World Peace is None of Your Business
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.
Let me explain-let's go back to 2006...
In early 2006, I predicted Morrissey was leading us to a middling album like "World Peace" when he unleashed the hit-and-miss "Ringleader of the Tormentors." My prediction was confirmed the following year when he ordered his musical director Boz Boorer, to sack guitarist, Alain Whyte. (Whyte was-and still is-arguably the best songwriting partner el hefe ever had since Johnny Marr.)
After the first few listens of "Ringleader," I told anyone who cared, "He's transforming himself into a Marc Almond-esque torch singer." The dirge-like ballads, the over-inflected cabaret vocals, the subject matter, the lyrics-oh the lyrics: "There are explosive kegs, between my legs." All signs pointed to furrowed brows and wringed hands. (He found love in Italy, but did he have to be crass about it?)
When Morrissey had Whyte fired on the first day of the "Years of Refusal" sessions and subsequently hired the hawk-nosed Jesse Tobias-a pedigree of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alanis Morissette-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, and for the Smiths apostles. Exciting days, indeed.
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) over a bar band for the most part, made up of members from the Black Crowes, the Gipsy Kings, and occasionally the trumpeter of an overeager quinceanera band.
Will "World Peace" be the record you dust off in 10 years when you want to relive the glories of Morrissey's solo career? No. You'll still go to "Vauxhall and I" for that task. Will "World Peace" come up in the decision making process? No. Morrissey has 6 better offerings in his current catalog and I'm including "Malajusted."
So why buy this album? For me, there are two reasons. First, I'm a completest. I own every Smiths and Morrissey release, either in vinyl or CD form-and usually both. I own the promos, the white labels, the Book, - even the bootlegs.
Secondly, (and I think a lot of fans fall into this category) I accept the fact that an album by this season's Morrissey will be, for the most part subpar, yet I cling to the fact that there will be one beacon of hope on the tracklist that tells me 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 2 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 soft, simple guitar patterns; understated drum patter, 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.
One of the album's major flaws is its song order. Listeners are immediately led off with four slow- to mid-tempo songs: the title track, 'Neal Cassidy Drops Dead,' 'I'm Not a Man,' and 'Istanbul.' Lyrically, these 4 songs all come off like poems Clint Eastwood's bitter Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino" might have written, had he been inclined to write prose after skimming over sensational headlines in 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!"
Yes, I know-"Vauxhall" started off with a slow-burner of a song as well, but that tune was based on a hopeful crescendo with the promise of a good fight.
It's not until track number 5 ('Earth is the Loneliest Planet') that purists will start to furrow their aforementioned 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 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 made physical abuse in relationships funny in 'Girlfriend in a Coma.' Yet with, 'Staircase,' we never get that wink or nod that 'Girlfriend' gave. 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. (You'll notice that 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" as some have plead with me, 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 guitar artistry that Whyte brought to the studio. Jesse Tobias, Whyte's replacement, relies on ham-fisted, over-the-top power chords to compensate for his lack of detail. It all adds up to clumsy workmanship--especially in concert.
But it goes deeper than Tobias' lack of ability. Morrissey just doesn't 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 reigns. 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?
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If you're as much of a fan of Morrissey as I am (was?), take a look at my concert reviews of old Misery Guts in Bakersfield, Pasadena (nights One, Two, and Three); his record reviews of Live at Earl's Court and Who Put the M in Manchester, and Ringleader of the Tormentors; and his short interview with Alain Whyte.