My last posts may have been too dark for a Monday morning. I’m stuck in the airport and I’m sure many of you are stuck at work. (Which is where I surfed the internet so much I once thought I found the end of it!) Here is a little joy in the form of music. This is Melody of Rain by Marah from their Marah Presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania album. In my humble opinion they are the best band from my home state of Pa and at the height of their powers they are one of the greatest rock n roll bands out there right now. Like many great bands they can’t be properly defined by one genre, but even when they are doing something like this that has one foot in folk music, they always have another in rock n roll.
Many of you liked the unofficial video for Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business. Here is an excellent one for Oboe Concerto by Sharon Jheeta, who is the same person that did the last one. I found this thanks to http://www.true-to-you.net, which is Morrissey’s official website. Oboe Concerto is the fitting final to Morrissey’s excellent new album.
P.S. I read that Richard Strauss was asked to compose an oboe concerto by an American soldier after World War II.
Recently I was checking out album reviews at Rolling Stone. There is a band called Alvvays that got a four star review and thought I’d investigate further. I liked what I heard in the samples, as I am a fan of finely crafted girl pop melodies and fast picked jangle guitar playing, and I though I would investigate further. The record is even produced as if it came from that interesting period of early 80’s post punk, when real alternative music to the mainstream was quite interesting. The production is muddy in the right way that adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings, although it continues the terrible trend of mixing the vocals low, so that most of the words are lost on you without a lyric booklet.
They band has a keyboard player as well as featuring two guitars, and the keyboards add just enough of an extra dimension at times so the music doesn’t seem completely formulaic. The melodies are effervescent in the way that Kirsty MacColl’s were, although the singer, Molly Revkin, does not possess the unique personality or wit of the undeniably great Kirsty MacColl.
But the more I listen to the band the more the music dissipates. The lyrics are clever in that cute kind of way, but nothing more. The music sounds great, in that kind of way that would make it perfect listening to an afternoon of reading or talking to a friend, but again the more I pay attention the less I seem to care. I can’t help but feel that this is an almost great record. But at the end of the day it feels like style over substance.
There is some nifty guitar playing going on, and again the melodies are quite good. However, I wish there were lyrics that lived up to the rest of the proceedings. I wish there were words that were either simple and universal poetry the way old 60’s pop songs used to be, or even better conveyed some kind of subversive intelligence that made you feel as if something was on the line.
Recently I have been listening to Louder than Bombs by the Smiths. The music on the Alvvays record seems quite influenced by Johnny Marr’s jingle jangle guitar, but without any of the weirder eccentricities that he would often introduce into the music. And again the lyrics fall far short of a Morrissey or even a Kirsty MacColl. (Johnny Marr was in the Smiths with Morrissey and also wrote with Kirsty MacColl.) I feel like I can neither relate to the lyrics on any day to day basis, nor are any secrets of the universe being unlocked.
As far as first albums go, there is enough in the way of style to think that there might be a promising future ahead. However, to do something great they are going to need to push themselves further and, especially lyrically, to think more outside the box. The lyrics are just clever enough to make you realize that they are not dumb. I hope that Miss Rankin, or whoever writes the lyrics, will keep reading and pushing herself. If you are looking for some good summer background music this album does have its charms. However, if you are looking for something more substantial look elsewhere.
The joy brings many things
It cannot bring you joy
Sons of mothers huddle here
Men and boys
1850 swung the doors
And human sewage swept inside
Where victims speak in whines
And where the hardened cried
I was sent here by a 3 foot half-wit in a wig
I took his insults on the chin, and never did I flinch
A swagger hides the fear in here
By this rule we breathe
And there is no one on this earth
Who I’d feel sad to leave
You see we all lose
We all lose
What those in power do to you
Reminds us at a glance
How humans hate each others guts
And show it given a chance
We never say aloud the things
That we say in our prayers
Cause no one cares
Many executed here
By the awful lawfully good
But the only thing that makes me cry
Is when I see the sky
Brendan Behan’s laughter rings
For what he had or hadn’t done
For he knew then as I know now
That for each and every one of us
We all lose
Rich or poor, we all lose
Rich or poor, they all lose
Mountjoy by Morrissey. The new album is up and streaming at npr.org. it is fantastic. I will review it in full once I get my hands on a copy next week and can spend more time with it. It is hard streaming it on tour from my phone. First listen blew me away as I feel like he is really pushing himself to new places on this one.
Mountjoy is a prison where, among regular inmates, famous prisoners like Brendan Behan spent time. I am coincidentally reading Behan’s Borstal Boy at the moment.
These lyrics are stunning, especially when married to the music. Although they look backwards they could not be more contemporary given the sad state of justice in the world…
While I was listening to Irish singers I thought that I would also post one by Damien Dempsey. This is the title track from his Almighty Love album. (I am reading Borstal Boys by Brendan Behan which has me diving back into Irish music.) Damien Dempsey and Sinead O’Connor have also sung together on numerous occasions. I love their new single Woe to the Holy Vow about the Catholic Church scandal if you haven’t heard it. Dempsey has been one that has never been afraid to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden. On his early albums he predominately sang about the Irish poor and working class. I remember reading someone say, before the last album came out, that he hoped that Dempsey could rise about his tribe and speak for all of the oppressed. When I heard this song I realized that he had made that jump.
One of the biggest problems that we have in politics is getting people to see outside of their tribe. People often cling to their tribe because it creates a sense of identity. But in forming an identity through a group of people, you end up creating “the other”. Too often “the other” might be someone that, despite coming from different cultures, you may have a great deal in common with politically. They have been dividing poor whites and poor blacks in the South forever. Enjoy and learn from your heritage, your tribe, your clan, but don’t let it define you.
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.
The great Moz is returning. For all those of us that love Morrissey, it was just announced today that he is putting out his new record in late June or early July. The title of the record is World Peace is None of Your Business. I love this title as there are several different ways you can interpret it. Looking forward to seeing the album artwork that goes along with it. His last album, Years of Refusal, gave me a good laugh when I saw the album title with the finished artwork. I was just listening to his version of Magazine’s A Song From Under the Floorboards. I’ve needed some new Morrissey in my life for awhile. Thank god he’s out there…