Dropping out of sight for seven years is the smartest thing that Morrissey could have done: Other pop stars whose well-crafted personas border on the obnoxious should really try it (Madonna, are you listening?). As a result, the 45-year-old singer's return is being greeted as the musical equivalent of the second coming. But "You Are the Quarry" shows that Moz has nothing new in his bag of tricks: If you were a fan of his post-Smiths solo output, you'll love these 12 new songs. If you weren't, you'll still be wondering what the fuss is about.

Morrissey is fronting a standard two-guitars, bass and drums quintet (with keyboard help from Jellyfish veteran Roger Manning), but the music is disappointingly anemic, lacking the bite and the bottom to punctuate his acerbic lyrics. Contrary to what his cult would have you believe, the singer is not rock's answer to Oscar Wilde; his hyperbolic hubris can indeed be amusing (as on "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores"), but it can also be off-putting ("I Have Forgiven Jesus"). And he still isn't able to view the world at large outside the filter of his own infamous obsessions.

"America, it brought you the hamburger/Well, America, you know where you can shove your hamburger," the celebrated vegetarian sings in the opening "America Is Not the World," which puts our imperialism in the context of our addiction to fast food. Meat may be murder, but empty-headed political criticism is crap.

We've been here and done this before, and with better results. If Morrissey is determined to live in the past, he should just bury the hatchet with his ex-mates and revive the Smiths. At least then the music would justify the hoopla.

Jim DeRogatis


Complaining about Lenny Kravitz's unapologetic lack of originality is as pointless as complaining about Chicago's weather. In fact, after six albums, it's become his charm, at least when it's consumed in small doses via a track on the radio here or a well-crafted MTV video there. Do you like the Grand Funk Kravitz, or the faux-Hendrix Kravitz? How about the wannabe Led Lenny?

Pre-release chatter promised a funk-soul outing this time around, and the cover art and the photos scattered through the CD booklet find Kravitz doing his damnedest to look like Prince. He also plays most of the instruments himself, just like the Paisley Wonder, even though his kickin' band is his biggest strength. But the 13 tracks don't deliver on that princely pledge; while there's one neat fake-soul track ("Storm") and a few typically generic imitation '70s rockers, much of the album has a quieter, more introspective folk-rock bent. And introspection is not Lenny's strength.

"I don't want to be a star/Just want my Chevy and an old guitar," this lover of limousines croons on the second track. But that follows a typically bombastic boast in the opener: "I'm the minister of rock 'n' roll/I can heal you, I can save your soul?" Hey, which is it, Len? Are you a superstar or an Everyman?

The soul-searching in the lyrics and the promise of spiritual rebirth inherent in the album title indicate that at age 40, post-fling with Nicole Kidman, our man is having a bit of a mid-life crisis. But since his entire professional life has been lived in a time that came a decade and a half before he came of age, it all plays as even more hollow, contrived and forced than the usual Kravitz product. Dig out your vintage Kiss records and crank those instead; they're a lot more fun.

Jim DeRogatis