It is telling that the book sold dramatically more than any of the “comeback” albums he has released since 2004’s You Are The Quarry broke the drought that followed 1997’s underwhelming Maladjusted. Not that any of them were entirely without merit – it always seemed to me that the biggest flaw with these records is that they seemed to second guess what someone buying a Morrissey album in the 21stcentury would expect from said album, and that while he could still ruffle feathers lyrically, musically they were often not a million miles from the sludgy, four-square “meat and potatoes” (irony intended) pub-indie of something he would otherwise dislike. He never really followed up on the breadth of the musical palate displayed on debut Viva Hate, with its miasmic Vini Reilly webs of guitar, or its (justly) much-maligned follow up, Kill Uncle.
Sure, there were moments – the otherwise reasonably unlovely Ringleader Of The Tormentors had the Ennio Morricone-scored Dear God, Please Help Me, and the orchestral flourishes of At Last I Am Born, but still – a whole lot of stodge in-between. Thankfully, with the most stable band lineup he has had since his indisputably best solo album – the recently reissued Vauxhall & I (1994), and the smooth, varied production of Joe Chiccarelli (White Stripes, American Music Club, Frank Zappa), this has been remedied. And if World Peace Is None Of Your Business isn’t quite “his best record in 20 years” as some have suggested – it is (probably) his best in the last decade.
It feels big, bold, confident, as that title suggests. It is all about grand proclamations (The Bullfighter Dies, the title track), and is at last matched by some real musical dexterity, as opposed to the straight up brawn that has dogged those recent releases. There is a glorious attention to detail – from the curlicues of Spanish guitar that fleck Bullfighter and the frisky Kiss Me A Lot, to the terrifically, hilariously inept Boz Boorer clarinet solo on the closing Oboe Concerto, or the daubs of trumpet, autoharp, or squelching vintage synths, or the nimble fretwork of longtime bassist Solomon Walker (whose brother, drummer Matt also shines).
It has some songs that suggest genuine empathy (Staircase at The University, Earth Is The Loneliest Planet, Mountjoy) along with the creeping, casual savagery of the likes of Neal Cassidy Drops Dead, Smiler With Knife and Kick The Bride Down The Aisle. It also features some of the finest vocals captured on record yet from the gaffer, whose early Smiths singing could be described, not unfairly, as “pitchy”.
The most magnificent track, and the record’s stunning emotional centerpiece, is the nearly-eight-minute-long I’m Not A Man, wherein Moz questions what it takes to be a man – do you have to be a carnivore, a bully, a hazard to the environment to identify as masculine, or male, even? It evokes (as do a few other moments on the album – Neal Cassidy, Oboe, Scandinavia – the bonus track on the deluxe version, ) the spectre of Scott Walker’s Jacques Brel interpretations. “I’m so much bigger and better than… a man”, he declares, and it would take a brave man to suggest otherwise.
In short, it is as musically deft and beguiling, as it is lyrically assured, bombastic, ridiculous and heavy handed; in other words, classic Morrissey. And while he and everyone else must realise he will never find the musical sympatico he had with Johnny Marr in The Smiths, it gives a far more satisfactory account of itself than Marr’s last musical release, 2012’s mildly disappointing The Messenger.
And while I am not entirely convinced it will break him to an entirely new audience – I think by this stage you have entirely decided which side of the fence you sit – it is a record that adds lustre to his brand, and that long-term fans ought to find plenty to love about. Like the man himself, it is complex, detailed, and never less than intriguing. It is not perfect – with the exception of Vauxhall, I don’t think any of his records really are – but it is thoroughly enjoyable, a bit bonkers, and well worth the price of admission.