Album Review: Morrissey: “World Peace Is None Of Your Business” (2014)


Morrissey photographed by Michael Muller in 2014.



MORRISSEY: “World Peace Is None Of Your Business”
Harvest Records/Capitol Music Group, 2014
by DJ Ceremony, July 15, 2014


As Morrissey’s 1988 solo debut Viva Hate was a mandatory rebirth after Johnny Marr’s breakup of The Smiths, 2014’s World Peace Is None Of Your Business represents another rebirth for Morrissey, this time an artistic one. Morrissey surprises us yet again by producing an album free of missteps, a confident and exciting album that showcases the best strengths of his lyric writing, and of his now well seasoned band led by songwriters Boz Boorer, Jessie Tobias, and newcomer Gustavo Manzur. In short, World Peace Is None Of Your Business is Morrissey’s strongest offering since 1992’s Your Arsenal.

Seconds into World Peace, a didgeridoo and timpani drum signal that we’re in for something a little different. In fact, something rather major has been completely stripped from Morrissey’s sound. The straightforward utility rock that is the building block and plague of his last two albums (and weakest work in general) is nowhere to be found. Instead, World Peace, produced by Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, The White Stripes) consists of a wonderfully varied set of inventive arrangements full of air and drama in all the right places, playful synths, world influences, and quiet moments that act as a vehicle for Morrissey to showcase his continuingly enriching voice.

(L) Allen Ginsberg and (R) Neal Cassady photographed in San Francisco, 1955.

The title track and album opener is a theatrical, political power ballad (alternating its point of view from an exploiting regime to Morrissey as sympathetic narrator) that does well to introduce the “worldly” theme of the record. Beginning at track two, however, things really start to get interesting. Neal Cassady Drops Dead’s jarring, scratchy guitar chords and out-of-synch retro synth loop provide the backdrop to an esoteric song about Allen Ginsberg’s grief upon learning of the death of lover and Beat writer Neal Cassady in 1968. Bizarrely, Morrissey turns the track into Dada collage by splicing in rapid-fire raps about children as disease carriers (“Scarlet has a fever,” “the little fella has got rubella,” et al) before concluding: “Get that thing away from me.” Oh, Morrissey, we’re so glad you’re back.

One and a half minutes of white noise cleanses the palate before the over-the-top standout I’m Not A Man. If one is looking for high Morrissey melodrama, this is ground zero. Morrissey slowly builds gentle verses citing a variety of macho clichés (“Mover, shaker… Casanova… beef-a-ronie”) before the song swells to a climax both lyrically and musically: “…No big fat locker room hockey jock laughing, I’m not a man. I’d never kill or eat an animal, and I never would destroy this planet I’m on. Well, what do you think I am, a man?” Some of World Peace‘s most poignant moments are non-verbal, as Morrissey’s melodic ad libs drive the emotional point home on this, as well as other key songs on the album.

Istanbul‘s menacing bassline and sexy guitar lines support a narrative that is at once a love letter to the Turkish capital, and the tale of a loving father searching for his lost son, only to discover that he’s been murdered at the hand of a street gang.

(L) Morrissey photographed in Rome by Andy Fallon, 2006. (R) Morrissey: “Ringleader Of The Tormentors” (Sanctuary/Attack) 2006.

It’s been well noted that the 2006 record Ringleader Of The Tormentors was Morrissey’s Roman album, recorded there with David Bowie producer Tony Visconti featuring contributions by Ennio Morricone and an Italian children’s choir. Now 2014 brings World Peace Is None Of Your Business, Morrissey’s Spanish album. With the dreamlike, lively jangle of Earth Is The Loneliest Planet, the album’s Act II begins (where the four tracks that contain the most overtly Spanish-sounding elements are clustered together dead center on the record at tracks five through eight). Castanets, flamenco guitar, hand claps, trumpets, and old-world instruments are proudly employed throughout. Is it really so strange?

The Glam epic Staircase at the University is sprawling and lush, with soaring keyboards and so many hooks, a spare song could have been made with the extras. One of Morrissey’s many signatures is his ability to craft catchy, danceable pop songs out of some of the most abnormal subject matter thinkable. Staircase narrates the account of a college student who is driven to suicide under the weight of academic pressure. “’If you don’t get three As,’ her sweet daddy said, ‘you’re no child of mine and as far as I’m concerned you’re dead.’” “Staircase at the university. She threw herself down, and her head split three ways.”

The macabre double-header continues with The Bullfighter Dies, which is sonically to World Peace what You’re The One For Me, Fatty was to 1992’s Your Arsenal LP—a short, light pop number that adds tones of brightness and whimsy to the sound of the album. Lyrically, the song is quite the opposite, justifiably condemning the sport of bullfighting, and rooting for a role reversal in which the bullfighter is slain by the bull. I attended a coliseum bullfight in Mexico as a pre-teen, and I’ll never forget turning my head to notice my father’s wife with tears running down her face at the sight of the murderous brutality on display. Bravo to Morrissey for finding a place on his album to take another stand in defense of animals’ right to live.

(L) Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass: “South Of The Border,” 1964. (R) Morrissey: “Years Of Refusal,” 2009.

