Morrissey - World Peace Is None of Your Business
Posted on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 | No Comments
Bigmouth Kind Of Strikes Back, A Bit.
This may sound unreasonably cruel, but so be it: this isn't really an album that needed to exist. If anything, its mere existence is a dent in the epic mythology of the man without forenames. If ever there was to be a fitting, aesthetically right conclusion to the career of Morrissey - the iconic frontman of The Smiths and startling voice of a disaffected generation who then carved out a more traditional, sometimes misfiring but frequently superb solo career after that supernova of a band - it was with last year's publication of Autobiography. Having spent a lifetime making the apparatus of the music industry buckle to his whims, he then tore up the literary rulebook and rewrote it in his image. A baffiling, grudge-settling, ultra-stylised work that will fascinate and confuse for years to come, this Autobiography became one of the biggest literary and pop-culture events of the year, his publishers Penguin even deigning to his (frankly hilarious) whim that his book be published as an instant Penguin Classic - not even the threadbare illusion of plausibility that a Modern Classic would grant, oh no - and thus sit between William Morris and John Mortimer in the canon, a final grand shattering of convention and statement of importance. What exactly do you do for an encore?
Autobiography itself was something of a face-saving exercise for a career that seemed on the verge of implosion for the second time. After a lengthy hibernation, You Are The Quarry had resurrected Morrissey as a star in grand fashion, but few stars have had quite his ability to throw away goodwill on a repeated basis. Years of Refusal saw his band stuck in a dull pub-rock grind, his concert schedule became increasingly disfigured by cancellations, while his frequent bouts of toy chucking from the pram just became more and more tragic and deluded (just look back at almost any news story involving Morrissey in the last five years, should you seek proof.) And, most worrying of all, the complete absence of any follow-up to Years of Refusal - a couple of by-the-numbers new tracks entered the setlist, but his constant self-sabotage left one of the few stars out there still operating with a dedicated fanbase happy to actually buy records label-less until the best-selling Autobiography bailed him out. (A dedicated fanbase, no less, that has yet to jump ship even after years of exploitative compilations and butchered re-issues.) And so, from the jaws of defeat, a second Morrissey comeback record, World Peace Is None of Your Business - a record with fewer critical or financial stakes riding on it than Quarry perhaps, but one that urgently needed to prove Morrissey's on-going viability as a creative force regardless.
To that extent then World Peace is None of Your Business is a frustrating listen, filled as it is both with fresh starts and dead ends, frequently simultaneously to each other. The good news: someone has clearly had a word with guitarist and chief musical director Boz Boorer, because the stodgy guitars of recent years, as thick and unwanted as a Guinness shit, have thankfully been shunted to the background. Instead, the record brings to the front a whole array of different sounds and styles - flamenco guitars, strident trumpet calls, opulent synth landscapes and, on the title track, even the hum of a didgeridoo. The Bullfighter Dies is a sprightly joy, his finest pop moment since First of the Gang to Die, riding on accordion flourishes, the closing Oboe Concerto makes fine use of the titual instrument as part of its starlit balladry, and even when the rock arrrives as on Staircase at the University, it's a much more refined and intricate sound than might have been expected (or dreaded) from the backing band found butchering Johnny Marr's work live. Early comparisons to Viva Hate might have unduly raised expectations, but this is by far the most diverse batch of material on a Morrissey album in at least twenty years, and the shift away from straight-up rock gets the best out of a voice that remains on fine form throught.
However, any Morrissey album ultimately lives or dies by quite how engaged the man himself is, and alas this is where World Peace is None of Your Business comes undone. For an artist who has often flirted with self-parody, too many lyrics here go over the top and just come across as jaded photocopies, a fairground version of what people might expect a latter-day Morrissey lyric to entail. Staircase at the University, Earth is the Loneliest Planet and I'm Not a Man (the would be centerpiece that is by far the worst thing here) read like particularly cruel pisstakes of typical Morrissey themes, but they're all too real here. The childish verses on The Bullfighter Dies are an unfortunate blemish on a fantastic backing, Istanbul the most insubtantial and pointless in the ongoing series of 'Morrissey visits...' postcards, the title track a uniquely patronising attempt at a protest song, whilst the nadir of Kick the Bride Down the Aisle achives the unwelcome distinction of overtaking Benghali in Platforms as the most genuinely unpleasant Morrissey song - where that work at least had some veneer of a social exploration to hide behind, no such fig leaf appears for the dim-witted, misogynistic persona Morrissey hides behidn here. The drastic lack of quality control is thrown into even greater relief towards the end of the album, as a brace of fine and challenging lyrics - the sinister, potentially fatal masochism of Smiler With Knife, the bleak character study of Lovejoy, the mournful Oboe Concerto - arrives to prove he hasn't lost it. More worringly then, he either thinks the rest of the album is good enough - or just doesn't care much.
The sense of missed opportunities is only compounded should you choose to consult the six additional tracks on the deluxe edition, and find songs the quality of Art-Hounds that could have given a real boost to this shapeless record. For all the significant improvements his band have made in the gap between records, Morrissey's golden pen - whether a case of burn out following the effort of Autobiography or just a lack of inspiration as the studio dates loomed - just doesn't show up enough to make this an album truly worthy of commendation. (The failings of this record are thrown into even greater relief when you compare it to the rejuvinated Futurology from fellow arena-cult act icons Manic Street Preachers.) World Peace Is None of Your Business is far from a bad album, one with plenty of qualities to recommend it even as its lead actor keeps fluffing his lines, but it's hard to escape the taste of disappointment that this album leaves behind - as the man himself sings on album offcut One of Our Own, "a job half done just isn't done."