Songs about suicide that you can dance to, songs that are devastating critiques of the male ego, songs where we root for a bull fighter’s death so that the bull can survive, songs where we are told to kick the bride down the aisle, songs of poetry that vividly attack the justice system and bring an old prison alive in our imagination, and songs unafraid to look into the abyss; These are all songs on one album and that is the new Morrissey album, World Peace is None of Your Business. This album is subversive, intelligent, heartbreaking, and funny as hell. This album is not just the work off one man however; This album is also the work of a band at the height of their powers and of a producer that brings the best out of everyone involved.
This is a record that is extremely musical. The album begins with a didgeridoo and goes on to include trumpets, clarinets, flamenco solos, gorgeous keyboards, savage electric guitars, pure noise, and delicately played acoustics. It is all anchored with the best rhythm section of the man’s career. The record not only expands the language of pop music, but also the language of music itself. Sure, in this place and time almost everything has been done, but this record does stake out it’s own small piece of earth. Have you ever heard a didgeridoo go into a beautifully gorgeous glam rock ballad that also features moments of take the paint off the wall guitar? All while lines like, “The police will disable you with tasters,” are delivered in a gentle croon. That’s just song number one. Anyone that claims that this album isn’t at least trying to push the envelope is either offended by what it has to say, or is so caught up in the baggage of Morrissey’s long career that they’re not listening with anything resembling human ears.
The album swings between transcendent pop and epic show stopping masterpieces. Take a song like Staircase at the University. The song resembles in theme the 1960’s “death discs” where tragedy was masked in effervescent melodies. In this song a female student under pressure from her family and loved ones throws herself down the title stairs until her head, “splits three ways.” However, when the song ends in a triumphant flamenco guitar solo and eventually handclaps, you find yourself smiling against all odds.
On the other ends of the spectrum there are songs like I’m Not a Man and Mountjoy. These are two of the best songs Morrissey has ever recorded. I’m Not a Man takes all of the ways in which traditional manhood is defined and discards them. From Cassanova and Don Juan, to the warring caveman and the soldier, he dreams up something kinder and better than man as we know it. “And I would never destroy this planet that I’m on / Well, what do you think I am, a man?”
Mountjoy, minus a line about a judge, described as a, “three foot half wit in a wig”, is deadly serious. The song is about the famous prison in Ireland that among regular prisoners also housed famous ones such as Brendan Behan, who is also mentioned in the song. He uses poetic language to not only create the horrible conditions of the prison itself and the justice system that put it in place, but also to ask big questions about the human condition.
Musically this album’s closest resemblance to Morrissey’s catalog is as an updated version of Viva Hate or Bona Drag. There are times when Jesse Tobias’s overly distorted electric guitar brings to mind Vini Reilly’s guitar on Alastian Cousin. There are also the extremely colorful arrangements and strange twists and turns in the production from that period. However, producer Joe Chiccarelli has updated the sound and brought new colors to it as well. He is somehow able to bring out both the delicate details of the arrangements without them losing any muscle. Also new multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur brings in all kinds of wold influences from the aforementioned flamenco guitar to the French sounding accordion breakdown of Earth is the Loneliest Planet.
This is Morrissey’s most outwardly looking album of all time, both musically and lyrically. A song like Istanbul not only is sung in character as someone from the title city, but features musical nods and sound effects to that city as well till we feel that we are caught down in the human muck with the song’s narrator. The once most British of pop stars is now casting a wide eye across the globe with equal bits empathy and disgust.
The only song that sounds as it is definitely written in Morrissey’s own voice is the final song Oboe Concerto. “The older generation has tried, sighed,and died / which pushes me to their place in the queue.”
I can’t recommend this album enough. It is a record of both despair and defiance that features more wit than most singers could muster in a lifetime. As much as this album looks at the world at large, as Morrissey is thematically not only expanding what he has attempted before, but again also the language of pop music, he still ends the album with a British stiff upper lip as he accepts the reality of life and repeats over and over:
Round, rhythm goes round
Round, rhythm of life goes round
*Some of you that subscribe to this blog may have originally gotten a different review of this album. I apologize about sending out two different reviews, but I wrote the first one when I was exhausted and simply wasn’t happy with it. I make a point of never going back and changing anything I wrote, other than for errors, but every rule needs to be broken sometimes.