No stranger to controversy, that arch provocateur Steven Patrick Morrissey has been ruffling feathers again in recent months. After his over-long and over-written but nonetheless fascinating autobiography was absurdly published as a Penguin Classic at the end of 2013, this spring has seen him having to cancel most of his US tour due to a respiratory illness allegedly caught from opening act Kristeen Young. And Mozza’s 10th solo album World Peace Is None Of Your Business is also likely to cause a bit of a stir, not so much because of his barbed lyrics, which we have come to expect, but because musically it is a departure from his previous work.
His first album for five years, following on from the risk-free Years Of Refusal, the more colourful World Peace Is None Of Your Business is too uneven to be a classic Morrissey album but he should be given respect for trying to do something different from his recent more muscular, conventionally structured rock albums. For someone whose main songwriting skills have always very much been on the lyrical side (Johnny Marr would surely agree), in terms of the music this seems quite adventurous by Morrissey’s standards, with its Latin and Middle Eastern tones, and atmospheric soundscape. It certainly shows he still has the capacity to surprise us after more than 30 years in the business.
Much credit should also go to producer Joe Chiccarelli, whose prolific and varied career includes a heavy involvement in Latin rock, for creating such a richly textured sound, as well as to Morrissey’s three song-writing partners and bandmates, long-time collaborator Boz Boorer, guitarist Jesse Tobias and not least multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur. Recorded in France, World Peace Is None Of Your Business has a more European feel to it than Moz’s last few albums made in the States. The man himself is in fine voice, with as always the vocals up front and the words precisely articulated, even if the lyrics are not as consistently high quality as usual.
It’s a relief that the album is a lot more fun to listen to than the slightly ludicrous promotional spoken word videos featuring Nancy Sinatra and Pamela Anderson might suggest. The tracklist contains a typically arresting assortment of song titles, which lead into a strange mixture of the political and anecdotal, the didactic and imaginative, as if Morrissey is exploring diverse aspects of his creative identity without really unifying them. As so often the middle-aged/adolescent navel-gazing gloominess is relieved by dark humour and acute observations.
The presumably ironic opening title track and catchy lead single may hark back to Morrissey’s performance at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo last year. It begins hypnotically with a didgeridoo (yes, didgeridoo!) and tribal-sounding percussion before tubular bells usher in Mozza’s mellifluous voice crooning an anti-establishment ditty, and ends with a splintering guitar solo. Condemning government repression and the divisions between rich and poor, he sings “Each time you vote, you support the process” (is that Russell Brand on backing vocals?), yet there is an implied challenge to passively accepting your lot.
Neal Cassady Drops Dead features growling guitars and throbbing keyboards, as well as a flamenco guitar solo, in a song about the Beat Generation/hippie icon and his on/off lover the poet Allen Ginsberg, confusingly linked to a list of comically rhyming diseases. “Victim, or life’s adventurer / Which of the two are you?” Morrissey asks. At almost eight minutes, I’m Not A Man is the longest and most self-indulgent track, starting slowly with ominous-sounding synths and ending with heavy hammer beats and muffled screams, as the singer mocks macho masculinity and throws in some vegetarian/environmental politics for good measure: “I’d never kill or eat an animal / And I never would destroy this planet I’m on.”
Perhaps the most interesting song, the mysteriously exotic Istanbul, includes ambient street sounds as well as aggressively chugging guitars and swirling synths, set against a bittersweet melody in the vocal line, telling of the grief of a father in losing his son. In Earth Is The Loneliest Planet infectious Latin rhythms counterpoint a familiar tale of woe, as Morrissey bemoans: “But you’re in the wrong place and you’ve got the wrong face / And humans are not really very humane.”
The rather bland mid-tempo number Staircase At The University is about the pressures facing young people studying to get into university. Opening with a trumpet fanfare, the two-minute-long The Bullfighter Dies is a straightforward animal rights message, featuring a list of Spanish bullfighting towns and celebrating the death of a bullfighter because the bull survives. Kiss Me A Lot is one of Morrissey’s songs of yearning romantic desire, mainly revolving around the repeatedly gushing use of the word “kiss”, this time with a flamenco flavour. But in the slow-paced Smiler With A Knife we are back in the well-worn territory of maudlin self-pity: “Surrender will I am before you / I am sick to death of life.”
Kick The Bride Down The Aisle begins with shuddering accordion like a church wedding organ, with a few harp flourishes near the end, as Morrissey responds to “let them speak now or forever hold their peace” with a vicious attack on a bride to be that opens himself to charges of misogyny. And he’s in misanthropic mood in the darkly synth-backed Mountjoy, as he returns to his Irish roots in a grim portrait of Mountjoy Prison (whose inmates included Brendan Behan and members of the IRA): “How humans hate each other’s guts / And show it given a chance.” The album ends on a more gently melancholic note with Oboe Concerto, with its plaintive-sounding woodwind, as Moz intones: “Round, round, rhythm of life goes round.”
At almost 55 minutes, some of the 12 tracks could have done with a bit of trimming, while some songs work better than others. But overall World Peace Is None Of Your Business is a distinctive contribution to Morrissey’s oeuvre. The album will no doubt divide opinion but who does that on the contemporary music scene better than the Mancunian maverick?