‘World Peace’: A Concentrated Blast of Morrissey

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 07.15.14 in Features

World Peace Is None Of Your Business


“If only Morrissey weren’t so Morrisseyesque,” Sparks joked a few years ago. No such thing is possible: Morrisseyesquerie demands doubling down on everything. On his 10th studio album, and first in five years, Morrissey offers no surprising changes of direction. It is, rather, the most concentrated blast of Morrisseyism yet crafted by anyone. In its dogged pursuit of operatic outrage, its high-aesthetic delicacy, and its self-righteous loathing for anyone who oppresses Moz by being unlike him, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

In effect, that means that World Peace Is None of Your Business is, in places, a genuinely beautiful record; that, in places, it’s a self-parodying embarrassment; and that, in places, it dives so far past self-parody that it becomes, once again, genuinely beautiful. Take, for instance, “Mountjoy,” which runs its waggish finger down the index of Morrisseyisms. Sexually charged name of a prison: check. Irish literary hero name-check (in this case Brendan Behan): check. Catty put-down (of a “three-foot half-wit in a wig”): check. “Poetic” diction (“never did I flinch”): check. Then he pulls up a line like “And there is no one on this earth who I’d feel sad to leave” — with that tremulous vibrato of his underscoring the key words — and the walls shake with his inalienable power.

It’s to be expected that Morrissey defends his crown as the king of bons mots, like “Istanbul”‘s stinger “I lean into a box of pine/ Identify the kid as mine.” (Some of his best lines here are surprisingly understated, as when he muses in “Oboe Concerto” that the death of his inspirations “pushes me to their place in the queue.”) He remains a wonderful singer, too: He breaks character no more often than Eartha Kitt did, but nobody plays that character better than he does. And the current lineup of his band — several long-timers, plus new multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur — has become his most musically inventive in a long time. “Earth is the Loneliest Planet,” for instance, throws in flamenco guitar, harp flourishes, a Euro-cafe accordion line and some touches of techno synths, all of which seem entirely at home within it.

‘Morrissey remains the king of playing himself, which is as it should be: Who could possibly be more qualified?’

That’s not to say that World Peace doesn’t have its risible moments. The climax of “I’m Not a Man,” a close-to-eight-minute howl of outrage against the current construction of masculinity, is Moz declaring “I’d never kill…or eat…an an-i-mal!” (Yes, we’re aware of that.) And a genuinely nasty streak of misogyny surfaces in “Kick the Bride Down the Aisle”: “Look at that cow/ In the field/ It knows more/ Than your bride knows now.” (When he sneered at a “fat girl who’ll say, ‘Would you like to marry me?/ And if you’d like you can buy the ring’” back in the Smiths days, it was in the service of drawing three characters with a few brutally clear lines; this, on the other hand, is just mean.)

Sometimes, though, his perversity doubles back to become pointed provocation. The title track is written in the voice of World Oligarchy addressing a curious protester — how many other songwriters would attempt such a thing? — and slips the knife in with its final verse: “Each time you vote, you support the process,” Morrissey carefully enunciates. Then there’s “Staircase at the University,” the most immediately pleasurable song on World Peace. A groovy little number about a girl driven to suicide by academic pressure, it deserves to be played at every college dance party for the next year. With its tricky arrangement (that horn section! those handclaps!), “Staircase” sounds like Belle and Sebastian doing an absolutely brilliant Morrissey pastiche, down to its Smithsian trick of brief verses sung twice in a row. Morrissey remains the king of playing himself, which is as it should be: Who could possibly be more qualified?