It’s hard to be neutral when it comes to Morrissey. You either worship at his altar, hanging on his every word or you think he’s a complete pain in the a**e, always moaning about something. By any standard, the last 12 months for Morrissey have been eventful: cancelling tours due to illness, the release of his unbearably-pompous-yet-actually-entertaining Autobiography and now, this his first album in five years.
Morrissey is not about to embark on a major new direction at this point, it’s more about tweaking the formula. At first glance it appears that the song titles have come via a random Morrissey song title generator: World Peace Is None Of Your Business, I’m Not A Man, Earth Is The Loneliest Planet, Kick The Bride Down The Aisle. As ever, his strong vocals are mixed way out front, but appears that his band, Boz Boorer and co, have gone away from the very straightforward, bludgeoning rock of Years of Refusal and have decided to mix it up.
We open with the title track, a triumphant sounding return, very much in the vein of his latter day material (You Are The Quarry et al) but the band show a hitherto hidden lightness of touch on a track which sounds like Morrissey doing a David Bowie seventies ballad. In a good way. He hasn’t lost his knack for a tune, the hesitant rocker Neal Cassady and the Spanish sounding Kiss Me A Lot boast fine, memorable melodies. There is one instant classic here. Istanbul boasts a vaguely Eastern and a grim swagger reminiscent of November Spawned A Monster. Here Morrissey sounds at one with band and music, and it really suits him. He still attempts pop music, the Latin-infused Earth Is The Loneliest Planet is almost throwaway. Better is The Bullfighter Dies, which over a mere two minutes overcomes cheesy lyrics (“gaga in Malaga, no mercy in Murcia”) with a breezy melody and guitar jangle.
For those who long for Morrissey to attempt a latter day show-stopper a la Late Night, Maudlin Street, or even I Have Forgiven Jesus you’re in luck here. I’m Not A Man, after a baffling beginning where we get 90 seconds of barely audible machine whines, becomes an updated Meat Is Murder where Morrissey lays all his cards on the table with some rather obvious lyrics (“I’d never kill or eat an animal and I never would destroy this planet I’m on”). But his band provide a powerful, life-affirming melody, winning the day. Smiler With Knife is darker, beginning in an understated manner with Morrissey’s voice accompanied by a single guitar as he delivers classic lines of how “I am sick to death of life” over a sinister melody, again echoing Bowie. Mountjoy is more rather fine Mozzery, minimal guitar accompaniment suits the song very well.
It has to be said that some of Morrissey’s lyrics – “each time you vote, you support the process” – sound a little clichéd, but then the bard of Manchester has always walked the line between genius and cringeworthiness. Final track Oboe Concerto is unlike anything he has done before, it has the otherworldliness of early Roxy Music yet at the same time Morrissey’s vocal anchors the track, overcoming a lazy lyric (“round, round, rhythm of life goes round”) to deliver another fine song.
If you get the deluxe version you get six slightly less remarkable additional tracks though the extra disc does contains the stomping Scandinavia and the strident (in a good way) Art-Hounds? The album feels lighter yet denser than its predecessor with multiple layers revealing themselves. But any Morrissey album is essentially all about him and his own peculiar concerns. It won’t attract any converts that’s for sure. But for the faithful it is, dare I say it, a return to form, and one to keep at hand over the coming months.
1. World Peace Is None Of Your Business
2. Neal Cassady Drops Dead
3. I’m Not A Man
5. Earth Is The Loneliest Planet
6. Staircase At The University
7. The Bullfighter Dies
8. Kiss Me A Lot
9. Smiler With Knife
10. Kick The Bride Down The Aisle
12. Oboe Concerto