Didgeridoo or digeridon’t but the fact remains that Morrrissey is, still, the most provocative, interesting and intelligent pop star alive today or dead yesterday. Now, after a recording hiatus of five years he is back, back, back with “World Peace is None of Your Business”. A proper album. Released on a proper record label. With a proper producer. Most importantly it has proper songs and proper tunes.
His last album, “Years of Refusal” was brutal. In both senses depending on the listener. Hard, hard, muscular (to be polite) guitar pushed that voice, His voice, into the background and, for whatever reason any sense of innovation was also relegated to…somewhere other than the grooves of the record (ask your mum and dad kids). From the delicate nature of “Viva Hate”, the pop frivolity of “Kill Uncle”, the glam stomp of “Your Arsenal”, the heartbreaking, soul bearing beauty of “Vauxhall and I”, through to the aggressive prog-rock of “Southpaw Grammar” Morrissey had, as a solo artist, been through more stylistic changes than Madonna and Bowie combined (although he has rarely been given any credit for this). Then things ran aground a little with the half baked “Maladjusted”…although even that contained the majestic “Trouble Loves Me”.
A period of emotional, physical and musical exile in LA followed before he returned in 2004 with “You Are the Quarry” which was a massive hit and which spawned more hit singles than any other album by any other artist that year. At that point He would have been entitled to consider bowing out on a high…but He isn’t like other singers, songwriters and pop stars. For Him this is IT. He is driven by a desire to sing His life. Retirement just isn’t an option as long as He feels He has something to say.
“Ringleader of the Tormentors” and “Years of Refusal” are both, in places interesting and lovely things…but neither of them hinted at anything other than, dare I say it, decline. Aborted live dates, health problems, the lack of a record deal, a stubborn refusal to pledge, kickstart or self release and more dangerously out of step comments on everything from the Chinese to the “royal” wedding all contributed to a sense that how soon may well be…NOW.
Then came “Autobiography” and a deal with Harvest Records.
Now we have “World Peace is None of Your Business” and the world keeps turning but while we all have our eyes on the stars from our place in the gutter our ears are, once more, tuned in and turned on to Him and Him only.
Would it be good?
Could it be good?
Was He capable of good?
Could it possibly be better than good?
Could He be great again?
The answer is yes…it is good and, in places, it is better than good and is even, on more than one occasion, great.
What sets this apart from everything else since “Vauxhall and I” is the quality of the production and the creativity of the musicians (in particular Gustavo Manzur). Flamenco guitars, didgeridoo, horns, strings, shimmering guitar and occasional bursts of the sort of “muscular” guitar that Jesse Tobias delights in (to the chagrin of the more delicate members of the Moz Army). Manzur seems to have had more of a contribution than just keyboards (his official role) and one also gets the feeling that his presence along with that of producer Joe Chiccarelli has breathed new life into Morrissey and long time collaborator Boz Boorer.
“World Peace is None of Your Business” is the opening track and it is the unofficial anthem for Russell Brands new anti-politics. Taking shots at the police and government, gently chastising those who still, naively, believe that voting makes a difference this is Morrissey at His most political since “Meat is Murder”…one of only two Morrissey albums that takes a track as title (“The Queen is Dead” being the other). Interestingly all three of those tracks are political in content…anti-Royalist, animal rights and now revolution through apathy!
One of the greatest things about being a long term lover of Morrissey is being introduced to people, books, films and other musicians that without Morrissey you wouldn’t have stumbled across…”Neal Cassady Drops Dead” is a perfect example of just that. Alan Ginsberg is, along with Kerouac, the best known of the Beat Generation. Few outside of literary circles would have recognised the name of Cassady. Lyrically this is one of the funniest things that Morrissey has written…”Everyone has babies, babies full of rabies, rabies full of scabies” He chants, rants and raps.
