opinion byMATTHEW M. F. MILLER
What’s the difference between buying a Morrissey album and buying Morrissey concert tickets?
Once you buy the album it can’t get canceled! (Ba-dum ching!)
Yeah, it’s an abysmal joke, but that’s pretty much what folks think of Morrissey these days – an easy target. A ubiquitous pop culture punchline. It’s almost unthinkable that we’ve arrived at a point in which a legend the caliber of Morrissey has been reduced to the same antics-over-substance cultural buffoonery as, say, Dustin “Screech” Diamond. But with a steady stream of obnoxious, self-important antics (note his recent spats with PAWS and We Are Scientists, Jimmy Kimmel, the Staples Center), an always in-flux concert schedule (canceled again this year – better luck next time!) and very little to write home about when it comes to quality musical output, most days it seems like the only way to protect his legacy is to strap on your headphones, draw a line after 2009’s surprisingly agile comeback, Years of Refusal, and ignore the present.
It’s been 5 years of curmudgeonly erratic behavior since listeners have been asked to open their hearts to Moz the Creator, which makes the arrival of World Peace Is None of Your Business rather enticing. Will the vexed veil be lifted? Will ardent fans finally be allowed behind the curtain to see why this genius has become such a persnickety old douche? As far as opportunities go, a new album from a darkly humorous wordsmith could serve as the ultimate rebuttal. Will World Peace Is None of Your Business prove that Morrissey is actually just…misunderstood?
From the opening title track, it’s apparent that the Morrissey who stands before us today, both the artist and the person, requires one to separate the good from the bad, the egomaniacal from the insightful, the songs from the heavy-handed, uneven lyrics. The album begins with thirty odd seconds of “Game of Thrones” style execution drums before clumsily devolving into a dreamy diatribe about the horrors of corrupt governments, taxes and the blue-collar burden. Everything that is good and everything that is horrible about World Peace Is None of Your Business can be summed up by this one song: The music itself is tight and lively, but the lyrics waver between out-of-touch, cleverer-than-thou-ramblings and downright blush-inducing embarrassment. The album’s 12 bloated, mostly mid-tempo tracks drone on and on, and even when they aren’t technically long they sometimes feel like they might never end because most of them fail to find a hook.
“Neal Cassidy Drops Dead” begins with scratchy, NIN-flavored guitars and drums that are almost immediately sabotaged by truly insufferable lyrics, worst among them being, “Neal Cassidy drops dead and Allen Ginsburg’s ‘Howl’ becomes a growl. Everyone has babies, babies full of rabies, rabies full of scabies, Scarlet has a fever …”
Almost everything here feels like it was written by a man who sees problems everywhere he looks – except in the mirror. “I’m Not a Man” equates eating meat, the existence of Beefaroni, killing, and destroying the planet with the masculine, and since Morrissey would never do any of those things, he’s a non-male saint while the carnivores among us of us are manly heathens who drive our cars to the nearest White Castle just to watch Mother Earth die a few minutes sooner. “Istanbul” squanders an Eastern-tinged T-Rex meets Radiohead groove with the confusing story of a father-son relationship between a boy whose mother died in childbirth and a father who wants his son back after he was taken away for what I’m sure is a pretty legit reason that is nearly impossible to figure out.
A few songs inhabit a truth that feels like it comes from Morrissey and not the headlines, all of which prove to be standouts. The rollicking flamenco-fueled “Earth Is the Loneliest Planet” succinctly espouses his beliefs about defeatist complacency, but he mostly lets the music do the talking: “But you’re in the wrong place and you’ve got the wrong face, and humans are not really very humane”. “The Bullfighter Dies” captures Morrissey’s classic darkness in an effective way by flipping the script on a traditional bullfighting scene in which the bullfighter expires and nobody sheds a tear. “Mountjoy” delves into the history of the Dublin prison that housed Irish writer and IRA member, Brendan Behan, and it’s here where Morrissey finally takes a break from straight-up ranting to conjure some truly beautiful storytelling: “A swagger hides the fear in here, by this rule we breathe. And there is no one on this earth who I’d feel sad to leave.” Here his lyrics make you feel trapped inside of a story – a good one at that – instead of feeling like Morrissey is yelling at you for doing everything wrong in this godforsaken life.
Now that’s a Morrissey the world could get behind once again. C-