Morrissey’s tenth solo album (World Peace is None of Your Business, on Harvest Records) is an odd hodge-podge of studio tinkering, random sound effects, half-completed songs, Spanish guitar, and brilliant vocals. I’m hard-pressed to recall a more non-linear record, or one that sounds like it’s actually being thrown together while you’re listening to it.
It’s difficult to tell if the frequent bloops, bleeps, and tinkles are the result of producer Joe Chiccarelli’s (White Stripes, Shins, Alanis Morissette, The Strokes) whims, or if the band collectively agreed to throw normalcy to the wind and embrace a Wilco-esque “let’s keep the songs from getting too pretty” ethos.
This is probably Morrissey’s most droll record. Gone is most of the humor that’s been a staple of his songs (let alone the Smiths, where the lyrics were consistently amusing), and the humor that is there seems forced and juvenile. His wit is basically intact, though some of the lyrics seem rather hurried and banal, and death is a frequent theme.
Clocking in at nearly an hour long, this record is daunting to listen to in its entirety. The rewarding moments are infrequent, and they’re usually overrun by the pointless studio gimmickry.
The players on the record have been tooling around with Morrissey for years; guitarist and “musical director” Boz Boorer, lead guitarist Jesse Tobias (late of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), drummer Matt Walker, bassist Solomon Walker, and keyboardist Gustavo Manzur.
- World Peace Is None of Your Business – The sound of war drums welcomes listeners to Track One. Morrissey plays the role of the 1%, assuring the populace that their efforts to change the world are useless, so they should just continue to live their (our) mundane lives and leave the important stuff up to world governments and corporations. Of course it’s Moz at his sarcastic best, and his point is well made, if not a little obvious. Extra-crispy guitars are pushed to the front, and mesh nicely with lush orchestration. Morrissey’s voice is in fine form, and has lost nothing in his thirty-plus years of whining. The song ends with Morrissey’s voice far off in the distance, isolated and sad.
- Neal Cassady Drops Dead – Heavy fuzz guitars; even the drums sound distorted. Perhaps referencing the occasion when Cassady finally gave in to Allen Ginsburg’s tormented pleas and had sex with him. The first burst of Spanish guitar appears on this song, and will reappear on numerous other tracks. After a strong start, the song drifts off into da-da-dai, la-la-la refrains and doesn’t quite know how to end.
- I’m Not a Man – Firmly in Rundgren-esque “Sounds of the Studio” territory, Track Three begins with eerie dissonance pierced with random synthesizer notes. Then a lovely calliope-induced melody slips into place. More distorted tremolo guitar. Morrissey laments society’s view of what a real man is, especially macho soldiers and jocks who dare to eat meat, and essentially states that “If that’s what a man is, I want nothing to do with it.” The song ends with annoying human screams/shrieks over pounding drums and the sound of tracer fire.
- Istanbul – Funky groove. Vaguely Eastern guitar. Drums up front, as they are on most tracks. Odd song about a Turkish father searching for his son amidst the dangerous streets, only to find him dead, and feeling guilt for having not been there for him. If there’s a metaphor floating around in there it drifted right past me.
- Earth is the Loneliest Planet – Dry Spanish guitar with electric guitar effects creeping in from the edges. “Humans are not really very humane,” Morrissey remarks. Then, “There’s always a reason why you’re refused, and there’s nothing that anybody can do.” However, Morrissey doesn’t appeal for people to be more accepting. It’s more like he’s simply stating that in a society that values beauty over substance, some people will inevitably be left behind.
- Staircase at the University – A song about a gal who feels so much pressure from her father to get “three As” that she eventually throws herself down the stairs and splits her head “three ways.” Not terribly clever for Morrissey. A horn section peppers the arrangement, though not enough to salvage a mundane melody. Essentially a B-side. Hand claps. ’80s synthesizer break. I guess the uplifting sound of the music is supposed to make the tale more whimsical, but it doesn’t work. Frusciante-esque guitar fills wind in and out. Easy to see why the Red Hot Chili Peppers hired him, albeit briefly.
- The Bullfighter Dies – Horn fanfare. Firmly into Smiths territory now. Jangly guitars, melodic bass, lots of drum fills. Another unclever throwaway.
- Kiss Me A Lot – Studio hijinks intro and more horns. Moz asks to be kissed a lot, anyplace, anytime, and then to be kissed some more. More Spanish guitar. Castanets. Tinkling piano fade-out for no particular reason. Another weak song.
- Smiler With Knife – Retro-schmaltz, 1950s balladry. “Press the blade against my skin, never to make love again.” And, “Sex and love are not the same.” A distant tambourine. “All I am, and was, will go. But where to, and why now?” Perhaps referencing Morrissey’s ongoing health issues. “I am sick to death of life.” Dying without ever knowing true love?
- Kick the Bride Down the Aisle – A waltz. Funereal organ intro (ironic humor). “Kick the bride down the aisle, and treasure the day, it’s the best you can do for everyone’s sake.” Best lyric on the record: “You’re that stretch of the beach that the tide doesn’t reach. No meaning, no reason. The lonely season.” A lovely harp interlude. A plea for the groom to bolt as fast as possible because his bride will ruin his life. Yet more Spanish guitar.
- Mountjoy – Dreadnought acoustics mixed for stereo sound! Great lyrics. Best on the record, overall. “There is no one on this earth who I’d feel sad to leave.” “We never say aloud the things that we say in our prayers, because no one cares.” Morrissey at his depressed best.
- Oboe Concerto – More Pink Floyd-esque sound effects. Lush arrangement with an ascending melody a la Beck’s “Lonesome Tears.” “All I do is drink to absent friends, and there’s a song I can’t stand, and it’s stuck in my head.” Actual oboe in the song, played in a Klezmer style. Of course there has to be freaky-styley synthesizer notes to end the record just to put a bow on this mess.