Morrissey, World Peace Is None of Your Business, album review: 'Brutal, surprising, exploratory'

 

“The older generation have tried, sighed and died, which pushes me to their place in the queue,” notes Morrissey with customary wry mordancy in “Oboe Concerto”, the concluding track of World Peace Is None of Your Business.

But ageing though he may be, his barbs remain unblunted in songs like the title track and “Kick the Bride Down the Aisle”, a vicious denigration of a grasping leech who “just wants a slave to break his back in pursuit of a living wage/ so that she can laze and graze for the rest of her days”. Draped in harmonium, organ, Spanish and electric guitars, tolling bells and backing choir, it’s a dense, cloying production whose suffocating tone is surely allegorical.

The familiar Morrissey tropes and themes are lined up and shot down, albeit in some style: “Smiler with a Knife” is another celebration of rough boys, “The Bullfighter Dies” a brutal animal-rights anthem, and “Staircase at the University” an equally brutal tale of exam-cram stress and suicide, with finger pointed firmly at parental expectations.

The ponderous “I’m Not a Man”, meanwhile, disdains “big fat locker-room hockey-jock” masculinity. And the acid sarcasm of the title track, with its reference to police-state stun-guns and Tasers smothering dissent, gives both barrels to the establishment.

The most surprising thing about World Peace Is None of Your Business, in fact, is the unusually exploratory nature of the music, which takes in ambient noisescaping, woodwind, mellotron, mariachi trumpet, Tex-Mex accordion, Arabic oud (on the cross-cultural metaphor “Istanbul”), Aussie didgeridoo, fizzing slashes of synthesiser, castanets and, seemingly everywhere, Spanish guitar, with flamenco riffing even lending “Earth Is the Loneliest Planet” the manner of a Rodrigo y Gabriela tune.

It’s a far cry from the usual meat’n’spuds rock that has characterised most Morrissey albums; and a welcome change, suggesting perhaps that this most British of pop bards is renegotiating his own boundaries.

 

Other albums this week:

Richard Thompson: Acoustic Classics

Following last year’s Electric,  the aptly titled Acoustic Classics features new versions of Richard Thompson’s most celebrated songs, including several normally performed in electric band settings. With songs stripped  to their essence, it’s a potent reminder of what a towering songwriter Thompson is. Without its angsty guitar, “Shoot Out the Lights” has a brooding presence, while the empathy for the lost in “From Galway to Graceland” touches deep places. The absence of amplification doesn’t hinder the momentum of songs such as “Wall of Death”, and Thompson’s fingerstyle flurries on “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” sound like several guitarists playing at once. Acoustic, but unnatural.

Anna Calvi: Strange Weather

Anna Calvi seems to have located her spiritual home in New York, where this EP of five covers was recorded with pianist/producer Thomas Bartlett. It’s an odd selection, including Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul” as a pallid piano ballad, and Keren Ann’s “Strange Weather” as a desolate but oddly comforting duet with David Byrne. Byrne also appears on Connan Mockasin’s “I’m  the Man That Will Find You”,  a vehicle for the eerie sensuality of Calvi’s ringing guitar and backing vocals. The standouts are a throbbing version of Suicide’s “Ghost Rider”, with shards of guitar cutting across a keyboard pulse, and FKA Twigs’ “Papi Pacify”, with Calvi’s croon and tremolo twang cleverly abetted  in creating the ghostly noir  mood by Nico Muhly’s strings.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young CSNY 1974

The fastest-selling tour in rock history, CSNY’s 1974 jaunt represented the high-water-mark of hippie excess. Even the hotel pillowcases bore a customised print by Joni Mitchell. This box set is suitably luxurious, with  a 188-page booklet and DVD accompanying 40 tracks on three CDs programmed to follow the tour’s electric/acoustic/electric set sequence. The harmonies are sleek and smooth, and the guitar work of Stills and Young speaks of the synergy that drove their long association. The determination to include generous dollops of each member’s solo output means that the acoustic set sags badly. But the obscure material is welcome, especially unreleased Neil Young numbers such as “Goodbye Dick”, a farewell to a resigned President.

John Fullbright: Songs

Set to arrangements as spartan  as the album title, Songs finds John Fullbright more concerned with the act of writing than with illuminating a subject. “Write  a song about the very song you sing, pen a line about a line within a line,” as he puts it in “Write  a Song”: it rolls nicely off the tongue, but where to? Songs is full of this kind of smooth locution,  as in: “If you never knew what never was, you’d never cry again.” The effect is to apply a veneer  of glibness which disguises any depth that might lurk in a song. The trick worked for Hank Williams, but only intermittently does so here, notably in the aching “Until You Were Gone” and in “Happy”, another rumination on songwriting that finds Fullbright whistling as he wonders, “What’s so bad about happy?”

Jungle: Jungle

West London synth duo Jungle claim to “bring the heat” on their debut album, but it’s more the languid haze of a holiday beach than the intensity of a dancefloor. “The Heat” uses shoreline sounds and children’s chatter behind its organ groove, recalling a less self-conscious Metronomy. The light propulsion and interlocking elements of “Time” suggest the missing link between Chic and Depeche Mode, while the appeal of “Accelerate”, “Busy Earnin’” and “Platoon” resides in the easy manner of their itchy shuffles and unobtrusive falsetto harmonies; though as the album proceeds, the appeal grows thinner. “Smoking Pixels” suggests routes for exploration, through its Morricone-esque blend of organ, whistling and dulcimer over an “O Superman” vocal pulse.

Bingham Quartet: Do Not Go Gentle...

A label dedicated to new British composition, Prima Facie here offers precise but spirited interpretations by The Bingham Quartet of five works demonstrating the breadth and intensity of contemporary classical music, ranging from Michael Parkin’s title-track lamentation – if such a frantic wailing of violins can be so described – to Anthony Gilbert’s “String Quartet No 3”, which uses the see-sawing double-hocket mode in a manner evocative of the hurdy-gurdy. Simon Speare’s “Crowding In”, which opens the album with shrill violins, draws on the microtonal fluctuations  of Balkan folk music. Elsewhere, David Stoll’s King Lear-inspired “Fools by Heavenly Compulsion” employs feverish momentum in  a meditation on madness.

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