Absolutely there was a shift between Vauxhall and I and Southpaw Grammar. I think Morrissey was being lauded for the poetry of the former album and, being the contrarian that he is, decided to release an album with almost no poetic lyrics whatsoever and with long instrumental stretches.Well, I always found that following up Vauxhall & I with a brutal and heavy rocker like Southpaw was a bald move. For me, there was certainly a bigger stylistic shift between these 2 albums than between Maladjusted and YATQ.
We can say it in a more positive way, that he let Alain and Boz bring the tunes that they do best. I really like YATQ as an album. I love his voice on that album too.
Jerry Finn earned his name with Green Day, and I can imagine some people fearing that he would impose his style on Morrissey, but he was very respectful of Morrissey and his musical style. Perhaps the choice of Jerry Finn could be considered a bald move at the time and before hearing the output. I can see that.
I wouldn't say You are the Quarry was safe or risk free exactly, but I think it is interesting that 2004 was one of the few periods when Morrissey was willing to 'play the game'. Doing interviews with The NME, recording a John Peel session, releasing singles with new b-sides on two CDs etc. He was certainly concerned about popularity and wasn't going to go down the self-destruct route as he'd done in 1995 again (he would leave the self-destructing until later).