Morrissey - World Peace Is None Of Your Business

Long one of rock and roll’s most cantankerous headline makers, the past eighteen months have seen Morrissey refining his troublemaking tactics in new and unforeseen ways. There was the generally well-received but appropriately polemical memoir (issued with winking pomposity on the Penguin Classics imprint, usually reserved for authors of canonical importance), the Jimmy Kimmel/Duck Dynasty imbroglio, a Rashomon-style misunderstanding with the Staples Center over their willingness to serve only vegetarian food during his March 1, 2013 appearance, and most recently a not-atypical spate of tour date cancellations, comically blamed upon his opening act. As ever, it is verging on impossible to separate the persona from the man, or to parse whether Moz is truly miserable or merely having fun. Characteristically, he has responded with droll insouciance to each controversy, most memorably addressing longstanding rumors of his failing health with the Bartlett’s-worthy non-denial: “The reports of my death have been greatly understated.”

All of which brings us to World Peace Is None Of Your Business, twelve largely dense and wooly tracks that comprise Morrissey’s first full-length since 2009′s late-period tour de force, Years Of Refusal. Given all that has occurred surrounding the release, it’s well nigh impossible to hear this new material and not seek some manner of genuine insight into the artist’s current state of mind. And it is likewise difficult not to conclude that that state of mind is very bleak indeed.

Longtime Morrissey fans will probably recognize by the early strains of the opening title track that we should buckle up for some Meat Is Murder-style lecture time. Over a slow-building wash of percussion and atmospherics, and an eventual 4:32 running time which feels even longer, we are informed of the corruption of world governments, the brutality of police and military, and the uselessness of voting (it only makes the problem worse). Of the many different hats he is inclined to wear, the singer as self-appointed Moz-splainer of global affairs is by orders of magnitude the most tiresome and least well-preserved by time. While a very few artists have ever mixed the personal and political with greater deftness, it is also true that at his worst Morrissey’s didactic pedantry verges on insufferable. Here his backing band, featuring longtime collaborator Boz Boorer, does its best to wrestle this ungainly tune into something more than a messy harangue. They’ll do better later, but they’ve drawn the short straw to start.

The infinitely more intriguing though scarcely less approachable second track “Neal Cassady Drops Dead” finds Morrissey channeling his dark mood in more constructive ways, wedding the Beat Generation fantasias of the title to a horrifying litany of disease, deprivation and human misery. As the band hammers away in a minor key, Moz stipulates a stark choice: “Victim or life’s adventurer — which of the two are you?” He doesn’t seem to have a particular preference, he’s just curious. We are now two songs in without much in the way of a discernible hook.

On the third track, “I’m Not A Man,” the hits still aren’t coming. Following yet another extended atmospheric intro, we segue into Moz in full-on ’40s Tin Pan Alley mode, as he renders his antipathy over the sort of orchestral prettiness he exploited to great effect on You Are The Quarry. But with an eight-minute run time, this too feels like a Trojan horse designed to take us further into the singer’s dyspeptic mood storm. Here we have Morrissey listing traditional masculine stereotypes — Don Juan, picaresque, wheeler-dealer, and, curiously, Beefaroni — as a means of defining all the things he isn’t. Even full-fledged partisans might be forgiven for wondering when the lecture ends and the record begins.

Bolstered by a bluesy guitar figure suggesting Bo Diddley by way of Your Arsenal and a plaintive lyric concerning the lost love of a mysterious “brown eyed son,” “Istanbul” feels like the initial instance in which patrons of World Peace Is None Of Your Business might be entitled to a small ration of fun. First-time Moz producer Joe Chiccharelli expertly creates the space for Morrissey’s crooning laments while simultaneously maintaining the intoxicating conviction of the band’s forceful groove. Abetted by subtle Eastern touches on keys and percussion, “Istanbul” suggests the exquisite, Cold War exoticism of a Graham Greene novel rendered in song. Best of all, Morrissey has stopped yelling at us. At least for a few minutes.

One of several tracks on the new record to prominently feature a Latin flair — in this case Mariachi-flavored accordion and flamenco guitar — “Earth Is The Loneliest Planet” is up-tempo and earnest, but never coheres into the ingratiating pop track it seemingly aspires to be. Once again, band and producer admirably attempt to rouse Morrissey from his moribund ill humor, but not even the most coaxing of collaborators can be expected to rescue lyrics like “Humans/ are not really very humane.” Morrissey’s pen remains amongst the sharpest implements anywhere, but for a man of his gifts and achievements, this can’t help but feel a bit like mailing it in.

