Gender Stereotypes, Politics and Isolation
As per usual, Morrissey has been causing quite a stir recently. In April he compared the Canadian seal hunt to the Holocaust, while in May he had a spat with We Are Scientists and PAWS because he allegedly demanded they be removed from a concert at the California Observatory as they were playing a neighbouring room to his own show and he feared their loud music would drown out his own. Last month, he blamed support act Kristeen Young for giving him the cold that caused him to cancel the end of his US tour. After this Baeble Music created a petition to ban the Mancunian singer from ever performing in the US again due to his constant concert cancellations over the last 12 years.
Anyone who has been a fan of the former Smiths front-man for a while would hardly be surprised by these types of antics from the man who penned “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, but they do serve to create a caricature of a cranky, old curmudgeon telling kids off for playing football outside his house. This is a pity because his latest record, and first album since 2009’s Years of Refusal, World Peace Is None Of Your Business ranks among the very best of his solo career. It would be near tragedy if the topics he explores deftly and eloquently within this record are disregarded due to his cantankerous public outbursts.
Cynical as it may be to suggest, perhaps these events are an attempt by Morrissey to create a siege mentality in preparation for his tenth solo albums release. He is, after all, an extremely intelligent individual and musician. Throughout the album he rails passionately against the ills he perceives in society and so a public persona of a pop star under attack but fighting back fits the record’s themes perfectly.
Take opener and title track “World Peace Is None Of Your Business”. It stands uniquely in it’s position as an anti-establishment song as it lambastes the ignorant, inert masses rather than the monied elite, “World peace is none of your business, you must not tamper with arrangements, work hard and sweetly pay your taxes, never asking what for.” It’s as if Morrissey has adopted the role of Tony Blair or David Cameron in a sardonic and patronising speech on their true views on the general public. All this is wrapped up in a slow building ballad that perfectly reflects the comfort and arrogant self confidence of the narrator in the lyrics.
Gender stereotypes also come in for the singer’s ire. On “I’m Not A Man”, Morrissey essentially lists all the cliched and redundant features of traditional masculinity, “wife better vest, cold hand, ice man, warring cave man.” The epic near eight minute song slowly builds to a triumphant and defiant climax for which Morrissey has saved his most jagged barbs. He croons with vitriol, “No big fat locker room, hockey jock , laughing , I’m not a man , I’d never kill or eat an animal, and I never would destroy this planet I’m on.” His clear disdain for the established masculine stereotype is distilled through each time he proudly and exultantly declares that he “is not a man”, and that he is “something much bigger and greater than a man”, thereby promoting and emphasising the more ambiguous gender positioning of Morrissey himself. Heady stuff indeed and a sentiment badly required in revealing the dangers of hypermasculinity.
Elsewhere, “Earth Is The Loneliest Planet” deals with familiar topic of Morrissey’s, isolation. It’s an energetic Spanish guitar inflected indie song that ruminates on how “you fail as a woman and lose as a man” and the futile nature of many people’s lives, “day after day you say, ‘one day, one day'”. Mid tempo, jagged guitar sporting “Istanbul” details a father’s search for his missing son through the perilous streets of the Turkish capital. The father’s lament of “oh what have I done” adds to the tragedy of his search which culminates in his discovery of his son in “a box of pine”. In contrast to “I’m Not A Man”, “Kick The Bride Down The Aisle” lampoons women who get married and subsequently rest on their laurels, so that they can “laze and graze” while their husbands break their backs in “pursuit of the living wage”. Ironically, considering the subject matter of “I’m Not A Man”, this song smacks of misogyny and is perhaps the only disappointment on an album full of varied quality.
Unlike other artists of his vintage, Morrisey’s ire and scorn has not been dulled and mellowed by age and maturity. He has grown and developed but his fundamental disgust at what he sees around him everyday remains. In the end it is his cantankerous, curmudgeon shtick, while alienating for some, that keeps his fire burning. As such he is impossible to ignore. Perhaps this is why he remains so loved while others around him have faded to become heritage acts. It is also why, even after three decades in the music game, he can craft such a wonderful and acerbic album as World Peace Is None Of Your Business. Welcome back Morrissey, you have been missed.