After the surprise success last year of Morrissey’s Autobiography (its interminable rehashes of his legal problems and all), there’s suddenly a whole new audience for Hulme’s troubled torch singer.
From his own pen, here was Morrissey – the good (the acrid Northern humour, the comically recondite feats of the pen, the genuine love of song) and the bad (self-pity, vindictiveness, attitudes best described as old-fashioned) – in one package.
But will Morrissey’s new congregation stick around for his 10th solo album, the drily titled World Peace Is None of Your Business? His recent few releases have suffered from musical stasis and lyrical predictability. In trying not to draw attention from Morrissey’s voice, his band’s increasingly rough-hewn and basic rock-outs often simply ended up sounding dull. Is it possible to reinvent Moz? Here are five things we've learned from listening to World Peace.
1. Flamenco, mariachi and ballroom ballads … a Morrissey tune can surprise
Dour melodies and (vegan) ham-fisted riffs get the elbow this time in favour of an astonishing and genuinely outward-looking musical palette that ranges from flamenco to mantric drones to mariachi to luscious ballroom ballads. In place of standard-issue indie guitar, we hear harps, cornets, strings, clarinets and even a didgeridoo. The arrival of Latino keyboard player Gustavo Manzur, who wrote the abrasive Neal Cassady Drops Dead and the frantic Earth Is the Loneliest Planet, appears to have enticed long-time songwriters Jesse Tobias and Boz Boorer out of their Radio 6 Music comfort zone. Both create some of the strangest and most enjoyable platforms they’ve yet given their employer. Whatever else, you can’t accuse Morrissey of just rehashing the Smiths again.
2. And it's darkly funny
From the gleeful stomp of Neal Cassady Drops Dead to the Peta-party accordion celebration of The Bullfighter Dies (“… and nobody cries”) to Earth Is the Loneliest Planet’s dervish twirl, this is the most physically enjoyable Morrissey record since his comeback You Are the Quarry in 2004. More significantly, it’s funny. Perhaps encouraged by writing Autobiography, Morrissey’s black sense of humour and liberating iconoclasm have returned. See Cassady’s I-hate-children rant (“tyke full of gripe … urchin full of acne” summons up the cartoonist Giles for some reason). And then there's Staircase at the University, a bravura yodel that makes suicide under exam pressure sound like the most exhilarating thing you can do with your summer.
3. You don't want to be imprisoned in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison
A song directly and unambiguously about a single subject is a rarity in the Morrissey songbook, which tends to weave together references into a frame for the singer’s persona. But penultimate song Mountjoy concerns the infamous jail that housed Brendan Behan and many a senior IRA figure. Morrissey has a potential future as a singer of Horrible Histories-style educational ballads for the young.
4. Morrissey has been, unfortunately, listening to Russell Brand
“Each time you vote, you support the process,” runs the refrain on the stately and blithely anti-politics title track, an insight so tidy and vacuous that only a standup comedian or a pop star could advance it with a straight face. There’s little doubt however, that like his comedian friend Morrissey has captured the nihilist-rejectionist mood of the times. We need a whole new paradigm, even though a better tool than the ballot box for reorganising society remains undiscussed.
“Brazil and Bahrain, oh Egypt, Ukraine/ So many people in pain,” Morrissey sings, forgetting that the residents of at least two of those territories would quite like the chance to vote without coercion, if that’s OK. But we do not come to pop stars for reason and clarity.
5. There will be a #MorrisseySexism twitter storm before the month is out
Given his long association with Germaine Greer, Shelagh Delaney, Virginia Woolf’s Shakespeare’s Sister and a gallery of female movie icons, Morrissey probably has enough of a track record in feminism to get away with a song called Kick the Bride Down the Aisle. A droll dismissal of matrimony on principle, it echoes Wham!’s subtext-laden Young Guns (don’t let her tie you down!) with somewhat more bite.
So brace yourself for lengthy discussions of contentious lines such as: “She just wants a slave/ To break his back in pursuit of a living wage.” If he were to deign to defend himself, Morrissey can always point to World Peace’s male-liberation centrepiece I’m Not a Man from, in which he rejects the suite of male roles: “Wheeler-dealer, mover, shaker, Casanova/ Beefaroni, oh but lonely.” He may not be a man, but in his own way he’s charming again.
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