I was all set to review World Peace is None of Your Business last week, before a crisis of confidence set in: What is there to say about this album that hadn’t already been said, or wouldn’t be said elsewhere? How do you write about someone so deep into their career, especially one so intransigent, both emotionally and musically?
Do you try to put the past behind you and focus on only the present, or do you - like Morrissey himself in Autobiography - get bogged down righting wrongs or playing this off against that, tit against tat?
And in a week in which one band suffered a social meltdown, railing against lazy comparisons between bands, perhaps it’s best to avoid going down the path signposted “sounds a bit like”. Even when your subject has been around as long and illustriously as Morrissey, and the occasional comparisons you can’t help making are to his own previous greatness.
There are moments on World Peace is None of Your Business that evoke a glorious past, while masking an ignominious present. Oboe Concerto, the album’s closing track, is a case in point. It’s a song about then and now, growing old (“The older generation have tried, sighed and died, which pushes me to their place in the queue”), and how there’s not a thing you can do about it. “The rhythm of life goes round”, concludes Moz, having already declared “there’s a song I can’t stand and it’s stuck in my head”. And I know some of what he feels. Listening to Oboe Concerto there’s an alarm going off in my head; like most my alarms it’s playing a song of its own, and this alarm sounds a bit like Death of a Disco Dancer.
as so often with Morrissey it’s not easy to tell whether he’s laughing or clenching
Backing up to the beginning, World Peace is None of Your Business kicks off with its title track, one of Moz’s old-timer numbers in which he invokes the spirit of old-fashioned crooning, and tracks like his own I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday. Lyrical gaucheness aside (the line “the rich must profit and get richer and the poor must stay poor” seems like an obvious setup for the following line: “oh you poor little fool”) it’s a strong start, but it’s taken into a dark alley and kicked and bruised by the heavy guitar stabs and sludgey weight of Neal Cassidy Drops Dead, before I’m Not a Man follows that assault up with a lengthy and clumsy series of heavy thumps. Thump, thump, WHUMP! Clumsiness is a recurring problem throughout World Peace - Earth is the Loneliest Planet, The Bullfighter Dies and Kick The Bride Down The Aisle are somewhat spoiled by arrangements that clash with Morrissey’s voice - itself losing some of its former lustre and lustiness. Smiler with a Knife would have been better stripped down and given some of the old menace. Mountjoy, meanwhile, is memorable only on account of one line:
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
Well, not really, but as so often with Morrissey it’s not easy to tell whether he’s laughing or clenching. Either way, he’s fighting his corner.
Scattered here and there are more welcome moments: Istanbul is timeless Morrissey/Boorer and benefits from a more direct sound, and not so much of the flamenco flappery that taints other tracks; Staircase at the University is tuneful enough to get away with Moz’s forced rhymes, and an unexpected bit of brass and a handclap or two actually work; the unusually fun Kiss Me A Lot also features handclaps, and some glorious over-the-top vocals and more trumpets..
World Peace is not quite the return to form many are saying; it suffers from the same inconsistencies that plagued You Are the Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors before it. Like those albums, it has highs; like those albums it has lows that give no reason to go back to them. It occupies a space between good and good enough, which is a spot Morrissey’s been standing on and gazing over us from for a good while now.