoy the maladjusted spokesman for all things ill.