Heroin is a hell of a drug. For some reason, musicians seem unusually attracted to the highly potent substance in lieu of other substances. Though, it is usually unclear if they are attracted to heroin's physiological effects, its psychological effects or its tendency of bringing users perilously close to death. Hundreds of musicians have been claimed by the clear substance, including Will Shatter, Dee Dee Ramone and Sid Vicious. If one makes it through heroin's deadly gauntlet, one will live to tell the tale at a later date. Morning Glory's Poets Were My Heroes, their first LP in 11 years (ELEVEN!), is a testament to the ability to recover from heroin damage as lead songwriter Ezra Kire, seemingly in good health, comments on the track marks left on him by his drugs days in his best release to date.
Poets is an extremely personal album. Throughout, Kire weaves the themes of his early upbringing with his introduction to heroin, and challenges with the drug. It's telling, and somewhat ghastly, that the album opens with "Stevie Dinner," the first song Kire ever wrote. In an eerie contrast to the darker days ahead, the six-year-old strums on the acoustic guitar while telling an upbeat song of how his stepfather goes to the liquor store for his dinner. The album's setup is direct and perfect.
Then, the album jumps forward to current time. Remarkably, although Kire is known for his addictions, causing his shows with Leftover Crack and Morning Glory to suffer, here, he sounds the best since‚?¶well ever. His delivery is more energetic and most importantly; his patented clean, open voiced call is more powerful and longer lasting then we've ever heard in the past. "Shelter from the Spoon" exemplifies the emotional range of Kire's tone, shifting from a hopeful, idyllic muse to an aggressive, determined growl. It's doubly interesting that this shift comes just as Kire exclaims "I could do anything if I could just get clean!"
Similarly, while the entire album has a range of themes and concepts that circulate through the songs, the album succeeds in the range of music it utilizes to push its point. The change in intonation allows the topics to be approached from nuanced facets. "Poets Were My Heroes" starts as a soft piano ballad only to break into a chunky, climbing guitar that paints a sonic, cinematic picture of a metaphorical mountain climb, while spacey sound effects boom in the background. The payoff generates the same expansive sensation as when Laurence of Arabia first gazes over the endless desert.
Despite Kire's insistence that he's not into ska anymore, "Quemar las Fronteras" dabbles in the two tone step along with some mariachi horns that give an energy and sincerity to the heavy topic at hand. Perhaps most personal is "Touch," where Kire describes the Madonna as a drug addict looking for a fix over a ghostly organ and blowing wind. That's some Bob Dylan level skills right there. Most masterfully is that while the songs traverse perhaps two dozen styles, they fit together perfectly so that it doesn't feel like Morning Glory is venturing into strange territory with each twist–it's just natural progression.
It seems that Kire wanted to focus on the main theme of the album, so somewhat surprisingly, and in contrast with former Crack Rock Steady albums, there is almost no political commentary at all on the album. It's probably a wise choice as the work seems to focus entirely inward and such exposition would remove the listener from Kire's mindset.
The album's climax is the massive "Born to December." A three-part song with piano, punk riffage and a full orchestra outro, it circles back to "Stevie Dinner" by suggesting that the path to heroin addiction was in Kire's blood from the start. It is here we realize that Kire had marks on him before he even saw a needle. But, it's not a request for sympathy. Rather, it's a call of victory.