Saturday 23 February 2019

Light that never goes out has now lost its glow

Morrissey's return to the music world is great news for fans . . . just don't expect to be wowed by his latest lyrical 'genius'

Controversial views: Morrissey has returned with a new album, but it’s far from being his best work. Ian Gavan
Controversial views: Morrissey has returned with a new album, but it’s far from being his best work. Ian Gavan
Outspoken: Morrissey clashed with Bob Geldof
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

He hasn't gone away you know. Despite a string of cancelled tours, ill-health, mutterings about retirement and a surprisingly successful career moonlighting as a writer, Stephen Patrick Morrissey returned to the fray this week with his extravagantly titled tenth solo album, World Peace is None of Your Business.

It is safe to assume that Morrissey probably considers his first studio opus in five years to be another stone cold classic, even though it most certainly is not.

When asked to compile a top 10 of his finest records last year, The Smiths were nowhere to be seen. Even though he is frequently at pains to distance himself from the Mancunian quartet, this was still a surprising act of revisionism from someone who fronted a band widely considered one of the finest ever.

Morrissey has said he'd rather eat his own testicles than reform The Smiths. And he has remained true to his word, turning down $5m (€3.7m) for the band to perform at the Coachella festival in California, which can afford to dangle such a carrot, thanks to becoming the highest-grossing music festival on earth.

But as his riveting autobiography makes abundantly clear, convention does not exist in Morrissey's vocabulary. The book holds the remarkable distinction of being published through the Penguin Classic imprint, an honour normally bestowed on a long-deceased giant of literature rather than the recent memoirs of a petulant pop star.

Morrissey rails against pretty much everyone, in the best-written book by a musician since Bob Dylan authored Chronicles which, as it happens, is superior to any of Dylan's excruciating live shows in recent years.

Morrissey doesn't suffer fools gladly, and he seems to think a lot of people are fools. Intriguingly, two Dubliners come out well. Singer and DJ, Martin McCann (Sack, Elevens), is described as a person whose "friendship always makes the day better". And on songwriter Damien Dempsey, Morrissey writes, "I see myself crying at his funeral, missing him already".

This is pretty good going for the lads, considering the man who also happens to be Robbie Keane's second cousin once called Bob Geldof "nauseating" while claiming Band Aid was the most self-righteous platform in the history of popular music. He also rechristened David and Victoria Beckham 'The Peckhams,' calling them "insufferable" and saying they should be "dragged to the edge of the village and flogged." Madonna has been called 'McDonna' and Michael Bublé was written off as being "famous and meaningless."

Morrissey never ceases to entertain, even though some of his animal protectionist sentiments are extreme, to say the very least. However, the title track of his new album proves Elvis Costello's theory that Morrissey writes the best song titles in pop, but sometimes forgets to write a tune. The track essentially says voting is a waste of time. This idea gained traction recently after a rant by Russell Brand on Newsnight, who has a pet cat called Morrissey.

On classic albums such as The Queen is Dead, politics, royalty and popular culture were interrogated with humour, vigour and genuine insight. Now, Morrissey lists off troubled hotspots and condescendingly warbles, "Oh you poor little fool, each time you vote you support the process." He also sings one of the daftest lyrics of recent musical history: "Brazil, Bahrain, Egypt, Ukraine/So many people in pain".

If Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries penned that howler, she'd be publicly ridiculed, but when it's Morrissey, he is lauded as a genius. For the record, I am very much a fan of much of his solo work, but I remain baffled by the latest hype and hubristic notion that this is somehow his finest album or a return to form.

The rest of the record contains some of the blandest and most beige tracks Morrissey has ever committed to disc. If you listen to World Peace is None of Your Business back-to-back with his 1994 album Vauxhall and I, which has just been reissued to mark its 20th anniversary, the paucity of ideas on his latest effort is cruelly exposed.

However, putting this very disappointing record firmly to one side, planet pop is a much brighter place when Moz sticks his bequiffed head over the parapet to trade insults with the world. For his gargantuan ego, he can be self-deprecating too. On stage in Vicar St in July 2011, he took task with a feature in this very newspaper. "I was reading the Irish Independent yesterday," Morrissey dramatically announced. "There was headline. 'Morrissey – Crank or Genius?' I thought, "How dare they call me a genius?'"

World Peace is None of Your Business and the anniversary edition of Vauxhall And I are out now.

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