At London's Wireless Festival last year, Morrissey was a hilarious showman in easy command of his powers, alternating rollicking unreleased songs and Smiths favourites. That was the best I've seen him since his old band split. But just as the subsequent Years of Refusal ruined those good songs with an ear-splitting mix, Morrissey is in headstrong punk mode tonight. The lifelong New York Dolls fan stays fast and loud, as if fearful of the verdict his new album delivers on an old favourite band: "You Were Good in Your Time".
He opens with "This Charming Man". Maybe the commercial triumph of his 2004 comeback has made him bullish about his Smiths past, because we get six more. His guitarists range themselves across the stage like the Shadows, to jangle through "Girlfriend in a Coma", and he is gifted a book when he bends into the crowd for "Ask". But only "How Soon Is Now" comes with a sense of occasion. As long as Boz Boorer leads Morrissey's solo bands they will remain loyal hirelings, especially when tied to such defining Johnny Marr riffs. Fuzzed, ticking guitar takes this in a different direction, Morrissey's engagement in evidence when he lies on the drum-riser, legs obscenely akimbo and arms wrapped round his face, as if straitjacketed.
Listening to "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want", the lasting appeal of his virginal misanthropy can seem strange, now that he has turned 50. It is a very different form of emotional suspended animation, though, than his contemporary Michael Jackson, to whom he archly dedicates "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores". The key line in "How Soon Is Now", "I am human and I need to be loved", seems ironic in light of a middle age seemingly spent hating everyone except his fans. Though lyrics as always come with a wink, "Life Is a Pigsty" is typically aimless and unearned bile. Its trumpet-squealing expansiveness is welcome, though, as arrangements gain interest on the home straight.
"When Last I Spoke to Carol"'s mature thoughtfulness at a friend's suicide is welcome. But it is when he whips his shirt off and invites us back to the old-school East End pub next door (more false hope – it's shut) during latter-day classic "First of the Gang to Die" that Morrissey seems most alive: in full communion with his fans, the outside world irrelevant.