Album Reviews : Morrissey's Essence Remains the Same : ***, MORRISSEY,"Southpaw Grammar", Reprise

The Beatles-Spector-Morricone orchestral introduction that opens Morrissey's fifth studio album is grandly excessive, but somehow it never capsizes. It's a bit of bravura record-making that sets the tone for the most musically dynamic album from the Messiah of Moans since he revitalized British rock with the Smiths in the mid-'80s.

Morrissey's essence remains unchanged. He fusses over details of his life and delivers indictments of hypocrites and boors in a vulnerable, wounded voice that's lovely in its roundness and tiresome in its monotony and lack of humor.

This time around, though, Morrissey's limitations and his characteristic petulance are hardly noticeable, thanks to the driving and buoyant playing that dominates the album (two of the eight tracks run more than 10 minutes, with a third clocking in at nearly seven).

Producer Steve Lillywhite and Morrissey's band churn up bracing sonic adventures that combine rock aggression and pop buoyancy. While direct and propulsive, the music also emanates ominous undercurrents that enhance the leader's uneasy take on the world.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e x cellent).

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