Two of the stalwart acts in modern rock will release new records this February: U2 and Morrissey. And, as usual in both cases, the pre-release hype machine is already in full-throttle months in advance. The U2 record, to be titled No Line on the Horizon, was recorded in Morocco, France, and Dublin, Ireland. And sources close to the band are effusive with praise about it. Co-producer Daniel Lanois is quoted as saying “it’s one of the great, innovative records from U2.” Well, we’ll see about that. But one thing is for sure, the song titles of likely album tracks are intriguing. They include: “Get Your Boots On,” “The Cedars of Lebanon,” “Moment of Surrender,” “Love is All We Have Left,” and “If I Could Live My Life Again.”
The new Morrissey album is called Years of Refusal, and was produced by Jerry Finn, who manned the board on the Moz’s 2004 comeback record You are the Quarry. Tragically, Finn suffered a brain hemorrhage shortly after finishing the project and died August 21. But it appears Finn’s final production effort will be a strong one, if comments from Morrissey’s band are any indication. Like Bono, Morrissey has a knack for interesting song titles. Probable album tracks include: “Action Man,” “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” “One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell,” “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” “Because of My Poor Education,” “You Were Good in Your Time,” and “Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed.”
The coincidence of these two releases is a double pleasure. And as I anticipate them with glee, certain similarities between the two Irish-blooded songsmiths have jumped out at me. For one thing, both Bono and Morrissey are musical connoisseurs, and not just within the rock tradition but across genres, ranging from Broadway show tunes to Indian trance music. It is fascinating to see how two men in their late-forties have remained hungry and innovative, both lyrically and musically. Far from being “written out,” each continues to explore interesting themes and styles with each release.
Bono and Morrissey are both well-read fellows, faithfully observing that guiding maxim for all literary artists: good writers must be good readers. No artist creates in a vacuum, and as Bono himself has said, “every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief.” These two have mastered the skill of artistic thievery, drawing their inspiration from great poets, novelists, and singers without lapsing into cheap, transparent imitation.
Another trait they share is strong convictions. They have keen interests in political issues, and both are social activists regarding certain causes, such as AIDS relief in Africa in Bono’s case (cf. “Crumbs from Your Table”) and animal welfare for the Moz (cf. “Meat is Murder”). You might say that they are very judgmental people, as perhaps all moral visionaries are, and each has been guilty of mouthing off or being too harshly critical at times.
Finally, both Bono and Morrissey have a strong sense of mortality. Human frailty and desperation in a dangerous and confusing world are recurring themes in the work of both artists. There is a certain sorrow which pervades their songs, though the Christian faith of Bono and the other members of U2 preserves a sense of hope in their music. But Morrissey, no less than Bono, is on a spiritual quest—though I’m quite sure he would resist this characterization—which comes through in his music as well. Both of them have shared their journeys with us in aesthetically pleasing ways. And for this I am thankful.