Morrissey is a polarising figure. Prone to outrageous quotes (comments to The Guardian about the Chinese being “a sub-species”), ridiculous self-mythologising (insisting his autobiography be published as part of the Penguin Classics series), and scathing of politics to the extreme (“The sorrow of the IRA Brighton bombing is that Thatcher escaped unscathed”) – he’s often been given a get-out-jail-free card because of his musical accomplishments – both solo and with The Smiths.
It’s been five years since he released an album – a reasonable one at that, in the shape of 2009’s ‘Years Of Refusal’ (review). On his finest form, over the course of a monumental career, Morrissey has channelled the best of his highly literate self into his canon: bleakly beautiful imagery, wry humour, and a reflective understanding of the longing and angst at the core of the human condition.
Now, with his health failing, his hairline receding, and his waistline expanding, new album ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ might be his last chance to show the world that he really is up there with Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens and other Penguin Classics luminaries as a master of wit and wordplay.
Sadly, on that level, he fails. The title track is indicative of the patchy, uneven nature of the album that bears its name. Its melody is glorious and brands itself into your subconscious easily enough, but the track is marred by woefully inept lyrics and problematic rhetoric. “Oh oh Egypt, Ukraine… So many people in pain!” may be the most banal lyric Morrissey has ever penned.
It’s also difficult to be moved when he lays into The System: “Each time you vote, you support the process,” he croons near the end of the same track. Stay at home, democracy is terrible, even though it’s a system that has afforded him the freedom of speech to make the aforementioned ridiculous declarations, and become wealthy at the same time.
Dire lyrics can be found elsewhere too: on ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ the attempts to rhyme pejorative terms with the names of Spanish cities sounds forced and a tad ridiculous: “Ill in Seville… Gaga in Malaga… No mercy in Murcia.” It’s more William McGonagall than Oscar Wilde.
Occasionally though, the man’s 10th solo LP is brilliant. His world might be one devoid of colour, drenched in grey, and riddled with gloom, but great moments come when Morrissey shows us a sense of vulnerability.
On highlight ‘I’m Not A Man’, he despairs of his place in a world that deifies the alpha-male, though he finds solace in the fact that – though his pacifist views may never be routinely championed by society – it makes him “so much better than” what mankind considers to be manly. ‘Oboe Concerto’ is a touching rumination on mortality, while ‘Staircase At The University’ tells the tragic tale of a girl who succumbs to familial and societal pressure to achieve top academic marks, and commits suicide as a result. Not since ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ has death been so easy and fun to sing along to.
So the bleakly beautiful is still there, but the flashes are sporadic. ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ is an album that will satisfy the faithful, and may even win new converts. As a lasting testament to its maker’s brilliance, however, it pales in comparison to his crowning solo achievement ‘Vauxhall And I’, and the album he considers The Smiths’ masterpiece, ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’.
Perhaps he just led us to expect too much?
Words: Benji Taylor
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Listen to ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ in full via Deezer, below…