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So high is Morrissey's opinion of his own words that if he can't present them exactly the way he'd like, he'll keep them to himself, thank you very much. In 2013, he tussled with publishers over the release of his memoir, Autobiography, insisting the book come out on Penguin Classics, an imprint generally reserved for writers like Austen, Chaucer and Tolstoy, not pop singers who pen songs like "Life Is a Pigsty." On the musical front, Moz followed 2009's excellent "Years of Refusal" with years of refusing to drop another album without a proper record contract - something the iconic former Smiths singer apparently still needs to validate his work. At least that was the official line. His follow-up, "World Peace Is None of Your Business," invites other explanations for his radio silence.
Here's one: After nine good-to-great studio LPs, countless singles and more retrospectives than anyone can keep track of, 55-year-old Morrissey simply wasn't sure where to go next. Produced by Joe Chiccarelli and born of a two-record deal with Capitol's Harvest imprint, "World Peace" is Moz's strangest, least-focused, most hit-or-miss album since 1991's "Kill Uncle." Not coincidentally, that was the last record before this one not to feature songwriting contributions from guitarist Alain Whyte. Here, in his absence, Morrissey lets his band go loco with accordions, Middle Eastern keyboards and muchas Spanish guitars and horns. The lead single, "Earth Is the Loneliest Planet," is basically "Copacabana" if Barry Manilow was a raging antisocial.
Lyrically, "Loneliest Planet" is one of the aforementioned misses, offering nothing Morrissey hasn't said way more cleverly on dozens of better songs ("Life Is a Pigsty" possibly included). The same goes for the title track, a 1960s-style ballad far too blunt to function as effective sarcasm. It's miles away from, say, 1994's "The Lazy Sunbathers," a much smarter song about the rich ruining everything (and co-written by Whyte, by the way).
But if Morrissey fails in his grand statements, he wins with funny diversions. "Neal Cassady Drops Dead" is a look at the Beat figure and his sometime lover Allen Ginsberg, complete with a rap about "babies full of rabies" and "rabies full of scabies." "Istanbul" is a Turkish family drama starring a gangster with a heart of gold. "Staircase at the University" is in the tradition of "Mute Witness" and "November Spawned a Monster" - oldies in which he mocks and sympathizes with damsels in distress.
The most telling tunes may be "I'm Not a Man" - Morrissey's non-apology for not being Don Draper - and closer "Oboe Concerto." They're both confessions of an old crank feeling out of touch, and neither suggests our hero has completely lost the plot. Speaking of plots, he's working on a novel, and while it's possible his next classic will be a Classic - as in something to file on your bookshelf between Melville and Nabokov - it's not unthinkable he'll drop one or two more brilliant records before his pen runs dry. Capitol might want to re-up.
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