At a time when social realism is being sprayed into music fans’ faces with the acidic verve of bands like Sleaford Mods, does room remain for an old hand to expel some old wisdom?
Given a little time with the album, though, there’s the distinct impression that a lot of the lyrical content is, basically, garbage. Has Moz lost it for good? Let’s look at the evidence.
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‘World Peace is None of Your Business’
Sample lyric: “The rich must profit and get richer / And the poor must stay poor”
In this song, Morrissey preaches his ‘unique’ worldview, and as this lyric demonstrates, it’s vague and generalised enough to become essentially meaningless. At one point he even sings: “Brazil and Bahrain / Oh, Egypt, Ukraine / So many people in pain.” No shit. And, much like Jared Leto dedicating his Oscar to Ukraine, I’m sure this name-drop has people dancing on the streets of Donetsk. That said, the “rich get richer” vibe is the real axe to grind on this opening track. Using a seasoned aphorism about economic inequality that has been around since Engels first asked Karl Marx if he fancied a drink after work? This is not Morrissey. He used to invent these terms, not wear them into the trodden grounds of colloquialism.
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‘I Am Not A Man’
Sample lyric: “Don Juan / Picaresque / Wife beater vest / Cold hand / Ice man / Warring cave man / Well if this is what it takes to describe... / I’m not a man”
These are not descriptions of men – these are rejected sketches from The Fast Show. Clearly there is a missing verse here that goes: “Rab C. Nesbitt, Genghis Khan / Financial ombudsman / Landscape gardener / Well if this is what it takes to describe… I’m not a man.” The idea of the song, that the stereotypical image of a model man in media, literature, film and advertising is often stupidly unrealistic and unrepresentative, is real and true. But the execution is just completely tame.
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‘Staircase At The University’
Sample lyric: “‘If you don't get three As,’ her lovely boyfriend said / ‘Your shame is sure to stain the family name’”
This track is about a young girl who kills herself, because of the pressures exerted on her by her family to achieve top marks. I can’t buy into this. Pressure from tutors and families on students at university is a thing, yes, but the boyfriend chiming in to tell his lover that she’ll stain her family name if she doesn’t ace it? Is this realistic? Do young British lovers discuss and quarrel over family name staining a lot in 2014? Later in the song, she commits suicide by throwing herself down the university stairs, which immediately feels more Midsomer Murders than Morrissey. Too melodramatic, contrived and overly symbolic. John Prescott finding out live on BBC Wales that his family tree contains incestuous relationships: now that’s a proper stain on the family name.
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‘Neil Cassady Drops Dead’
Sample lyric: “Everyone has babies / Babies full of rabies / Rabies full of scabies / Scarlet has a fever”
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sit down and write terrible poetry, but I have, and a life with electronic word processors has made me far too terrified to be bold enough to just, like, impulsively write something down. Instead, I hold my pen in my hand and stare at the paper whilst trying to find my start point. Who am I? What is my poetic duty to this world? What do people have in common with each other? Babies! Babies is good. Babies are good. You don’t get bad babies. If you did, that would shock people. Let’s shock people. Babies with... Rabies? Rhymes at least. Then, I could use scabies: double shock! But, now I’m letting the rhyme itself dictate the form, plot and meaning of the whole thing. Does that compromise the entire validity of my poem? YES.
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‘Irish Blood, English Heart’
Sample lyric: “I've been dreaming of a time when / To be English is not to be baneful / To be standing by the flag, not feeling shameful / Racist or partial"
To give these previous four lyrical aberrations from Morrissey’s new LP some context, here is what he is capable of. We’re not even talking the artist in his prime either – we’re as recent as 2004, when he was still conjuring what will go down as some of his best ever. This line, written and delivered during the beginning of the Iraq War, has been made ever more pertinent by Europe’s recent right wing uprising and our infinite state of austerity. It yearned for an England to be proud of, both domestically and internationally, and where the authentic realisation of such patriotism would not just be labelled as nationalist or racist. This song re-released would have more cultural relevance to 2014 than the entirety of ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’.
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Words: Joe Zadeh