Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

After a 5-year lull, Morrissey returns—and shrugs

Illustration for article titled After a 5-year lull, Morrissey returns—and shrugs

“If it’s not love / Then it’s the bomb / That will bring us together,” Morrissey sings on The Smiths’ 1986 single “Ask.” Since then, those words have been the singer’s standing statement on world peace—that is, until the release of his new album, World Peace Is None Of Your Business. The name is more than just another phrase-twisting Morrissey quip. On the album’s bland, plodding title track, he rails against voting, paying taxes, and income inequality. He does so artlessly and humorlessly; near the end of the song, he’s reduced to empty couplets like “Brazil and Bahrain, Egypt, Ukraine / So many people in pain.” Morrissey’s cynicism hasn’t changed in the past 28 years. But it isn’t anywhere near as perceptive or clever as it used to be. Nor anywhere near as fun.

No Morrissey album in history has been rolled out with as much fanfare—or with as complete a portrait of the artist—as World Peace. The publication of his Autobiography last year shed light on his life to a degree that even his most revealing songs never have. And prior to the release of World Peace he unleashed a series of promotional videos, some of which maddeningly feature him doing nothing but reciting lyrics while accompanied by friends Nancy Sinatra (on the title track) and Pamela Anderson (on “Earth Is The Loneliest Planet”). Perversely, they’re more compelling than the actual songs. “Earth Is The Loneliest Planet” comes close to taking off, thanks to a spirited Latin flair and a sidelong glance at “Lonely Planet Boy” by Morrissey’s heroes, the New York Dolls.

That subtle homage aside, never has a Morrissey solo album seem influenced so completely by nothing except other Morrissey albums. World Peace is his first full-length since 2009’s remarkably spry Years Of Refusal, which was his last to feature songwriting contributions by former guitarist Alain Whyte. Boz Boorer, Morrissey’s other longtime guitarist, remains, but the creative interplay between Boorer and Whyte is starkly absent. The flashes of rockabilly and ’70s glam that spark the best of Morrissey’s solo work—including 1994’s Vauxhall And I, which has been given a well deserved, deluxe reissue this year—have been extinguished. World Peace feels exhausted, hollow, husk-like. Occasional spots of incandescence, such as the lively, limber “The Bullfighter Dies” and the short-story-in-song “Staircase At The University,” rouse the album from its drowse. But it’s just enough to serve as a reminder of all the things World Peace isn’t.

As anyone who’s read his Autobiography can attest, Morrissey has morphed over the years from a young man romanticizing death to an older man fixated on decay. World Peace bears that out, in the worst way possible. “Cancer of the prostate,” exclaims the stalwart vegetarian, reveling in the ills of carnivores on “I’m Not A Man”; “Nipper full of fungus / Junior full of gangrene,” he riffs with morbid glee on “Neal Cassady Drops Dead,” mimicking the Beats while mocking them. Neither song can muster a hook, something Morrissey once had on tap. Worse is the melodic aridity and lack of imagination rampant throughout the album. “The older generation / Have tried, sighed, and died / Which pushes me to / Their place in the queue,” he groans on World Peace’s drab, lackluster closer, “Oboe Concerto.” The future is here; love has not brought us together, nor has the bomb. Morrissey, having left himself no other options, makes do with a shrug.