World Peace is None of Your Business is Morrissey’s best record since—Kill Uncle. I bet you didn’t think I was going to say that. While Morrissey’s underrated 2nd solo studio album is at times musically underwhelming and quickly dated, Kill Uncle is in many ways Morrissey at his best: dyspeptic humor (“Our Frank”, “King Leer”), quirky character sketches (“Mute Witness”, “Asian Rut” and “Driving Your Girlfriend Home”) and romantic self-absorption (“Found, Found, Found” and “There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends”.)
Since then, Moz has done great work, Vauxhall and I being arguably his best record either solo or with The Smiths. Kill Uncle in many ways marks the end of Morrissey the shy, neurotic, unknowable bedsit poet of Salford and the beginning of Morrissey the rock star—albeit a cult level rock star in most of America—but internationally a bona-fide megastar by any standard.
Morrissey’s recent albums: You Are The Quarry, Ringleader of The Tormentors, and Years of Refusal form the Moz Angeles trilogy: when Morrissey got tan, laid (allegedly) and happy(er). For the devoted, and there are many, any Morrissey record is better than no Morrissey record, but these albums—despite many high points—have been largely forgotten for the man’s still formidable live show.
And lyrically, the Moz Angeles trilogy still outwit the vast majority of pop songwriters, but on-balance slip into camp theatricality at best and self-parody at worst. Which brings us now to World Peace.
After a 5-year break, and at the not so tender age of 55, the record demarcates the turning of another page in the artist’s career—bringing back some familiar things, and introducing a gentle—in a word “older”—perspective on the man’s usual list of gripes and inspirations; an autumnal-tone not heard since the aforementioned Vauxhall, this time scented authentic with actual age.
Track one: “World Peace is None Of Your Business” finds Moz at his most didactically political over a Phil Spektor-era Righteous Brothers shuffle. The track is a tightly and lushly produced mini-orchestra that kicks the record off emphatically. Moz doesn’t mince words (at this point I don’t blame him) and the bluntness sometimes clangs; but Morrissey still sings for the underdog (Egypt, Ukraine) and you can’t fault him that.
Elsewhere, the sludgy and mysterious “Neal Cassady Drops Dead”, the fantastic “Staircase at the University” (only Moz could make a student’s suicide funny), and “Mountjoy” (referencing the jail Irish poet Brenden Behan served time in) are the return of the narrative character sketch.
After years in LA and a respite in Rome, Morrissey again is in love with Europe—though his love/hate relationship with England is entirely absent. World Peace was recorded in France, and Istanbul shows Mozzer’s way with words can still astound: “I lean into a box of pine/Identify the kid is mine.” And with “Oboe Concerto” and “I Am Not A Man”, the confessional self-absorption returns without resorting to the usual “nobody loves me” refrain.
Musically, Boz Boorer, Jesse Tobias and Gustavo Manzur give Morrissey his most delicate and varied backdrop the singer’s had in ages. Moz even tips his hat to his Latin fanbase (“The Bullfighter Dies” and “Earth is The Loneliest Planet”) while steering well clear of pandering. The production on the record supplied by Joe Chiccarelli allows for an autumnal, contemplative quiet not heard in years.
From Staircase: “Crammin’, jammin’, pack-em-in rammin’ Chock-a-block box, power study, polish up”—not high poetry, but shows the man still loves words, and he reels them off with charm in a voice as good as ever. These days, Moz seems content to be less pop’s poet laureate and more the aging, clever rhymer—a few pints in at the bar—amusing his audience with wordplay and making them weep with some frequently still devastating zingers: “Victim or life’s adventurer, which of the two are you?” he sings in “Neal Cassady”. And with a simple: “We all lose” over synthesized cello and acoustic guitar in “Mountjoy”, Morrissey is as emotionally wrenching as he’s ever been.
Years ago, after the success of the brilliant Viva Hate and the sting of The Smiths demise still fresh, Kill Uncle was exactly what we didn’t expect to hear from Morrissey. And at this point the strange, off kilter, emotionally upended World Peace might just be what we didn’t know we wanted from him now. And like the great, cantankerous and antagonistic artists of the past: he gave it to us anyway.