THE SERIES OF PREPOSTEROUS ‘TEASER’ VIDEOS RELEASED DURING THE PAST MONTH WILL – ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT – HAVE LEFT SOME FEARING FOR THE QUALITY OF MORRISSEY’S FORTHCOMING TENTH STUDIO ALBUM.
Each of the quartet of couple-of-minute spoken word clips offered a brief glimpse of the wilfully perverse sense of humour and barely constrained madness cosying up somewhere left of centre in Camp Moz (a cameo from Pamela Anderson, if you please), and the first sight of new lyrics (which seemed to be a little on the thin side when stripped of any sympathetic scenery built by Boz Boorer and co).
Similarly, booking both Tom Jones and Cliff Richard for support slots on an American tour (now abandoned) suggested that those waiting patiently for the first new Morrissey album since 2009′s YEARS OF REFUSAL were in for a particularly underwhelming surprise.
It takes time and a touch of patience here-and-there but, in the event, WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF BUSINESS (released 15th July) turns out to be one of the more rewarding offerings of the ex-Smiths’ ‘later period’ solo years; years which are not often noted for their music.
“Victim or life’s adventurer… / which of the two are you?” he asks and, pre-empting his own answer to his own question, hires producer Joe Chiccarelli (The White Stripes, The Shins) to switch around his sound. The resulting shift is not especially radical by anyone else’s standards but on Morrissey’s terms there is, at least, the spirit of adventure and a notion to press on in an effort to set down something other than what has gone before.
Latino Europe and the South Americas filter through WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, referenced in both lyrics and music. Flamenco guitars glisten throughout; from frisky solos in STAIRCASE AT THE UNIVERSITY and NEAL CASSIDY DROPS DEAD (otherwise tautly metallic but crying out for some straining-at-the-leash Bernard Butler histrionics a la THE DROWNERS) to lines which skitter around restless percussion in EARTH IS THE LONELIEST PLANET. It’s a fresh tint which imbues rather than overbears; styles across the album vary and multi-instrumentalists Boorer and Gustavo Manzur – and fellow muckers – have not suddenly become some over-reaching Miserachi band.
The title track’s politically charged message (though a few sixth-form common room debates distance from the oily-hands nuts ‘n’ bolts of Billy Bragg) is undeniably sound. Control is all; the rich get richer and keep the poor down. Delivered against grand twinkle the song stirs but fails to militarise, perhaps missing its own point.
KICK THE BRIDE DOWN THE AISLE is spiteful and hilarious, SMILER WITH KNIFE cool and cinematic, MOUNTJOY mournful, and OBOE CONCERTO rather morbid: “All I do is drink to absent friends…” // “The older generation have tried, sighed and died… / which pushes me to their place in the queue”.
ISTANBUL shares a little of its DNA with 1991 Lenny Kravitz fever-funk dirge ALWAYS ON THE RUN, a pulsating throb against which are set lyrics penned from the point of view of a father whose boy becomes a man in his own right through street gang violence – but is eventually levelled by it.
Traps set by society’s expected gender roles also figure in autoharp lament I’M NOT A MAN, a litany of things Morrissey finds repulsive about red-meat masculinity – whether that’s “picaresque wife beater vests” or being “two-fisted” or “wise-ass smart-ass” or a bodybuilding “beefaroni (ah, but lonely)”. To be ‘a real man’, it seems, males must be some degree of thick-skinned kill-crazy caveman – though all of that boiling testosterone leads to the unnecessary slaughter of animals and, ultimately, the destruction of the planet. “You are the soldier who won’t get much older,” he pities, while he is a “something much bigger and better” – though he doesn’t say quite what.
That unlikely Pamela Anderson cameo in the video for EARTH IS THE LONELIEST PLANET suddenly makes sense for lyrics in which “you fail as a woman and you lose as a man”. She was cartoon signifier of great female temptation, there for the purposes of being barely noticed and passed over. Watch again to witness the complete lack of eye-contact. A lifetime of turning away. Even the planet’s once most desired XX-chromosome form just not enough to fill humasexual [sic] Morrissey’s abnormally deep spiritual hole.
“There is no such thing in life as normal” he opined on THE YOUNGEST WAS THE MOST LOVED in 2006, and Morrissey’s penchant for singing up in the cause of rehabilitating outsiders (or rescuing them, in fact) – whether animals or broad-stroke social groupings of the human animal such as THE SLUM MUMS and the TEENAGE DAD ON HIS ESTATE et al, or individuals as on WHEN LAST I SPOKE TO CAROL and ALL THE LAZY DYKES – continues apace on WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
New York Dolls get sugar-high on diner milkshakes and rip into the romantic swell of Morrissey’s own EVERYDAY IS LIKE SUNDAY on STAIRCASE AT THE UNIVERSITY. Sweet-froth tune, curling strings and woodwind (briefly recalling both Blur’s STARSHAPED and Julian Cope’s HEAD HANG LOW) contrive to soften bone-breaking crash as a bullied daughter launches herself headfirst down campus steps following the warning “If you don’t get three ‘A’s (her sweet Daddy said) / you’re no child of mine and as far as I’m concerned you’re dead”.
When he claimed his new album to be the right-and-proper successor to 1988 solo debut VIVA HATE, Morrissey was probably not thinking of the giddy immediacy of STAIRCASE AT THE UNIVERSITY. Myriad pop smarts (not least the affected pronunciation “université”, a series of camp middle-eight handclaps and the college soccer coach whistle) hark back to his rush of late ’80s / early 1990s perfect pop standalone singles and favoured b-sides. The song is much more BONA DRAG; essential and throwaway.
Also going against the groan are KISS ME A LOT (all castanets, carnal lust and crap title) and the short and joyful THE BULLFIGHTER DIES, this album’s musically breezy I’M THROWING MY ARMS AROUND PARIS moment. Accordion tumbles through jangling guitar and a list of unhappy locales (“Mad in Madrid / ill in Seville / lonely in Barcelona / Gaga in Malaga / no mercy in Murcia / mental in Valencia”) before cheer finally arrives with the news that a toreador has been fatally gored… “Hooray, hooray”.
On its own terms WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS is quite adventurous and mostly accessible. But, even factoring in the favour which surrounded last year’s best-selling AUTOBIOGRAPHY (reviewed here), whether a very good Morrissey album is enough to sustain wider public interest at this stage… who knows?