After threatening everyone with his massive, volatile testicles to the tune of a funereal ballad (on Ringleader of the Tormentors’s ‘Dear God, Please Help Me’), it was difficult to see how things could improve for Morrissey in the long-term.
Apart from a smattering of keepers from his previous offering Years of Refusal – the dreamy ‘I’m Throwing my Arms around Paris’, the punchline rock of ‘All you Need is Me’, and the career-best, startling and moving ‘Something is Squeezing my Skull’ – recent Morrissey albums have been an exhausting listen; Song Titles in need of songs (I’m confident 5,000 essays could be written almost entirely compromised of Morrissey titles), largely moored my mournful melodrama and indulgent dirgery.
This predicament meant that one got the sense he might be better off expressing himself in writing rather than song, but then when his albeit mostly excellent Autobiography came out, it just made me long for a new album.
Thankfully, World Peace is None of Your Business, his first album on new label Harvest is, despite a few shaky moments, his most enjoyable canon of songs in ages. Full of consistently intoxicating melodies and cinematic soundscapes, it’s a mostly well thought-out collection influenced by its surroundings and contributors without becoming dress-up genre pastiches.
The title track opens things on a dodgy note: Morrissey’s call-to-arms, state-of-the-nation rabble rousers have been wincingly obvious and lunkheaded for years. From the subtle devastation of songs like The Headmaster Ritual, ‘National Front Disco’ and even ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ to stuff like ‘World Peace…’ where he’s literally just singing a C-grade 1st year Sociology essay, probably written by Russell Brand.
From the portentous non-melody on offer, to the patronising-on-purpose…? lyrics (“Oh, oh you poor little fools…each time you vote you support the process”), it’s not the best start and the worst example of diminishing returns you could level at Morrissey: it’s just all a very witless. Luckily it’s one of the few examples where the album falls short.
The Broadway showstopper I’m Not a Man is a smart anti-machismo anthem, full of lonely beeforonis, wise asses and “cancer of the prostate” which builds to a fizzing crescendo, spoilt only slightly when our man overreaches on the point of never killing or eating an “ANIMUAAAL, ANIMUAAAL, ANIMUUAAAAL”, a point he’s made countless times in a better context.
The meaty distortion of ‘Neal Cassidy Drops Dead’ is as striking as the foreboding early Simon and Garfunkel folk of ‘Smiler with Knife’. ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ and ‘Earth Is the Loneliest Plant’ absolutely worked better as the spoken word performance art pieces they was first introduced as.
But there’s no denying the gorgeous melodies of ‘Staircase at the University’ and ‘Istanbul’. The former an ode to a female literally shattered under the weight of exam pressure, the grim lyrics about smashed heads and brutal boyfriends offset by one of the catchiest, enjoyable tunes he’s been involved in. ‘Istanbul’ is similarly stunning, with Morrissey singing like an angel matter-of-factly about a Turkish father searching for his dead son.
The sweet and understated closer ‘Oboe Concerto’ leaves Morrissey at some sort of peace, ruminating on his own mortality and drinking to absent friends – “round, round, the rhythm of life goes round, round…”. It’s a satisfying but bittersweet ending. Why can’t he be this tender and human more often?
It’s a relief to find on World Peace is None of Your Business he’s engaging with his music more than just using it as a metaphorical tickling stick made of nettles to attack chosen and imagined adversaries.
However, with another cancelled tour alongside the unceremonious parting of one-time protoge Kristeen Young, and all that business with holding his debut book to ransom unless Penguin agreed to make it a Classic, behind the scenes things seems as tumultuous as ever. He’s still hard to dislike, but at the end of the day how much longer is he going to be driven to distraction over things that ultimately do nothing but perpetuate the idea of Morrissey being a bitter, egocentric culthead.