Music

Morrissey: World Peace Is None of Your Business

With World Peace Is None of Your Business, Morrissey finds himself becoming lyrically divisive to the point of self-parody.


Morrissey
Label: Harvest
Title: World Peace Is None of Your Business
US Release Date: 2014-07-15
UK Release Date: 2014-07-14

Long an easy target for criticism, Morrissey seems to have amped up the absurdity of his perceived persona to cartoonish proportions, gleefully baiting naysayers with a series of songs and lyrics that seem to exist solely to provoke a visceral response from his detractors. The trouble with this approach is that, in the process, you often alienate those who’ve stuck with you through the ups and downs, supporting your artistic detours, ill-advised rants and downright diva-esque behavior. Even his most ardent supporters will have a tough time backing up many of the lyrical absurdities throughout World Peace Is None of Your Business following years of tour cancellations and curmudgeonly ridiculous rants in the press.

To be sure, there’s a fine line between baiting your audience and flat-out insulting them. With World Peace Is None of Your Business, Moz makes it clear where he stands, making no bones about being just fine all alone, indicating he wouldn’t miss anyone here on Earth were he to die and vice versa. His social and political views have long been front and center, but never have they been delivered as tritely or in as simplistically sloganeering a manner as they are here.

Starting with the garish cover, Morrissey makes it clear he is in control, keeping from us the listeners that which we want most from him. A quick analysis of the image of Morrissey withholding a reward/treat from an obedient, undoubtedly salivating dog at his feet, indicates we will not be finding it here and he knows that, making a game out of it. This image then functions as a defiant mission statement of sorts, spelling out the idea the sole purpose of World Peace Is None of Your Business’s existence, from the title, cover and songs on down, is predicated on pissing off as many people as possible.

Once known for his lyrical profundity, with much of World Peace Is None of Your Business he makes a case for a reevaluation of this notion with the tossed off, juvenile rhyming couplets scattered throughout. On the absurd “The Bullfighter Dies”, the titular bullfighter “dies / and nobody cries / because we all want the bull to survive." Elsewhere, on “Kiss Me a Lot”, he intones with little to no emotion, “kiss me all over my face… kiss me all over the place.”

But it only takes a quick glance at the track listing to get an idea of what one can expect from this latest offering from the former Smiths’ frontman. Along with the title track, “Earth Is the Loneliest Planet”, “Kick the Bride Down the Aisle” and “Staircase at the University” all sound like a bad sketch comedy’s idea of possible Smiths’ B-sides, spit-balling ridiculous titles and upping the absurdity with each idea thrown out there. Of these, only “Staircase at the University” comes close to replicating anything resembling the more favorable sound for which he is primarily known.

A bittersweet pop confection detailing the suicide of a young coed who found herself unable to live up to the expectations put forth by her domineering family and boyfriend, “Staircase at the University” distills the best elements of the Smiths and Morrissey’s previous solo work into what is by far the best track on the album and a sad reminder of just how good Morrissey could and can be when he’s at his artistic best. Thematically and musically it carries a timeless quality that far outshines the dated sounds and failed experiments that dominate the remainder of the album. On both the title track and “I’m Not a Man”, Morrissey eschews standard song intros in favor of comical tribal drums on the former and a Caretaker-esque field recording on the latter. While these are certainly new ideas for Moz, they seem, like the rest of the album, more weak attempts at profundity and relevance than any sort of true artistic strides.

As if its lyrical atrocities weren’t enough, much of World Peace Is None of Your Business plays like a mid-‘90s hard rock revival act with huge guitars and even bigger production. It’s at times the aural equivalent of a Michael Bay film as the tracks often stretch well beyond the five-minute mark as guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias find themselves afforded plenty of room for distorted wanking and unnecessarily noodle-y bits. While 2004’s You Are the Quarry often trolled similar sonic waters with big, bombastic production and instrumentation, the overwhelming difference between the two albums is that Quarry had actual songs whereas World Peace is filled with silly political screeds and laundry lists of all the things he hates or finds infuriating. Were there not a number of well-documented instances of Morrissey espousing similar sentiments, it would be easy to pass this off as parody. Unfortunately it’s very much the real thing and, whether or not he wants anyone else to be in on it, the joke simply isn’t funny anymore.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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