Despite a few wrinkles and patches of gray, the now middle-aged Morrissey appears as striking as ever.
"Time will prove everything," proclaimed Morrissey during his appearance at London's Earls Court on 18 December 2004.
Well if nothing else, time has proven that Morrissey, after two decades of writing and performing music, still has it. To this day, the soon to be 46-year-old can send his fans into a state of frenzied excitement like no other artist.
Not convinced? Just ask anyone who made it to at least one of last year's many sold-out concerts. More than 22 years after the Smiths' first gig and roughly 16 since Morrissey's initial go as a solo artist, the stage continues to be rushed and tears continue to be shed by hosts of devoted fans, many who travel thousands of miles just to be in the same room as the man. In fact, aside from a few extra pounds and a slightly less nimble stage presence, one of the biggest differences between "then" and "now" is the notion that rather than fighting over kitschy, gold lame button-downs, today's Morrissey fans have the privilege of tearing apart the singer's $300 Gucci dress shirts.
2004 was a particularly good year for Morrissey, and for his bank account. Not only did it bring us a "comeback" LP, but it also turned out a slew of UK singles, US singles, DVD singles, maxi-singles, double A-sides, unreleased B-sides and even a good old-fashioned platinum edition. The question: What more could fans possibly need? The answer: A live album that would capture a moment in time sure to be remembered as one of the high points of Morrissey's career.
Live at Earls Court (in actuality recorded over the course of five UK shows), documents the conclusion of last year's You Are the Quarry tour. On the official "unofficial" Morrissey website, Morrissey-Solo.com, veteran fans ranked the Earls Court show among the best they had ever witnessed, citing a highly energetic and emotionally charged performance from the Mozfather himself. Released the same day as Morrissey's live DVD, Who Put the 'M' in Manchester, Live at Earls Court navigates a tasteful set of solo favorites, newer B-sides, Quarry tracks and of course a few choice items from the Smiths canon.
In terms of production, the album trumps that of 1993's live effort, Beethoven Was Deaf, even though at times, the guitars sound low in the mix. The vocals on the other hand shine through loud and clear, and as far as Morrissey's singing is concerned, let's just say his live voice has come a long way since the days when he was too busy leaping off monitor speakers to worry about hitting the right notes.
And what live Morrissey album would be complete without examples of his witty stage banter and famous idiosyncrasies? Certainly not Live at Earls Court, which contains a healthy dose of sarcastic remarks, that throat grumbling thing he does and of course plenty of lyric play -- Joan of Arc's walkman is now an iPod.
But the true highlights of this CD are its more touching moments; the moments when the sincerity in Morrissey's voice and power of his music remind fans why they were drawn to him in the first place. They still might not be able to place their finger on what exactly made the initial attraction so strong, but listening to Live at Earls Court they can rest assured it was meant to be.
Smiths tunes, such as the clichéd, "How Soon Is Now", with which Morrissey and the Lads launch into the performance, are played with a renewed sense of vitality. But newer songs manage to hold their own alongside the classics, especially You Are the Quarry's anthemic, "First of the Gang to Die", and B-sides, "Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice" and "Friday Mourning". Other pinnacles include a flawlessly executed, however mellow version of "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out", and a polished rendition of Patti Smith's, "Redondo Beach", also the album's single.
As has been the standard for past solo releases, a picture of Morrissey graces the Earls Court cover. Donning a newly pressed black suit jacket, Morrissey stands with a microphone in hand, his quiff erect and right hand extended towards the audience. Despite a few wrinkles and patches of gray, the now middle-aged Morrissey appears as striking as ever.
"Don't forget me," he says to his fans at Earls Court.
Something tells me they never will.