Moz puts his unique spin on beat poets, political revolt and gender stereostypes in an LP full of gorgeous musical flourishes
In some alternate universe, Morrissey’s turned his back on this music lark for a life as a beloved raconteur: a former pop star who’s left his singing and gladioli-swinging behind him for a cushy gig as a snarky media darling. There he goes again: bantering with Stephen Fry on QI, trading barbs with Andrew Neil on This Week, installed as the sardonic face of The One Show to harangue all who brave his sofa. A new album? Pah, he need never bother with another lyric or riff again.
Thankfully, things are a little different for our Morrissey. Since October last year he’s re-emerged from five-year exile with a tell-almost-all autobiography here, a slapdown of a bogus Twitter account there and withering barbs everywhere, but it’s not enough. ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’, his 10th studio album, feels like he has everything to prove. And it doesn’t fall short.
Like Morrissey’s last grand return from hiatus, 2004’s ‘You Are The Quarry’, there’s that same undefeatable spirit, the sense that he thrives on being the fly in the ointment. The title track finds him backed by lush, opulent guitars and attacking the ruling classes as he chides: “You must not tamper with arrangements/Work hard and sweetly pay your taxes”. There’s defiance, too, in the remarkable ‘I Am Not A Man’, a seven-minute oddity that begins with eerie whistles of noise before transforming into a tinkling daydream like ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka. It finds Moz measuring himself up against outdated masculine tropes and finding himself wanting against these burly brutes before declaring himself “something much bigger and better” than them.
Just as Moz’s stance as a one-man outsider army and ringleader of the tormentors is restated, so is his standing as the godfather of indie disaffection and despair. The ragged glam guitars of ‘Staircase At The University’ is an anthem for a confused youth, a tribute to a girl so overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed academically that she chooses death by concrete steps instead. “If you don’t get three As, you’re no child of mine”, he chides, imitating pushy parent, and in his own way – his own strange way – it’s him extending that same old lifeline for anyone struggling to cope with what’s expected of them.
As great as it is to find him grappling with overbearing fathers and feckless politicians, though, there’s an equal delight in hearing Morrissey just being Morrissey: no-one else, you’d wager, would make a song as simple as ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ feel like such a dizzying, romantic rush of driving guitars, or find such pathos in the crunching waltz of ‘Istanbul’, where a parent is forced to identify his wayward son’s corpse. And unlike the meat-and-potatoes rock of ‘Years Of Refusal’, it’s full of gorgeous and unexpected musical flourishes. ‘Earth Is The Loneliest Planet’ is a flamenco-indebted stomp, ‘Mountjoy’ a thing of strummed, slow-burn beauty and ‘Neal Cassady Drops Dead’ a splatter of fierce, snarling riffs in which Morrissey pays tribute to the beat poets in his own inimitable way, growling: “Neal Cassady drops dead, and Allan Ginsberg’s tears shampoo his beard”. It’s sad, it’s strange and it’s oh-so-funny. In short, it’s Morrissey.
Even the bum notes – the Latin flounce of ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ and ‘Kick The Bride Down The Aisle’’s pedestrian plod – can’t stop ‘World Peace…’ from allowing Morrissey to reclaim his throne as the last of the famous international pop provocateurs. “All the best ones are dead”, he sighs on the mournful swansong of ‘Oboe Concerto’ – but not all of them are, Steven. Not all of them.