Writing a review of a recording by Morrissey inevitably requires a certain amount of babbling on to put the guy and his music in context so that the curious, interested and wary buyer (three different individuals) are assuaged and perhaps even compelled to check out (or perhaps avoid) the recording.
You see, if I started out the review by saying something like "the new Morrissey album is a heartfelt return to form standing tall next to the artists' finest achievements, blah blah blah..." it would do a disservice to everyone including the artist.
The fact is that Morrissey and his music are an acquired taste. I have broken those two entities out for good reason as Morrissey the person is a distinctive individual with an penchant for making bold statements which, frankly, put some people on an uncomfortable edge. He calls things the way he thinks they are whether you like it or not. And if his lyrics are any indication to what the man is about, he can tend to have a somewhat bleak and weary world view of things.
(Please Morrissey, tell us you're not really that sad all the time... we do worry 'bout you, you know... )
Morrissey's music itself is another thing and -- again -- listeners mostly either like it or not with very little grey area betwixt and between.
If you liked his old band from the 1980s, The Smiths, chances are you have tried hard to get into his solo works with varying levels of success (some are almost religious in their devotion to his every B-side utterance, while others are borderline indifferent). Some people have trouble grasping Morrissey's vocal styling which is at times bears a sort of operatic flair seemingly sung (I don't know for sure) from the back of the throat with much dramatic flourish. It is not the voice one immediately expects when you think of rock 'n roll (and that is kinda the point, but I digress...). These people-with-blinders-on are thus, accordingly, unable to take the requisite time to get inside Morrissey's musical universe and thus miss out on some great tunes which sound unlike anything else out there.
Many times I feel that Morrissey writes poems first and then massages them into lyrics, delivered more as a sort of rock 'n roll "Singspiel," with no shortage of attention to dramatic delivery.
Morrissey is very theatrical...
Ok, sure his music bears the influence that Morrissey is proud to showcase for you at the start of his current tour -- from the stage presence of Charles Aznavour to the balls out bravado of The New York Dolls and the swagger of Mott The Hoople to the post-glam artfulness of Brian Eno. Musically, his songs fall under the category of rock but the way he composes has always resulted in this odd sensibility with vocal melodies that seem to sort of float above the music.
Perhaps I'm getting too scholarly at this point and should get on to some of the matter at hand, Morrissey's latest album is called World Peace is None of Your Business. It is another fine addition to his catalog with a more than two LPs worth of music that will inevitably get under your skin after frequent listens.
I obtained by mail-order from HotTopic.com a lovely limited edition, exclusive, two-LP pressing on pinkish-orange vinyl -- his first on the Harvest label -- that sounds great! The LPs are sturdy (probably 180-gram), quiet and perfectly centered. The album cover is made of thick oaktag type stock and comes with individual large type lyric sheets for each disc -- clearly Morrissey wants us to READ his words! The sound on this album -- recorded in France by the great Joe Cicarelli and mastered by legendary Bob Ludwig -- is big and warm. I don't know if it is analog or digital but it has that feel of a vintage rock album by Mott or Bowie. The included MP3 downloads sound decent enough for listening in the car at 320 kbps, but they are still MP3s so set expectations accordingly.
So, how does this album stack up to Morrissey's prior releases? I can't tell you. Really!
I find that every Morrissey release grows on me over time. I mean, my favorite Morrissey albums are Vauxhall & I and Your Arsenal. But the recent ones have been good too and the songs he performed live from those albums -- such as Years of Refusal and Ringleader of the Tormenters -- were great in concert.
Like Tony Bennett and Elvis Costello, Morrissey's music is about the catalog so there are riches to be found in every album depending on how much you want to dig down into it. This album is probably as good a place to start as any if you are new to his sound and it is certainly well recorded and produced. If you are a already a fan of Morrissey, you'll like this one at least as much as the last three (but maybe not as much as Viva Hate, which most hardcore fans seem to revere almost as much as a Smiths album).
Its all good, in a sobering, thinking persons sort of way...
I guess at the end of the day all we are saying is give Moz a chance.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.