One of the only songs on World Peace that does not reference death or dying, the infectious Kiss Me A Lot instead references (and directly translates the title of) Bésame Mucho, the much celebrated Mexican bolero song recorded by everyone from The Beatles to Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. The faint voice of new keyboardist Gustavo Manzur can even be heard in the background of Kiss Me A Lot’s chorus singing “bésame.” Considering World Peace‘s Spanish theme, and the fact that Morrissey’s band members are pictured in the gatefold of their last album holding various records by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, it’s clear that Morrissey went through a fixation period with the band. Herb Alpert recorded a version of Bésame Mucho in 1981, a few decades before Morrissey duplicated Alpert’s 1964 South Of The Border album cover typography for the cover of his own 2009 album Years Of Refusal.

The lyrically opaque but beautiful Smiler With Knife kicks off World Peace‘s gentler and moodier Act III, where the Spanish flair recedes as the album slows to conclusion.

Social and political rants: check. Literary references: check. Bitterness about ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce’s music royalty lawsuit and victory: check (see Mountjoy, below). It wouldn’t be a classic Morrissey LP, however, without something to stir up some genuine controversy. We certainly have fodder with Kick the Bride Down The Aisle, a mid-tempo, dreamy pop number about a new bride marrying not for love, but for the ease of a lifetime of financial support. “Kick the bride down the aisle and treasure the day. I know so much more than I’m willing to say. She just wants a slave to break his back in pursuit of a living wage, so she can laze and graze for the rest of her days.” Why don’t you tell us how you really feel, Moz? We really should have seen this song coming, though. Morrissey famously took tea with his mate Russell Brand’s then fiancé Katy Perry in 2000, and on the topic of her upcoming marriage to Brand, Morrissey suggested (according to Perry): “Oh, left hand third finger, don’t do it.” In case you were wondering, Morrissey was not sent an invitation to the Perry/Brand wedding.

(L) Brendan Behan photographed in 1959, and (R) “Borstal Boy,” Behan’s 1958 autobiographical memoir about his years in an English juvenile borstal.

In the penultimate track, Mountjoy (named after Ireland’s Mountjoy Prison), Morrissey imagines himself incarcerated at in the same cells that once jailed writer and IRA activist Brendan Behan (imprisoned at Mountjoy for political crimes in the 1940s). “I was sent here by a three foot half-wit in a wig… I took his insults on the chin, and never did I flinch” Morrissey quips, surely a reference to Bristol Circuit Judge John Weeks, who ruled against Morrissey and Johnny Marr in the infamous Mike Joyce Smiths back-royalty lawsuit of the 1990s. As would be expected, Morrissey verbally dismembered Weeks in 2013’s Autobiographypausing only to do worse to Joyce (for nearly 50 pages). Despite the bitter digs at high court judges, Mountjoy contains one of the album’s most moving moments. A thrashing acoustic guitar strums incessantly through the track for two minutes until a gorgeous string progression enters with Morrissey imparting the heartbreaking wisdom: “You see, we all lose… rich or poor, we all lose.”

The album’s twelfth track and reflective closer, Oboe Concerto, fittingly finds Morrissey reflecting on the melancholy of life and one of his favorite themes, the passing of time, resigning: “All I do is drink to absent friends.” While Oboe is World Peace‘s least inventive track, it serves as a gentle denouement to a world class album, and a welcome return to form for pop music’s undisputed poet laureate.

The World Peace Is None Of Your Business deluxe edition contains six extra tracks, which are equals to the songs on the standard edition. Scandinavia‘s thundering drum intro dramatically kicks off the final sextet, which includes the tender Forgive Someone, a lyrical echo of the Smiths classic I Know It’s Over in its pleas for kindness and goodwill among people, and One Of Our Own, an avenger tale set to an elegant rolling piano and ethereal backing vocals by Kristeen Young. The deluxe edition closer is Art-Hounds, a merciless music critic diss track that clearly delineates artist from commentator (“Those that do are judged by those who tried, and found they couldn’t do”). A fan favorite since its live London debut in 2011, Art-Hounds’ hooks and brisk tempo make it single material, so it’s puzzling to find it so discreetly tucked away on solely the deluxe edition. Then again, this is Morrissey we’re dealing with, the man who first put The Smiths’ signature song How Soon Is Now? on a b-side. “If you cannot stand this fake world, take my hand” Morrissey offers in Art-Hound‘s final minute. With Morrissey in such flawless form, I do so proudly. ◊


World Peace Is None Of Your Business tracklisting:

1. “World Peace Is None Of Your Business”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)
2. “Neal Cassady Drops Dead”  •  (Morrissey / Gustavo Manzur)
3. “I’m Not A Man”  •  (Morrissey / Jesse Tobias)
4. “Istanbul”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)
5. “Earth Is The Loneliest Planet”  •  (Morrissey / Gustavo Manzur)
6. “Staircase At The University”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)
7. “The Bullfighter Dies”  •  (Morrissey / Jesse Tobias)
8. “Kiss Me A Lot”  •  (Morrissey / Jesse Tobias)
9. “Smiler With Knife”  •  (Morrissey / Jesse Tobias)
10. “Kick The Bride Down The Aisle”  •  (Morrissey / Jesse Tobias)
11. “Mountjoy”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)
12. “Oboe Concerto”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)

Deluxe edition bonus tracks:

13. “Scandinavia”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)
14. “One Of Our Own”  •  (Morrissey / Gustavo Manzur)
15. “Drag The River”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)
16. “Forgive Someone”  •  (Morrissey / Jesse Tobias)
17. “Julie In The Weeds”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)
18. “Art-Hounds”  •  (Morrissey / Boz Boorer)


Photo by Tiago Abrahão.

Photo by Tiago Abrahão.

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