I had this same conversation earlier this morning...about the realities of curbing expectations of aging artists. But you have to realize, this is mostly Morrissey’s fault for setting the bar so high that he and his work can only be judged by his own former greatness. You don’t listen to Morrissey or The Smiths for superficial pop. That wasn’t the need he/they filled or what attracted audiences to him/them...allotting him a pass on judgement because he used to be something special isn’t benefiting you or him. Should he be allowed to continue being a spoiled brat that is halfheartedly told “good job” after every mediocre record and performance or should he have to confront his failures and either work harder or retire?
I used to debate with a friend at the bar, also a huge fan, that Morrissey should have retired after Quarry. Now, this was because as comeback records go it was a pretty solid album (I do not, however, think it's aged real well, but I still enjoy it) but my friend felt that if Morrissey continued after that point, it wouldn't end well. That it would be a slow, exponentially embarrassing decline and that the occasional gems that he MIGHT eek out along the way would become harder and harder pressed to make up for it. And also that his legacy would falter more and more in the meantime, as more watery crap was piled upon it.
I no longer know if Morrissey's demystification in my own eyes is due to me getting older and realizing how juvenile it is to deify artists or if it's because he's largely run out of steam artistically, he looks like crap, his music is made by guys who look like they work at Autozone, or whatever. I really don't know.
I do not believe, however, that he should have to "work harder" at making good art. I believe that if he has to struggle, the jig is up and that if that's the case then yes, it's time to pack it in. I believe it should be natural magic or nothing. He's either got it in him spurting up from a wellspring or he's Dry. There's nothing to labor at or mine.
He did, indeed, set his own bar pretty damn high. But I remember once when their album Up came out Michael Stipe said "yeah it's getting a lot of shit in the press but if a brand new band put this album out as their debut it would be a revelation. But because it's R.E.M., it's judged poorly against our back catalog."
Now, that sounds like kind of a bullshitty cop-out defense of a less than great album by a once flawless band but I get what he's saying and he kind of had a point. Should we judge art on its own merit or only against the contextual background of preceding work by the artist that made it?
See; I don't know.