We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Morrissey’s first album in seven years and his best in 12, You Are the Quarry opens with a synth beat, but it doesn’t really mean it. Co-written mostly with longtime guitarists Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer, these dozen songs don’t aspire to anything unexpected. The album—whose cover renders its title as Morrissey, You Are the Quarry—is simply 1995’s Southpaw Grammar or 1997’s Maladjusted done right, with stronger tunes and better editing. Producer Jerry Finn is best known for working with blink-182 and Green Day, which suggests that, among Morrissey collaborators, he’s closer in sensibility to glam-rocker Mick Ronson (who supervised 1992’s Your Arsenal) than to such fussier producers as Steve Lillywhite (who did Grammar and Maladjusted). In fact, Finn has embellished these songs with strings, harp, and flute as well as with cheesy synth swooshes. But like even the most ornate Smiths record, Quarry never discounts the core band. Even the Album-Closing Long One, the 5:51 “You Know I Couldn’t Last”—basically a rewrite of “Paint a Vulgar Picture”—is outfitted with Whyte and Boorer’s epic-punk guitars. (Think “Shoplifters of the World Unite” or prime Alice Cooper). The principal false notes resound not in the arrangements but in the lyrics. Living in Los Angeles hasn’t brought the singer any new themes, as is clear simply from the titles of the Quarry’s two sprightliest tunes, “Irish Blood, English Heart” and “First of the Gang to Die.” But Moz does seem to have picked up a tendency toward vulgarity of a plain-spoken nature. “America Is Not the World” pegs his current homeland as the land of the hamburger and then retorts, “You know where you can shove your hamburger,” and “The World Is Full of Crashing Bores” derides “lock-jawed pop stars thicker than pig shit.” Despite such infelicities, though, Morrissey retains much of his verbal, and all of his vocal, agility. He glides from croon to falsetto as if Johnny Marr were still at his side, and he sings about the potential release of someone coming out of the closet with all the ardor of an isolated teenager. Yes, it is a bit awkward to be nursing your adolescent obsessions at 45, but with You Are the Quarry, Morrissey is once again the emperor of his Anglo-Irish rut. —Mark Jenkins