Say what you want about Morrissey, and an awful lot of people usually do, but despite himself the man is the embodiement of resiliance. Despised as much as he is loved, ignored as much as he is heeded and seemingly without a label for whole chunks of his career, here he is with his tenth solo studio album (that’s two and half times as many albums as The Smiths managed – and this is without including the very many compilations and live albums on both sides of the great and everlasting Manchester disunite of 1987). And yet Morrissey, The Pope Of Mope, The Sultan of Sorrow, The Tsar of Harm, thankfully has never really executed his oft hoisted threat/promise to retire from music making besides leaving some spacious gaps between releases.
So, here we have World Peace Is None Of Your Business, proving that somehow, somewhere, somebody believes that there is life in the old dog yet. Namely the good people at Harvest, once home to Sid Barrett and largely Kate Bush’s North American label of choice. And what a shrewd move it was to bring Moz on board, just as he finds himself at his most humane and vociferously, eloquently damning. At 55 years young, Morrissey’s voice has hardly been better and on the whole, this is easily his best collection of songs since 2004’s You Are The Quarry.
Aside from interceding on the side of the voiceless, ignorant, discounted and uninformed (the album’s title track & ‘Mountjoy’), the bequiffed wonder fires off missives about pre-ordained gender roles (‘I’m Not A Man’), suicide (‘Staircase At The University’) and those old chestnuts, animal rights (‘The Bullfighter Dies’) and victimisation (Earth Is The Lonliest Planet). But before the ripostes get going and, as is generally the defence-mechanism of choice for Morrissey’s legion of fans, the counter-shots about “not getting the joke”, it would be remiss of any sanctioned mention of his name not to include the caveat that Morrissey absolutely thrives on absurdity. He loves the stuff! It can be argued that he actually gave up being literal in his lyrics a long time ago and that now, conceptually, galling absurdity is his weapon of choice. This isn’t to go as far as to defend some of the point blank idiocy he has come up with in interviews, however – that’s for him alone to try and do. Taking this album for what it is, lyrically and musically, it is his subjective truth (in-jokes, the contradiction between a filthy-rich white man admonishing the poverty-stricken Third World over inaction) but fortified with folly. Feel free to revere and exhort at will, but what you can’t argue with is the quality of the music on display.
The album begins with the title track, a slow, guitar-led attack on government, the indifferent and the apathetic. Mirroring the sentiments of his wordy chum Russell Brand, Moz lays bare his disdain for the current state of world politics. Featuring some nice interplay between Boz Boorer and one-time Red Hot Chili Pepper Jesse Tobias, as well as some handy keys work from Gustavo Manzur, it is essentially a showcase for Morrissey’s ever growing range. Old dog, new tricks, etc. ‘Neal Cassady Drops Dead’ opens with some aggressive, muscular guitar chops which, for the most part, make up the body of the song. Cassady himself plays the archetypal muse we have come to expect from Morrissey; the tragic, artistic and beautiful outsider. The delicate Spanish guitar piece, which creates the song’s middle-eight, plays perfect foil to the abrasive verses and creates an allegorical acknowledgement of the song’s two-sided subject matter. So far so good…
‘I’m Not A Man’, a melodically accomplished track which features one of the album’s most cohesive arguments, is followed by not only the LP’s strongest song, but one of the finest to come from Camp Moz in years. ‘Istanbul’ is vintage Morrissey in every sense, part ‘Jack The Ripper’ and part ‘November Spawned A Monster’, it has the macho-yet-sensitive, crying cock o’ the walk thing that only Morrissey can do. Lyrically the song is harmless yet emotive (“moonlight jumping through the trees, sunken eyes avoiding me”), but once again the space between the guitars, keys and solid rhythm of the Walker bros. is where Morrissey plays and his voice sounds better than it ever has before. Frankly, he hasn’t recorded a song this good in a decade. ‘Earth Is The Loneliest Planet’ is an upbeat, Spanish guitar led track, which, obviously, Joe Chiccarelli had fun with. It’s jaunty, sideways-lurching focus sounding as if it’s being slashed and hacked by laser beams, ‘Staircase At The University’ sounds so much like late 80’s and early 90’s indie that it could actually be James or Cast. For a song about parental pressure and graphic depictions of scholarly suicide (“her head split three ways…”) it has a fantastically bouncy clap-a-long refrain
We’ve reached the album’s halfway point and without over-egging the batter, only a second half comprised of unimpeachable muck could diminish the efforts so far. In keeping with the many Spanish elements, ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ is a musical arm around the shoulders for those Spaniards who, like the man himself (“mad…ill…lonely…”), wish to see human rather than bovine casualties emitted from the nation’s shameful pastime. Again, this sounds like the acerbic, contentious, Kill Uncle-era Morrissey of yore and yet holds it’s own amongst the newest collection. ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ sees him revert to his coquettish self, once again longing for the physical attentions of a gender-unspecific suitor. Whereas ‘Let Me Kiss You’ from You Are The Quarry was en impassioned, heartfelt plea to allow Moz to enact his secret urges, this – arguably it’s flip side – is a plea to effectively be ravaged in “your mammy’s back yard”. Musically, both tracks are fast moving, powerful and engaging.
‘Smiler With Knife’s intriguingly complicated arrangement, which unlike most of what he’s done before, seems to be hinged on musical colours. Morrissey’s normative approach to contributions has been to make his vocals the pivot on which much of the song turns. Not this time. Lyrically sound as it is, the snippets of drums and guitar licks are absolutely exquisite and this song, more than any other on the album, could come to define the latter day Moz. The organ led ‘Kick The Bride Down The Aisle’, on the other hand, won’t. It’s not as memorable as it’s predecessors but that’s not to say it’s bad. Worth a listen for the line “kick the bride down the aisle, look at that cow… in the field, it knows more than your bride” alone. ‘Mountjoy’, obviously to us, is about Mountjoy Prison. Whether or not Morrissey actually holds any form of emotional or symbolic capital where the Irish Prison Services are concerned is unclear, but it does include a mention of his favourite whipping boys, judges – “a three-foot half-wit in a wig”. Judges aside, Moz takes this opportunity to highlight humanity’s failure to see beyond ourselves with the man himself at his crooning, laconic best.
The final track in the album, ‘Oboe Concerto’ begins with a simple bass-line reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, but similarities end there. It’s a brilliant, lush track featuring some exemplary musicianship (who can argue with his choice of bandmates?) and nicely rounds off the album’s harsher corners. Naturally, it features some oboe flourishes but all in all it’s an old fashioned closer an easy vocal delivery. So there we have it, Morrissey is well and truly still in the game and, thankfully, showing no signs of diminishing.