I have waited a couple of days to review the new Morrissey single Istanbul because it felt like a grower. My initial assumption is right after not being initially sure of what to make of the song. The song is not as melodically captivating as the first single, World Peace is None of Your Business, but its melody slowly creeps into your head until you can’t forget it.
The lyrics are very interesting. Morrissey is singing in the third person, which he doesn’t do a great deal of, although he has done it before. The song is about a father searching for his son in the title city. The son has become a prostitute. The lyrics are full of regret and empathy. It appears the father drove the son out for being gay, though I could be reading into that as it is not made expressly clear. The father has had a change of heart and wants to find the son before it is too late. In the beginning the father talks about how the mother died when both were younger. There is also a lyric about the father having a child when he was too young, implying that he feels he did not do as good of a job as he was supposed to. This song tells a story from beginning to end with the father tragically finding the pine box coffin that the son is in.
In many Morrissey songs, like When I Last Spoke to Carol, tragedies have a slight degree of comedy. It is often the divine comedy of life, as it relays the absurdity of the human condition. However, in this song there is no comedy. It is a story again told with a great deal of empathy.
Both lyrically and musically, although I will have to wait until I hear the full album, it seems as if Morrissey is branching out. Don’t get me wrong, the things that have made Morrissey unique and the reason that those of us who love him have followed him, are still there. However both the lyrics and the production of these songs seem more outward looking than ever before. Most of Morrissey’s early work took place in Great Britain. Whether they were personal reflections or story songs they were very firmly rooted in his homeland. His last few albums have broadened his lyrical palette in terms of place. You are the Quarry was very much an LA album despite having lyrics about Camden and the British legal system. Ringleaders of the Tormentors charms had a lot to do with his then current home of Rome. On these first two singles he again seems to be looking out at a much larger world and the problems that are taking place within these times.
While Vauxhall and I will always remain my favorite, this album seems to be branching out musically as well and it is very exciting and interesting. The track Istanbul features field recordings from that city. There is also a great musical moment when he sings of street gangs and an army of congas rise to the front of the mix. Although he has used the sound of a storm before, in Life is a Pigsty, in this track, along with the other examples I have used, the sound of the song conjures up visual imagery of the title city.
It should also be noted that guitars and bass sound particularly tough and sinewy. Along with all the added textures this is the sound of a well tested road band playing at the height of their powers. I simply cannot wait for this album to come out.