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Rene Williams: Morrissey is Dead Morrisseys missed opportunity

Rene Williams: Morrissey is Dead

Morrisseys missed opportunity

by Rene Williams,
first published: July, 2014

approximate reading time: minutes

And it's STILL not easy being a Morrissey Fan!

World Peace is None of Your Business
Harvest Records
Release date: 15 July, 2014

Don't blame Morrissey for the banality of World Peace is None of Your Business. Blame the people he chooses to surround himself with, but I’m getting ahead of myself, allow me to explain. 

Sometime early in 2006, I predicted on this very website that Morrissey was headed towards a more somber path when Years of Refusal was released. If you’re keeping score, you’ll remember that Years of Refusal was the first LP without Alain Whyte on it and it showed. Sure, Boz Boorer has always been the appointed musical director, but Whyte made the biggest splash in the band (second only to el hefe, of course). The hair, the hooks, the sounds he squeezed out of his collection Les Pauls -- Whyte was as important to Morrissey as Johnny Marr was to the Smiths.

Although Whyte mysteriously took a leave of absence on June 5, 2005 after a festival gig in Dublin, he had every intention to carry on as collaborator with Morrissey. Morrissey even hand-picked seven demos Whyte submitted for the Ringleader of the Tormentors sessions. But when Whyte arrived for duty at the Forum Music Village recording studio in Italy to record those songs, Boorer stopped him in the parking lot and informed him that his services would not be required for the sessions. Terse words were allegedly exchanged, but they were orders from the boss, although it didn’t help that there had been tension between both guitarists since 1991 when the band formed.

Apparently, Morrissey was going to use Whyte’s demos, but he wasn’t going to let him back in the fold. Instead, Morrissey was sticking with Jesse Tobias who has permanently filled in since July 2004 when Whyte stepped down for undisclosed reasons. Tobias seems like a nice enough Texan who once played for the Red Hot Chili Peppers for about a weekend, and was recently the touring guitarist for Alanis Morissette. He was also in a band with his wife Angie Hart who he met when her band (Frente!) opened for Morissette. Tobias would end the marriage and the band in 2005; the beguiling Hart was no match for Morrissey’s charms.

After the first few listens of Ringleader, it was obvious what direction Morrissey is now headed. Long gone were the fun glammy, hammy days of Your Arsenal or the reckless crunch of Southpaw Grammar. By Ringleader, Morrissey took a turn towards cabaret, a genre that, up until now, has solely been occupied by Marc Almond.

The campy ballads, the overly inflected vocals, the subject matter, the lyrics -- oh the lyrics...

"There are explosive kegs, between my legs." 

Morrissey found love in Italy, but did he have to be crass about it although on second thought, is that lyric so different from “Let me get my hands on your mammary glands?

When Morrissey fired Whyte during those Ringleader sessions and subsequently opted for Jesse Tobias, he lost the yin to his yang. The peanut butter to his jelly. The Ashford to his Simpson.

Whyte was responsible for the lightest touches and catchiest melodies of Morrissey's best solo moments. Pundits and fans alike criticized Whyte for following too closely to Marr's forged path, but the Morrissey/Whyte partnership worked. Whyte wrote to Morrissey's aesthetic as much as he did for the Smiths apostles. He’s admitted as much despite receiving criticism for it.

Sadly, there is no evidence of fleet fingers or hummable hooks on World Peace. The whole affair sounds like Morrissey singing -- as brazen as ever, mind you -- with a group of musicians who have never met each other. It’s as if a Black Crowes cover band merged with a Gipsy Kings cover band and that mish-mash of musicians were accompanied by an overeager quinceanera horn ensemble. 

Will World Peace be the record you dust off in 10 years when you want to relive the old glories of Morrissey's solo career? No. You'll still go to Vauxhall and I and Your Arsenal for that task. 

Will World Peace come up in the decision making process? No. Morrissey has 6 better offerings in his current catalog, including Maladjusted, which was unfairly roasted when it was first released.

