Album Review: Morrissey- World Peace is None of Your Business

Steven Patrick Morrissey. Mozzer. The Pope of Mope. The Sultan of Sulk. Or, simply, Morrissey.

You may know him as the former lead singer of the seminal band The Smiths, as a solo artist, as a mouthpiece for PETA, as a performer of questionable health, as an author, or all around curmudgeon. The truth is that Morrissey is all of these things and more.

Despite recently attracting attention for the controversy surrounding his recent string of canceled tour dates, Morrissey occasionally records an album when he’s signed to a label, and coming five years after his last solo outing, Universal subsidiary Harvest was kind to pick him up so he could record his 10th LP, entertainingly titled World Peace is None of Your Business.

As expected, World Peace is incredibly dramatic, but also full of shit-eating grins, as Mozzer is one of the few artists in contemporary popular music that is some how able to walk the line between taking himself too seriously and not taking himself seriously at all—e.g. lyrics like “People having babies, babies full of rabies,” or a song named “Kick The Bride Down The Aisle”—

Kick the bride down the aisle
Look at that cow in the field
It knows more than your bride knows now
She just wants a slave to break his back in pursuit of a living wage
So that she can laze and graze
For the rest of her days

Full disclosure—I’m not, like, super well versed in Morrissey’s solo canon, but I do find the overall sound of his solo output to have taken a fascinating trajectory over the last 20+ years. Starting out with Viva Hate, which still owed much to the sound and style of The Smiths, he’s eased his way into a much fuller, theatrical, and at times, heavier sound, thanks to his current backing band, lead by guitarist Boz Boorer. In comparison to 2009’s Years of Refusal, World Peace is (mostly) less aggressive musically, but because Morrissey, it’s as, if not more, aggressive and incendiary in its lyrical content.

World Peace is None of Your Business is rather dense affair, and at times, the album’s attempts at stone-cold seriousness, and self-indulgent tendencies, allow it to drag on. The didgeridoo intro to the title track that awkwardly folds into the actual beginning of the song, and the 90-seconds of eerie tones and tape hiss that serve as a prologue to the already lengthy “I’m Not a Man,” could both be done without, and most of the tracks border into the five minute running time, which can be a dangerous thing in 2014.

As a public figure, Morrissey is incredibly polarizing. Some love his world-weary outlook, his animal rights activism, his criticisms of the royal family, etc, but then some just don’t get it. And that’s okay, because Steven Patrick Morrissey probably doesn’t give a shit about if you “get it” or not, and more than a little bit of that attitude leaks over into his lyrics on World Peace—specifically looking at the condemnation of governments on the title track, and the many (and often hilarious) asides on how shitty the human race is overall—“Humans are not really very humane,” he bluntly states on “Earth Is The Loneliest Planet;” then, later on “Mountjoy”: “What those in power do to you, reminds us at a glance how humans hate each others guts, and show it given a chance.”

Musically, Morrissey and the band’s sound is much more dynamic than it was on Years of Refusal, and that may be thanks in part to their work with producer Joe Chiccarelli—who has manned the boards for a long and diverse list of artists. On World Peace, he manages to balance out the pomp and gusto of Mozzer’s pontificating, and gives the band a big, yet orderly, sound. The only time things backslide into a somewhat flat sound is on one of the bonus tracks, “Art Hounds.”

There are a few points on the album where I feel like the band, or Chiccarelli, is attempting to “modernize” Morrissey—who, as a figure, is not exactly stuck in the past, per se, but is definitely not a man of the times. These points usually include slick production techniques or effects—guitar pedal fuckery, compressed and distorted percussion, airy synths, and what sounds like turntable scratches on “Earth is The Loneliest Planet” but is more than likely just fast, processed guitar chugs. These tricks don’t exactly fall short, but they can seem a little out of place when backing Mozzer’s bombastic voice.

Even when the album meanders, or runs a little long, it never becomes intolerable or unlistenable—some of the songs just work better than others, and there are even some surprising moments—the stark beauty of “Mountjoy,” arriving late in the sequencing, is one of the album’s finest songs. And the triple shot of “Staircase at The University, “The Bullfighter Dies,” and “Kiss Me A lot” all have some element that is reminiscent of The Smiths’ style of song writing; whether it be running time, rhythm, or cheery lyrics (“Staircase at the university—she threw herself down, and her head split three ways.”)

Morrissey has never been a “feel good” artist, but even when this record starts to fall under its own weight, it still stands up thanks to his ability to dress up misanthropic lyrics with up-tempo pop arrangements., and there are two questions that remain by the time you reach the conclusion of World Peace is None of Your Business. One of those is—if it’s none of MY business, whose business IS world peace?

The other is this—as Morrissey unsteadily enters the third decade of his career, with more of that time spent a solo artist and being “the former frontman of The Smiths,” much like any other artist that has had this kind of longevity, what does a late in the game album like this mean for them?

Taking seven years off between solo efforts, Mozzer hit a three-peat stride with his mid to late 2000’s resurgence in the form of You Are The Quarry, Ringleader of The Tormentors, and finally, Years of Refusal, all of which charted well both Stateside and in the UK. And certainly someone will always be discovering The Smiths—thanks in part to their reference in The Perks of Being a Wallflower—but similarly to last year’s surprising return of David Bowie, World Peace is None of Your Business is not so much a game changer, or a career redefining effort, but it is a welcome comeback for someone that didn’t ever really leave, but spent the last five years being known for things other than the title “recording artist.”  

Actually, upon further consideration, there is a third unanswered question- did the dog on the album cover ever get the thing that Mozzer is holding in his hand?

World Peace is None of Your Business arrives in the US Tuesday, in various formats with varying additional bonus tracks, via Harvest/Capitol.