As a celebate, asexual, homosexual, bisexual or humasexual depending on who you listen to (including Morrissey Himself) his sexuality has long been of interest to everyone…apart from Him. What is undeniable about Him is the fact that He presents a vision or version of what it means to be a “man” that is unique. Images of boxers and skinheads sit alongside Pat Phoenix and Viv Nicholson. Camp? Possibly. Maybe. Certainly. “I’m Not A Man” is strident, confident and brilliant. It’s a hit list, a kill list of every stereotype of masculinity and every notion of manhood. It’s bold and brave. It should be required reading for every young man…maybe even for every old man.
Mancfester, London, Dublin, Los Angeles, Rome and now Istanbul. Cities that have captured the heart of Morrissey. “The young of Istanbul chant the words back at me with clerical address. I had no idea. They urge me on, their arms outstretched in entreating petition. Why didn’t anybody tell me? I like it here, can I stay? I am at my happiest…” He writes in “Autobiography” of the city that provides the backdrop to the song. It’s moody and broody, filled with the danger of dark alleys and strange lands.
“Earth is the Loneliest Planet” features both flamenco guitar and accordion. What else do you want? Seriously…Morrissey, flamenco guitar and accordion. If that doesn’t set the pulse racing a little bit then you might already be dead. You should see a doctor.
Instead of the traditional route of releasing singles in advance of the album Morrissey instead unveiled four album tracks each supported with curious spoken word videos with cameos from Pamela Anderson and Nancy Sinatra. In a better world that alone would have guaranteed him the number one spot until the end of time. Sadly we don’t live in a better world and He may well end up with a number two album, snuggled in behind Ed Sheeran. Ed Sheeran…dear God please help us. My gut feeling is that a summer single in the shape of “Staircase at the University” with it’s “First of the Gang to Die” stompings and it’s tale of student death could have secured him a place on the Radio 2 playlist and a number one album…but what do I know? The answer is nothing.
“The Bullfighter Dies” tells us what we already know. Bull fighting is cruel, wicked and evil. If the bull gores and kills the matador we don’t shed a tear. Reasonable people would cheer. Lyrically it is a little…flimsy? But it is funny, simple and honest…that’s more important than most anything in pop music.
“I don’t care where or when but when you’ve kissed me…kiss me all over again.” Passion, desire, longing and lust…the celebate is dead. Viva the humasexual. Maybe He is just in character…maybe this is a metaphor…or maybe, just maybe, La Moz has been enjoying a little bit of howsyourfather with…
“Smiler With Knife” is a companion piece to “Never Had No One Ever” and “I Know It’s Over” from “The Queen is Dead”. Loneliness, empty beds, last breaths…it is enough to bring tears to the glassiest of eyes and those of us who know the pain of the black dogs growl will find much to empathise with here.
When Morrissey appeared on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs he made it very clear to the host that he had no interest in being part of a “traditional” couple. The notion of a life with a framed photograph on top of the television made him physically ill. His contempt for “normal” relationships could hardly be more violently explained than it is on “Kick the Bride Down the Aisle”. It is, again, outrageous and offensive as well as being LOL funny (look at me with my finger on the pulse of youth culture…).
With “Mountjoy” Morrissey provides us with his “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. A prison with a history that includes 46 executions, including that of Annie Walsh…the only woman ever executed by the Irish state. That cannot be something about which Morrissey was unaware. It’s nickname, The Joy, is also undeniably appealing to the Morrissey mindset.
Round, round the rhythm of life goes round…a fact that we are all aware of, even if, at times, the rhythm is a little off. “Oboe Concerto” brings the album to a close and on first listen my father was transported back to his years spent listening to me wailing along to my Smiths albums which he described as “…music to slit your wrists to”. He didn’t mean it in a good way. The fact that he describes this in the same way suggests it is Smithsy which can only be a good thing.
So Morrissey is back and while some people can’t get over, or past, The Smiths and “Vauxhall and I” for me he is back better than he has ever been.