World Peace can feel schizophrenic at times, with its frequently buoyant second half creating a jarring juxtaposition alongside the record’s menacing opening gambits. As if to acknowledge the paucity of crowd pleasers, Moz next dials up a stone killer on the melodic, jangly, darkly hilarious “Staircase At The University,” the sort of remarkably detailed and poignant character study that he has regularly turned out with such seeming ease for so many years. The brief, thumbnail portrait of a coed pressured by her family to succeed beyond her abilities recalls previous classics like “Hairdresser On Fire” and “The First Of The Gang To Die,” and is no less sympathetic for the offhandedness of its shrugging resolution: “Staircase at the university/ she threw herself down/ and her head split three ways.”

Pointed yet amiable, “The Bullfighter Dies” keeps the momentum going over a breezy and winsome two minutes, both evoking and rejecting Ernest Hemingway’s fascination with bullfighting as the ultimate expression of courage and machismo. In Morrissey’s telling, it’s the matador who meets his end, finding the horns to the delight of an audience who never wished ill on the animal to begin with. In its seemingly tossed-off fashion, this feels like Morrissey at his most personal — giving expression to profound convictions over a sing-along chorus Marc Bolan would have been proud of.

The uncompromisingly carnal and amorous “Kiss Me A Lot” is another winner, one whose vaulting, infectious chorus (“Kiss me a lot all over my face/ kiss me all over the place”) makes for one of the artist’s most straightforward ever declarations of unadulterated lust. The track also represents the album’s most successful attempt to seamlessly incorporate Latin flavors into the artist’s typical trick bag, with border horns and Spanish guitar lines abetting the performance without sounding like a too clever afterthought. Having frontloaded the record with material ranging from difficult to impenetrable, the running order seems intent on rewarding the patience of those who fearlessly traversed the album’s opening. But for how long?

The bleak and enigmatic “Smiler With Knife” signals yet another shift in mood for World Peace Is Not Your Business, as Moz plumbs the depths of romantic despair in a weary, crushing acoustic ballad which may or may not be one man’s plea to be stabbed by his lover. Over a complex arrangement that nimbly combines jazz-tinged guitar with major key synth reverie, Morrissey brings us closer to Chet Baker territory than ever before, the slight rasp in his mature voice made more affecting by the lyrics’ unsettled mood. If we wanted middle age made comforting, it’s best to look elsewhere.

Regrettably, the stuck-in-the-mud, mid-tempo exertions of “Kick The Bride Down The Aisle” feels once again more like a good idea than an actual song. Back on his soapbox, Morrissey has a great deal to say about society girls and the institution of marriage, but precious little which makes for compelling listening. B-side material at best.

Down the homestretch, the lovely and discursive “Mountjoy” takes its time, the aggressive acoustic strumming and leisurely phrasing suggesting nothing less than Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Paradoxically, and perhaps by design, Morrissey reiterates many of the record’s initial political hypotheses to far greater impact here. When he resignedly utters the refrain, “We all lose,” the demoralized gentility hurts far worse than any of the earlier material’s spiteful demagoguery.

Final track “Oboe Concerto” splits the difference between the record’s first and second halves, keeping the mood ruefully engaging while invoking the ardent rage of its starting point. It shapes up as an appropriately ambiguous ending to what may well be the most mercurial release from Morrissey to date.

So what have we learned? At first blush, World Peace Is None Of Your Business feels transitional, and ultimately unsuccessful. As Morrissey continues the forced-march trajectory from contemporary star to legacy artist, he has necessarily expanded his musical and lyrical palette to include concerns larger than the shoplifters of the world. That process has not always been flattering, and the worst of those results are in evidence here.

Still, this is a fascinating record that rewards repeated listens, just as the equally difficult Southpaw Grammar did nearly twenty years ago. Morrissey is a visionary artist who has spent much of his long and storied career betting that his most seemingly ill-judged exertions will age gracefully. On this score, he has been right far more than he has been wrong, and World Peace Is None Of Your Business may well follow in that tradition. Even at his most sonically dissonant and tonally untethered, he often knows more than the rest of us.

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World Peace Is None Of Your Business is out 7/15 via Harvest. Stream it now at NPR.

