John Harris determines that the Smiths’ frontman’s Autobiography – the first page sung above, by voice artist Peter Serafinowicz – is strongest when it focuses on the singer’s upbringing and musical journey, rather than personal rivalries and legal battles:
For its first 150 pages, Autobiography comes close to being a triumph. “Naturally my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big,” he writes, and off we go – into the Irish diaspora in the inner-city Manchester of the 1960s, where packs of boys playfully stone rats to death, and “no one we know is on the electoral roll”. In some of the writing, you can almost taste his environment: “Nannie bricks together the traditional Christmas for all to gather and disagree … Rita now works at Seventh Avenue in Piccadilly and buys expensive Planters cashew nuts. Mary works at a Granada showroom, but is ready to leave it all behind.” And when pop music enters the story, he excels. … And then [musician] Johnny Marr pays him a visit, and his life takes off – while, in keeping with an unwritten rule of celebrity memoir, Autobiography takes a serious turn for the worse.
Boyd Tonkin calls the 450-page memoir a self-pitying screed, and ridicules Penguin for publishing it as a part of their “Classics” series:
The droning narcissism of the later stages – enlivened by the occasional flick-knife twist of character sketch, or character assassination (watch out, Julie Burchill) – may harm his name a little. It ruins that of his publisher. For the stretches in which in his brooding, vulnerable, stricken voice uncoils, particularly across his Mancunian youth, Morrissey will survive his unearned elevation. I doubt that the reputation of Penguin Classics will.
Mostly agreeing, Jessica Winter nonetheless sees moments of genuine insight:
Autobiography is at times so relentlessly whiny and misanthropic that it’s startling when Morrissey shares a flash of sober self-awareness. “Undernourished and growing out of the wrong soil,” he writes of himself circa 1984, “I knew at this time that a lot of people found me hard to take, and for the most part I understood why. Although a passably human creature on the outside, the swirling soul within seemed to speak up for the most awkward people on the planet.” That was once true—exhilaratingly true, true enough to save a life. But Autobiography only speaks up for its author, and never more than in his next line. “Somewhere deep within,” he confesses, “my only pleasure was to out-endure people’s patience.”
At school, I am the futile pupil brutalised by neo-fascist inquisitors who do not understand the subtleties of sublime rhyme. My only valent talent is for athletics, my event the 20-kilometre walk on water. Blood laced with disgrace flows from my hands, feet and side. “Oh, Steven,” says my Mother Mary. “What have you done to yourself now?” I feel forlorn in my crown of thorns. Death death death unbreath is all around me. Nancy laughs, her wild smile frozen for ever as a bus loses control on a pothole and crushes her against the grimey cor blimey door of the Rover’s Return. Gloria Gaynor sings I Won’t Survive. Life is thus.