Is the musical icon a dying breed? Legacy artists populated the public consciousness seemingly since the beginning of popular music, but lately it seems this will soon become a memory. Can we really rely on Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, or Miley Cyrus to carry the torch for the next 30 to 40 years? It seems improbable at best. For pretend hipsters or music geeks like me it is becoming clear that our Idols are also susceptible to the passage of time. Where is their place in this world of divided attention spans? If you are Morrissey, you carry on as usual – maybe with a slightly more world-weary resignation.
It has been 5 years since Morrissey’s last album, Years of Refusal. A consolidation of Moz’s Rockabilly leanings, it capped off a strong run of albums from 2004 to 2009 that followed Morrissey’s period of inactivity from 1998-2003. Mach II, as I refer to it, was notable for its amped up guitar sound – think 1992’s Your Arsenal with just a bit more of aggression. Some fans hated it, some fans loved it – consider me in the latter party. Longtime guitarist Alain Whyte had a heavy involvement in the songwriting process, so it was somewhat shocking when it was revealed that he had been permanently replaced by newcomer Jesse Tobias (White did not appear on Years of Refusal, but did have several songwriting credits).
2013 brought rumors of a new recording contract and the release of Morrissey’s publication of Autobiography – a warts and all telling of his life story, as seen through his eyes (readers in the US beware – the US edition was filtered to remove references to Morrissey’s homosexual relationships. Get the UK edition). Early 2014 brought the announcement that I was waiting for – Morrissey’s new album, World Peace Is None Of Your Business would be released in July of 2014. The spring whetted listeners’ appetites with spoken word promo videos that featured Nancy Sinatra and Pamela Anderson. The words seemed vintage Morrissey – on point, bitter, funny. But how would the music hold up, in light of Alain Whyte’s non involvement?
World Peace Is None Of Your Business is an old school, grower of an album. It has taken me a few listens to get my head around it. The music is different from the last 3 records – I am officially dubbing this the start of Mach III. Nancy Sinatra appearing in the spoken word promo was a sign – Morrissey is looking to the girl groups of the 60’s that he loves so much and mixing it up with horns, torch songs, and just a bit of Saccharine Underground as filtered through a European sensibility (Lee Hazlewood, anyone?). His world view is bleak, his wit is alive and well – this is everything a Morrissey album should be. What historical Morrissey albums does this new one remind me of? Kill Uncle (1991), Southpaw Grammar (1995), and Maladjusted (1997). Those albums, for whatever reason, seem to stand out in Morrissey’s catalogue as isolated, existing in their own universe. This one is no different. There are 18 tracks on the deluxe edition of World Peace, with each song ranging from good to masterful.
You’re that stretch on the beach that the tide doesn’t reach (highlights)
World Peace Is None Of Your Business opens the album with the buzz of a guitar and tribal drumming before giving way to Morrissey in torch song mode. A sigh of hopelessness, a lament for the ages. 30 years into his career, Morrissey still has the ability to enrage people with his lyrics “World peace is none of your business / So would you kindly keep your nose out / The rich must profit and get richer / And the poor must stay poor / Oh, you poor little fool – oh, you fool / Each time you vote you support the process”. Morrissey is in perfect voice, the music is layered, girl group inspired vibes with a nice guitar fadeout. Neal Cassady Drops Dead is his version of a tribute to the Beat Generation – I think. At any rate, Neal Cassady’s travels with Jack Kerouac are the inspiration for On the Road, if you didn’t know. This song features the most abrasive guitar riff I’ve ever heard on a Moz album. After the opening aural assault, the tune segues into a tuneful post-punk song for a minute or so. Another segment begins at the 2:13 mark, the music fading away and acoustic Spanish guitar taking over. A wordless coda follows – this is a song that gives me chills every time I listen to it. Favorite lyrics: “Neal Cassady drops dead / And Allen Ginsberg’s howl becomes a growl / Victim, or life’s adventurer / Which of the two are you?”. Earth Is the Loneliest Planet is a flamenco inspired torch song. I’m not sure if it is funny, sad, or simply true. In full diva mode, Morrissey explores the plight of humanity. “And humans are not really very humane / And earth is the loneliest planet of all”. The Bullfighter Dies is introduced with a sad horn solo before sliding into an above average Morrissey rant. In this instance, we are cheering the death of the Bullfighter, but everything is OK because the bull survives. This song puts a smile on my face – it reminds me of being at a rodeo in Cowtown, NJ and cheering every time the bulls got away (in my Blur shirt and fake punk attire, no less). Kick the Bride Down the Aisle is an alarming song title, on an album full of them. An examination of marriage, it has a 60’s Mod feel to it. When the music fades away and we are alone with Morrissey’s voice, he delivers my favorite line of the record “You’re that stretch of the beach, that the tide doesn’t reach”. There is a horn breakdown / jam at the 3:20 mark that is stunning.
Our Truth Will Die With Me (Bonus Track highlights)
This is turning into quite a novel, isn’t it? It is a remarkable album, and the bonus edition comes with 6 bonus tracks. One Of Our Own is a post-punk / prog tune that sounds indebted to Howard Devoto’s Magazine. A tale of tragedy, even for Morrissey. His lover has taken a bullet and died for him, leading him to lament “Give me the gun / I love you / A job half done / Isn’t done.” Forgive Someone sounds like a hit single to me, in some alternate universe. Morrissey croons all the ways to have a conflict but then asks “But can you forgive someone?”. Proving that it isn’t only hipster journalists that reference lyrics by The Smiths in their writings, he also delivers this line “The black peat of the hills / When I was still ill / See this mess and forgive someone”. It all leads up to a rousing conclusion with Morrissey proclaiming “Our truth will die with me!” Awe inspiring. Art-Hounds opens with a menagerie of horns before leading into a rousing tune making fun of snobby folks in art museums. Vocally, Morrissey reaches into higher tones that he has rarely used since The Smiths. Again, this one sounds like a hit single to me. The lyrics are vintage Morrissey – hilarious, in fact. “In European hushed museums / Will I see you? / My life is opera / Art-hounds: very funny, very witty, but very lonely / And below the belt is shriveled and small”
If you are a fan of The Smiths or Morrissey, you need to pick up this album if you haven’t already. Pick up the deluxe edition – it includes a masterful EP of epic proportions. My only disappointment is that Morrissey released 3 new songs in 2013 (recorded in 2011) that are almost impossible to find (unless you go to YouTube, of course). Action Is My Middle Name, The Kid’s a Looker, and People Are the Same Everywhere surely deserve a wider release. Perhaps with a future reissue of this record? The musical icon is alive and well with Morrissey – just with an increasingly darkening view of the world and overflowing with wit. Welcome back.
Verdict: A Stunning Return
For Fans of: The Smiths, Johnny Marr, Gene, Magazine, Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood, Jobriath
- World Peace Is None of Your Business
- Neal Cassady Drops Dead
- I’m Not a Man
- Earth is the Loneliest Planet
- Staircase At the University
- The Bullfighter Dies
- Kiss Me Alot
- Smiler With Knife
- Kick the Bride Down the Aisle
- Oboe Concerto
- Scandinavia (Deluxe Only)
- One of Our Own (Deluxe Only)
- Drag the River (Deluxe Only)
- Forgive Someone (Deluxe Only)
- Julie in the Weeds (Deluxe Only)
- Art-Hounds (Deluxe Only)