G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 464 pages, $30.
The former Smiths lead singer Morrissey has long been a master of mystification. Virtually all of his songs suggest same-sex love and longing, and his tenth album, World Peace Is None of Your Business, is no exception. Over a prolific solo career, he has flirted with full disclosure in campy songs like “Wide to Receive” and “Hairdresser on Fire,” but always stopped short of coming out with gendered pronouns. His Autobiography further obfuscates matters, giving his cultish fan base no clearer indication of the 54-year-old’s sexuality. He describes his Irish Catholic upbringing in Manchester, England, his rise to fame as Britpop’s most famous sad sack, and his love of A. E. Housman, W. H. Auden, and Oscar Wilde. Autobiography is also a work of bitchery. A lifelong vegan, The Moz’s gripes range from the petty—R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe doesn’t brush his teeth and David Bowie, who “feeds on the blood of living animals,” enjoys cold cuts—to a blistering assault on a former band-mate who sued for The Smiths’ royalties. He pours scorn on Margaret Thatcher (“neither iron, nor a lady”) and on a journalist who reported that “Morrissey lives with his boyfriend in Santa Monica,” a claim that he sidesteps rather than denies. His memoir is a reminder that every egotist needs an editor. What’s the point of including the complaint that both Dylan and McCartney reneged on their offers to take a picture with you? Even so, Morrissey has honed the Wildean art of the bon mot. At one point, he asks: “Isn’t sex the one and only reason why all of us are actually alive?” There are two ways to answer that.
When Hannah Hickok and Maggie Kraus met back in 2009, they were both members of an a cappella group at Smith College. Now, on their third EP titled “In the Company of Strangers,” Hickok and Kraus have produced another fine folk album. A taut 45 minutes, it includes “Atticus,” a love-letter to Hickok’s little brother, and “Heavy Ever Growing Pines,” a road-trip song that travels from the subway to the state of Colorado. A break-up song, “The Final Straw,” is an edgy exception to the (friendly, folksy) rule, and it’s one the duo enjoys playing live. “The Other Half” is also about romance, but, as Hannah told me in an interview, the song is “addressed to someone struggling to understand their relationship with a woman.” These proudly out folkies inevitably draw comparisons to folk-rock’s most famous lesbian duo, Indigo Girls, and while Hannah and Maggie find the comparison “beyond flattering,” they also find it a bit “uncreative,” since “people see two women with short hair playing guitars and immediately think ‘Indigo Girls!’” But they needn’t worry: their latest album contains their characteristically clear and crisp vocals and some sparkling harmonies.
“Ready Now” may be the most hummable of Joseph Eid’s songs, but it is by no means the only track on Human, his first studio album, with a catchy chorus. Eid’s coffeehouse style falls squarely in the realm of Americana folk music. He’s a strong rhymer who blends spoken word and soul-baring balladry, as on “The Rock,” an end-of-the-world song about a meteor, and “What Will You Do?” in which he declares, “I’m not going to hide.” The latter song was inspired by Eid’s coming out. Born in Liberia, he talked to me about growing up in Westchester County, New York, and moving to Los Angeles, where he played open mikes and worked as a TV actor. Eid says he realized he was gay at thirteen, an experience that shaped the pathos of the album’s title track. “Human,” he says, is about “having the permission to just be human, living here now … and accepting who we are.” The music video for “Ready Now” features a cartoon version of the handsome folksinger getting ready for a big date. When Eid sings “I think you’re ready now to love me,” it’s unclear whether he’s speaking to a lover or a fan. Either way, Eid is ready.