I have been a lifelong Morrissey fan. I’ve listened and read enough about him to notice when things were missing in Mozipedia, the encyclopedia based around his life. I should confirm my bias that he is probably my favorite musical artist of all time and that only very few of his songs have failed to connect with me. (Noise is the Best Revenge being an example.) Although I haven’t collected every version of every single and b-side, I don’t have money like that, but I do have all of his studio albums, most of his singles, and most of the b-sides and unreleased tracks that are easily acquired. So keep that in mind when I write a review of his new single. I have a history with the man.
I don’t know if I would write the same exact review of his new single had I not just read two very powerful books. These books are Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers and Matt Taibbi’s The Divide. Kinzer’s book about the Dulles brothers and Taibbi’s book about the injustice of our justice system both include horrible examples of state sanctioned violence both at home and abroad, and by state I mean America. One only needs to read the news to see state sanctioned violence happening in places across the globe.
Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business is a song that’s lyrics are blunt about state violence and the kind of especially middle class existence that allows you turn a blind eye to this violence. This song is left wing, but it is also anti-government.
Morrissey has always sung songs championing the outsider’s in society. This is why this most British of pop stars has fans in every corner of the globe. Many people wonder why, for instance, he has a large Latino fan base in the U.S., but it is because despite any specific details of his songs, he sings of those that are not accepted by the mainstream.
There are basically two types of Morrissey songs that have been his mainstay since his comeback album You Are the Quarry was released in 2004. There are his blunter political songs which feature simple language, exemplified by American is Not the World from You Are the Quarry, and his more poetic character studies and personal reflections in songs such as The Father that Must Be Killed from You Are the Quarry’s follow up album Ringleader of the Tormentors. I believe Morrissey is smart enough to know what he is doing. I’ve read some fans online criticizing his more blunt political approach, saying they don’t live up to his rich poetic heritage, but I believe when he wants to make a specific point he simply gets rid of any language that could get in the way of making that point. He is being blunt and to the point on purpose.
World Peace is None of Your Business is this kind of political song. However, even in language that is relatively simply and which will never leave you confused which side he is on; there are shadows and different ways of interpreting lines. A pop song is like a good piece of propaganda. It will get you to turn your head and look a certain way, but there isn’t the time and space for a well reasoned argument covering all of the ground of an essay or book. Morrissey is a master of this form.
Morrissey is also an excellent provocateur, he throws out lines and statements like bombs and the intent is to start a conversation as much as it is to finish one. He is savvy enough to still cut through to the headlines in this age of constant information. When he called the Chinese “sub-human” over their treatment of animals, many blasted his choice of words, but many like me also saw for the first time the cruel treatment of dogs and other animals in China.
In this single Morrissey is making cause with the oppressed masses of the world. He specifically mentions Egypt, Bahrain, Brazil and the Ukraine. The rich who run our governments and corporations are his antagonists. He also is belittling the safe middle class life that allows those oppressors to keep their power.
In the middle of the song he sings the provocative line, “Each time you vote you support the process.” Now I am someone that believes one should always vote. However, like Chuck D has said, voting should be like taking a bath in that you should always do it, but it’s the least you can do and you shouldn’t feel too proud of yourself for doing so. I am still someone that believes strongly in voting as it is one of the many tools we have for influencing a democracy.
However, this is where the books that I mentioned earlier and Morrissey’s nationality come into play. Morrissey was a vehement critic of Thatcher in the 80’s, especially for how she destroyed the working class. However, it was Tony Blair’s Britain that aided the U.S. in its criminal invasion of Iraq. Both Labor and Tories, the two major parties in Britain, are tainted. He is also an anti-royalist and someone that has noted the police abuse in Britain on many occasions.
As for myself, especially after reading Matt Taibbi’s The Divide, I have realized that both American political parties allow a great deal of state sponsored violence to take place. Bill Clinton’s presidency ushered in many of the problems that we face today. I still believe the Democrats are better, especially when held up to the insane right wing Republicans of today, but no one is completely innocent. We need to do more than pay our taxes and vote to be good citizens. We need to bare witness to the injustice that is being done in our name with our money.
All of this works for the reason that so many of Morrissey’s songs work. He is simply one of the best and most original melody writers of our time. Listen to this song several times and it will get stuck into your head. He excels at all aspects of the pop song, although I will note that this song’s arrangement is more complex than some of his other singles. One of his best tricks has always been his scathing words married to his beguiling melodies. I believe Tony Visconti, one of Morrissey’s producers, said that Morrissey’s main aim was to get people to feel something when listening to his songs, even if that feeling was being uncomfortable. This song is full of emotion and a large part of that comes from his absolutely stellar melody.
The music and production on this song are excellent. While not as layered as his masterpiece, Vauxhall and I, the production is probably as large of scale as anything he has put out since. It starts with percussion and what sounds to me like a didgeridoo before a tinkling piano brings us into the true song. Despite being just over four minutes it is an epic with a frayed guitar solo, remember when pop songs had those, and an outro of jackbooted drums.
One of the most important things is that the words are actually clear in the mix. This is normal for a Morrissey record, as you buy his records as much to hear the music as to hear what he has to say, but in much of rock and indie rock has become something of an anomaly. Often vocals are buried in the mix or treated so heavily that they become another part of the music.
Love him or hate him he is one of the only pop stars that consistently not only has something to say, but is willing to say things that will make certain people uncomfortable, and not just by being sensational. He wants to see a different world than the one that he lives in. He still views the pop song as a place for ideas and revolution. Some may laugh at this, but just last year there was a girl photographed bravely in front of riot police at a protest in Britain. Guess what, she was wearing a Smith’s shirt.