Music Times writers share an office area of roughly 45 sq. ft, which makes having face-to-face conversations totally impossible. Junk Mail is these millenials' attempt to discuss and review the week's hottest album releases... without needing to look at each other.
This week: Joey DeGroot, Caitlin Carter, Carolyn Menyes and Ryan Book email back and forth about Morrissey's World Peace Is None Of Your Business.
Joey DeGroot: He might be more famous these days for cancelling shows and making outrageous (and occasionally racist) comments, but yesterday Morrissey reminded us that he is, in fact, a songwriter, with the release of his 10th solo album, the wonderfully titled World Peace is None of Your Business. While I find The Smiths' music pretty much untouchable, and Morrissey's early solo works are classics in their own right, I feel like he's finally lost his touch with this new album. Elvis Costello once said that Morrissey can write a great song title but often forgets to write the song itself, and though that may have been an overstatement in the past, I think World Peace is None of Your Business is exactly the sort of thing he was talking about. It has a lot of excellent, promising ideas, but then ultimately fails to follow through.
Am I the only Morrissey fanatic among us? I want to know if anyone else was disappointed.
Ryan Book: I concur that World Peace Is None of Your Business is a wonderful title. With wonderful album art at that.
But when the actual track bearing that title begins, my excitement dims. Morrissey has long practiced Randy Newman-style satire, commenting on personal and international issues with dark sarcasm veiled behind his smooth, I daresay deceptively upbeat tone. "World Peace Is None of Your Business" loses any semblance of clever songwriting as it progresses, with the headliner merely explaining what he thinks is wrong with the world, rather than package it in a wonderful tune as he might have in years past or while with The Smiths.
Maybe I've got my priorities wrong, demanding a good song before a good message, but I write about music.
Morrissey is renowned for his egocentrism and "I'm Not A Man" is the peak. The vocalist describes how the protagonist is not merely a man, and as we hear descriptions of the vegan lifestyle and a distaste for sports, we realize Morrissey is describing himself. We are merely men because of our barbaric diets and competitions. He rises above us. It's every bit as condescending as Kanye West's "I Am A God" but more subtly stated and therefore less enjoyable to me, a mere mortal.
Caitlin Carter: What I liked most about this album was the interesting use of world instruments. However, considering that Morrissey doesn't write the music for his songs, I can't credit him for that. So, I'll just have to stick to critiquing his lyricism. I agree that Morrissey sees himself as the world's protagonist in this album and essentially says we should all follow in his footsteps if we dare be substantial beings on this planet -- ugh. That said, I enjoyed both the lyrics and flamenco guitar on "Earth Is The Loneliest Planet" and liked "Oboe Concerto" as well.
Carolyn Menyes: The world instruments made me roll my eyes -- like, we're really going to start World Peace Is None Of Your Business with a frickin' didgeridoo? ugh.
To your question, Joey, I was a big Smiths fan in high school -- Louder Than Bombs was my ninth grade soundtrack of isolation. But, somehow I've become less jaded in the last 10 years and I can't so much get behind Moz anymore. That drone of his that I loved so much at 14 just sort of bores me anymore. So, that voice mixed with what I felt was weird instrumentation made for an unpleasant listening experience. But, I'm not a fan of world music in any real way.
I really like that quote of Elvis Costello's, too. I feel like that was 100 percent the case on this album. "The Bullfighter Dies" is a really intriguing title but the execution of the lyrics was so basic it actually made me giggle.
JD: Just because Morrissey's name and face are on the album cover doesn't mean we can't critique the parts of the album he had nothing to do with, such as the music. It's all fair game.
Caitlin and Carolyn, I know I said this to you earlier, but if this was an album by a band rather than a Morrissey solo album, we'd probably be saying that they need to get themselves a new singer, because the music itself is actually fine. It's not that I have a problem with Morrissey's singing (though I know plenty of people do), but he's just become so unimaginative with his melodies and lyrics. This is the same guy that wrote the "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side," but I don't think he could write that again to save his life.
I agree with Carolyn about "The Bullfighter Dies": this should be classic, viciously funny Morrissey, but instead we just get some name drops of Spanish cities and then the title phrase, nothing insightful whatsoever.