So why buy this album? First off, completists will buy everything. There are thousands of us, thousands!

Secondly, we accept the fact that an album by this season's Morrissey will be, for the most part subpar, yet we cling to the fact that there'll be one or two beacons of hope on the tracklist that assures us that he still has "it." 

For this effort, for all intents and purposes, “The Bullfighter Dies” is that flicker of hope. It's energetic, well-structured, and clocks in at a trim and tidy two minutes. It sounds a lot like something we'd find on the b-side of a Viva Hate single. It has the same playfulness and bounce that Stephen Street gave “Hairdresser on Fire” and “Sister, I'm a Poet.” 

Unfortunately, the rest of the LP is just... OK. Not horrible, but not the masterstroke you hoped and prayed for. It will always rank in the bottom third of his work. 

When World Peace works best, the music is stripped of the fat -- no fancy studio hokum -- “Oboe Concerto” gets close. It reminds me a bit of David Bowie's “When I Live My Dream.” Just an understated guitar; soft drums, and a loping bass with a few flourishes in the outro. It's an ode to dead friends -- I think -- and it functions brilliantly as the album closer. 

But one of the album's major flaws is its track listing. Listeners are immediately led off with four slow- to mid-tempo songs: the title track, “Neal Cassady Drops Dead,” “I'm Not a Man,” and “Istanbul.” Lyrically, these four songs all come off like poems Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino might have written, had he been inclined to write prose after skimming over sensational headlines in the World News section of USA Today. Musically, they're almost waltz-like. Not the ideal way to say, "I'm back after 5 years of recorded silence, world!" 

It's not until track number 5 (“Earth is the Loneliest Planet”) that purists will start to furrow their bushy brows -- although fans of Spanish folk music will scoot toward the edge of their seats. Lyrically, it's the same old Morrissey: “If you think you're going to find love and compassion on this big blue marble, you're in for a lifetime of disappointment, Bucko.” Musically, “Earth is the Loneliest Planet of All” might be one of Morrissey's bigger mistakes committed to record. It begins with a forced flamenco-guitar lead riff and never recovers. It's one of the two songs tellingly written by the untested and unproven keyboardist, Gustavo Manzur. 

If the aforementioned “The Bullfighter Dies” is the jewel of this crown, track 6 (“Staircase at the University”) is the other lesser, yet still cherished gem. The song tells the tale of an overworked schoolgirl struggling with her college studies and the shame her failing grades are bringing to her father. Really. 

The song could have been funny in the same way Morrissey once made physical abuse in relationships funny in “Girlfriend in a Coma.” Yet with, “Staircase,” we never get that wink or nod that “Girlfriend” had. Fortunately, “Staircase” still thrives, thanks to Boorer's rubbery melody, it's even a contender to become a single if someone edits out the last minute of the song when that pesky flamenco guitar sneaks its way back into the recording booth again. (Manzur's flamenco guitar tends to diminish more than a few songs on the album.) 

The final 5 songs (minus the aforementioned “Oboe Concerto”) of the 12-track World Peace are hard to get through all the way. I listened to them at least a dozen times each over the past week, hoping that the album truly is a "grower,” but nothing sticks. 

Again, this album isn't horrible, it's just average with very few splashes of excitement. I believe it all goes back to the departure of Alain Whyte. The melodies just aren't there, neither is the flair that Whyte brought to the studio.

Ultimately, does Morrissey care as much as he used to? Where he once took precious care of every record -- from cover art to cardstock, now he just allows whichever record company he's with to take over the design reins. The result is a shoddy record campaign led off with poorly Photoshopped cover art (note the clumsy clone stamps on the album's cover).

Ultimately, if Morrissey doesn't care, why should his fans?

More Morrissey reviews of Bakersfield, Pasadena (nights One, Two, and Three), Live at Earl's Court and Who Put the M in Manchester, Ringleader of the Tormentors; and a short old interview with Alain Whyte.



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