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Comments (16)
  1. I can’t agree with the PreEval. I think this is his best post-2000s album yet, and it was maybe the first album I’ve heard in 2014 that I instantaneously knew was special. It’s comedic genius, controversial, vicious and Moz just doesn’t age despite his “illnesses.”

    Also, what the eff is up with the joint by-line? Did a husband-wife or brother-sister duo write this thing or something? Conjoined twins perhaps? Who listened to which half? Who wrote which paragraphs? Who thought what? I’m going to guess it’s some married couple mischief, because in the grand tradition of couples being the most unbearable two-headed monsters of sharing everything on the Internet, this has the markings of one all over it. Would it kill them to be their own individuals for once? Mercy…

    • Bravo. While I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet (I didn’t realize it was streaming at NPR) everything released thus far (which is quite a bit) has been golden.

      I mean the analysis is off right from the title track: did “Meat is Murder” ever get insidiously stuck in your head the way the title track does? It certainly never did for me, and the insidiousness is part of the brilliance – “World peace is none of your business” running through your head like a mantra.

      Moz’s controversies and tour cancellations are passé at this point, but his music isn’t.

    • “What the Eff, Asks Bitter Loner Furious That People Sometimes Do Things Together”

  2. Anyone who thinks they can make sense of an album from one listen is missing the entire point of music.

    • Well, to be fair, the column admits its own prematureness in the title. Besides, let’s be real, you’re not going to give repeated listens to an album that seems irredeemably shitty on the first one. I take it tat the point of this column is not to make full sense of anything, but rather just offer an initial and subjective perspective on things —sort of like talking to a friend about the album he bought and listened to the day before.

      • The purpose of the column’s title is twofold:

        1) To indicate the review is for an album before it’s official release, what with the internet age and albums always being available (often legally now in some form) before their release date. That doesn’t mean “give the album a cursory listen and provide a kneejerk reaction as actual critical analysis”

        2) Semen joke

        • Really? ‘Cause wording like “At first blush, World Peace Is None Of Your Business feels transitional, and ultimately unsuccessful” indicate to me that the immediacy of the reaction is part of the column’s spirit.

          • Obviously it’s probably not on the same level as a critic who got the press release a month ago, but the purpose isn’t to just listen to the album once and fart out a review without really getting familiar with the album. Reviews in this column are generally informed about the album being featured.

    • Having written professional album reviews myself, I can attest to the fact that critics don’t give an album a single listen before writing about it. It takes numerous listens to get the nuances w/in each song as well as pick up on the lyrics. I probably would listen to an album at least 5 – 10 times before even starting to write about it.

      • Btw, I’ve listened to this album once & already love it. But then again, I love Southpaw Grammar so I’m one of those Morrissey fans . . . .

        • One thing I know and I’m certainly no Lester Bangs, is that if I’m loving it on first listen, then chances are it will move to my pile of old CDs much more quickly

  3. Listening through it for the first time, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be given this review. At least he lets the musicians in a lot more this time than his past few albums. It’s still too flatly-delivered and verse heavy and the music accompaniment seems somewhat like an abutment rather than an integration on many songs. I think that’s his biggest problem. It seems like the lyrics are written well before the music is written and Morrissey apparently doesn’t like choruses which is a natural point where lyrics and music combine to evoke powerful emotions. His delivery is too dry and straight forward. He should creatively sing his songs in a way that someone who doesn’t understand his lyrics still knows exactly what how he feels in the moment of each lyric. That’s something he used to do well in the previous century.

    Everything comes out a bit stiff and awkward. When the music gets its chance to shine, it is beautiful, but it lives in a separate world. The Morrissey verse has its block segment, then he gives the instrumentalists get their block. No immersion, no getting lost in a melody, just verses, an interlude, then more verses.

  4. I loved Southpaw Grammar and didn’t find it difficult at all.

  5. With your standards so high. And your spirits so low.

  6. I’m having a first listen to it now. I can’t find a single flaw in it so far.

  7. I heard this new album three times, and i can say it’s good. Very interesting latin touch, dark lyrics sometimes (but we are there for that, don(t you?), catchy melodies ….Well, since You’re the quarry, the best Morrissey.
    I discovered the Moz 20 years ago, i fall in love at first listening, and even lots of his records are boring since the 2000′, he’s still in my DNA…
    (sorry for my awful english: french shame).

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