RB: The Spanish themes throughout the album were a nice touch actually. Sure, I might not have cared for Morrissey's contributions to "I'm Not A Man" or "The Bullfighter Dies," but at least there's something running throughout this album. I don't know how Iberia plays into Morrissey's master scheme, but I'm a sucker for concept.
Specifically, the Spanish guitar helps transform "Staircase at The University" from another cliched critique of white culture (brief summary: girl is pressured into getting good grades at uni and commits suicide) into my favorite track on the album in fact. But again, no Morrissey required. I was actually disappointed that "Oboe Concerto" was not just that.
CC: What were your guys' thoughts on "Istanbul?" For me, I loved the story Morrissey was telling of a father searching for the son he abandoned only to find him dead in a pine box. But for some reason the song itself didn't feel very memorable.
CM: The song was so unmemorable for me I had to go back and find it again on the album, so there's that.
The lyrics are actually pretty intriguing, though I feel like The Decemberists and Colin Meloy would have done this sort of theme a lot better. The music is a little more pure rock leaning, and I like that more than the Spanish touches and world music weaved throughout the rest of World Peace.
I'm obviously not so much a fan of this album, but if I had to find one song I actually enjoyed it'd probably be "Neal Cassady Drops Dead." I really love the powerful, almost staccato guitar riffs and the part where he lists off all the sorts of illnesses is a nice work of lyricism. What were your favorite tracks?
JD: I thought the title track had a nice, vaguely Phil Spector vibe to it, though I'm probably just saying that because of the jingle bells. The message of the song was refreshingly non-self centered, though again, Morrissey's leaving a lot to be desired lyrically.
RB: I'm sticking with "Staircase at The University." I disagree with Caitlin and Carolyn's assessments however regarding "Istanbul" (my No. 2 pick by the way). I'm not sure how the song seems less than memorable if you can recall the plot to the T. In fact, that's the exact reason I would argue it's worthwhile: You CAN remember the plot.
CC: Maybe memorable wasn't the right word. I guess what I am going for is that I wanted more out of the song. I loved the plot, but I felt like it could have been delivered better with a different melody. As far as my favorite, I'm probably going to go with "Earth Is The Loneliest Planet."
CM: I mean, I had to relisten to the song and look up the lyrics. But now I'll remember it since we're discussing it so much.
Speaking of "Staircase at the University," I'm playing it again as I type this and I like it more than upon my first two or three listens. Somehow it feels the closest to The Smiths to me, and unlike you (to an extent) Ryan, I like the play against really peppy music versus messed up lyrics. It's a little cliche and there's so much that Morrissey could have touched on lyrically regarding academic pressures but only glossed over.
He does that so much on this album, which we've all lamented before. Is it that Moz has gotten lazy? I'm apt to say yes. He prob needs more iron in his diet.
JD: He's probably burnt out after writing his autobiography over the last few years. There was plenty of room for him to lyrically cover more territory in "Staircase at the University," since he sings many lines twice in a row, but it's almost as if he didn't care enough to write anything else, so it certainly seems like he's gotten lazy.
JD: I honestly didn't expect much from World Peace is None of Your Business, since Morrissey's work from the last ten years simply hasn't been as strong as his '80s and '90s peak, but I didn't expect to be so turned off by the album. Maybe this one was sitting in the oven for too long, but however the album came to be, it simply didn't work.
CM: There's something about World Peace is None of Your Business that feels almost unfinished -- and that's Morrissey's lyrics. Usually his strongest point, now it seems like everything is half done, both in concept and execution. Musically, this isn't my bag either, but any album that starts off with the honking drone of a didgeridoo is bound to turn me off.
BRB, I'm gonna go listen to "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" and cry just like the good ol' days.
RB: Feels like the dude got an awfully lot of press to turn around such a lackluster product. Oh well, at least he finally turned out an album after all the headlines.
Your turn Azealia Banks. [Editor's Note: LOL, she'll never actually release an album.]
CC: World Peace is None of Your Business was better than I expected it to be but was still pretty "blah." With Morrissey's strong suit being his lyric writing, he missed the mark on most of the tracks. He mostly just comes across as narcissistic (what a surprise) and not all that insightful. Musically, however, I enjoyed the use of Spanish guitar, which I don't get to hear often enough.