No one’s done more to shape the narrative of Morrissey being a morose misfit from dreary working-class England than Morrissey himself. (Rarely did the sun ever shine in any of his former band The Smiths’ classic '80s albums.) But the truth is, he's lived in Los Angeles on and off for more than 20 years now—and on his last few albums, amid his typically lacerating lyrical barbs (and despite some off-wax political rants that have angered many fans), he has exhibited an increasingly upbeat disposition, relatively speaking. He’s also long been a fan of cover songs. So for his 12th solo LP, and his first composed entirely of tunes written by others, he focuses on music from the '60s and '70s that tends to evoke the sunny vibes of his adopted home state.
With occasional help from the likes of Petra Haden, Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, and a few other friends, Morrissey reshapes these often subdued songs into opulent affairs, his voice as boisterous and articulated as ever over glossy, modern-feeling production. He comes at "Morning Starship" (by one of his idols, the unheralded glam-rock singer Jobriath) with gale force, and turns Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Suffer the Little Children” into a thrumming, rollicking rock song. And he has a great deal of reverence for Joni Mitchell’s dynamic swings and swoops in “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow.” The album isn’t without camp, mind: The 5th Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues,” on which he’s accompanied by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and The Regrettes’ Lydia Night, feels tongue-in-cheek in a way that it probably doesn’t even mean to. Where Morrissey most succeeds here, though, is on the real vocal showcases of the AM Gold era, where his torchy croon lights up Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” and Gary Puckett & The Union Gap’s "Lady Willpower.”