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Steven Patrick Morrissey‘s 10th solo release, World Peace is None of Your Business, is nothing if not a puzzle wrapped inside a riddle. Even though the release follows the singer’s best-selling memoir Autobiography that was published last year, it’s as far from personally revealing as it could be. That’s not a surprise, though, coming from an artist who’s established unwavering musical credibly (and made millions) from his singular brand of enigmatic melancholy.
“If World Peace isn’t Morrissey’s least autobiographical LP, it’s certainly one of his most scattershot,” said Billboard‘s Kenneth Partridge, who awarded the release 77/100. “The disc is filled with broad political statements and odd character sketches. Musically, Moz lets his sidemen go wild with electronic beats, accordions, Spanish and Middle Eastern flourishes, and synths galore. It’s essential listening not so much for its quality — uneven, if generally high — but for the strange place it occupies in Morrissey’s discography.”
Musically, The Smiths’ front man has been relatively silent since his previous releases, Years of Refusal (2009) and Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006). But lately, he’s been in the news more than ever. From his memoir to tour drama and multifarious rants, the once-elusive chanteuse is building his brand more than ever.
According to Partridges’ song-by-song analysis of the release, introspection can really only be found on “‘I Am Not a Man’ and closer ‘Oboe Concerto,’ and the portrait Moz paints is that of an aging rock icon unsure of his place in the universe. If he’s losing touch, he’s singing better than ever, and he’s still capable of delivering the occasional stunner.”
“Being misunderstood is Morrissey’s great joy in life, as he keeps proving in World Peace — a much stronger album than fans were expecting at this point,” says Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield, awarding it 3.5 of 5 stars.
According to Sheffield, Moz’ s two “stunners” appear at the end of the record: “‘Mountjoy’ is his dear-hero-imprisoned lament for the late Irish writer Brendan Behan, and ‘Oboe Concerto’ resembles the Smiths classic ‘Death of a Disco Dancer,’ as Morrissey mourns the dead companions of his youth, singing, ‘All I do is drink to absent friends.’ ”
According to The New York Times‘ Ben Ratliff, World Peace “is not a good record, but, on the other hand, it is almost a perfect one.”
Praising the singer’s voice, which weaves through his artwork no matter the medium, Ratliff said: “That writing voice, through its deliberate rhetoric and vocabulary and syntax, has seemed to generate nearly everything about him, from the Smiths’ first single to now: his empathy, his sense of his own difference and isolation, his confiding and controlling positions. (And possibly even the tone of his singing voice: his lethal sigh, his croon.)”
“Morrissey’s golden vibrato also sounds gloriously undamaged by his recent medical woes,” said Pitchfork‘s Marc Hogan in his mixed 5.9/10 review. “As ever, it’s most evident in his nonverbal tics — the way he stretches out the word ‘ways’ into umpteen syllables on ‘Staircase at the University,’ and … how he melismatically unfurls ‘cries’ on ‘The Bullfighter Dies,’ another cheerfully morbid song cheering the perfectly Morrissey-esque subject of the title.”
“Still,” Hogan continues, “at times the intricate arrangements come across as a means of covering up unmemorable songwriting.”
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NME, which once named Morrissey “one of the most influential artists ever,” gave the release it’s most glowing review of 9/10. “Like Morrissey’s last grand return from hiatus … there’s that same undefeatable spirit, the sense that he thrives on being the fly in the ointment,” says critic Ben Hewitt. “It finds Moz measuring himself up against outdated masculine tropes and finding himself wanting against these burly brutes before declaring himself ‘something much bigger and better’ than them.”
On the other hand, the younger-leaning music mag Alternative Press and British mouthpiece The Guardian have examined Morrissey’s most recent effort with a mixed reactions — both giving it three out of five stars.
According to AP‘s Robert Ham, World Peace is “a strange, cumbersome and often entertaining beast of an album that is likely to be the dourest LP released in 2014.” Ham concludes rather dubiously, saying: “But being a fan of Morrissey means taking the rough with the smooth, the frustrating with the jubilant. The more the world changes, the more he stays the same.”
“Whatever the reason, the whole thing sounds more tumultuous than trudging,” said The Guardian‘s Alexis Petridis. “Tumultuous enough, in fact, that you’re occasionally struck by the rare sensation that you’re listening to a Morrissey album on which Morrissey’s presence isn’t central to your enjoyment.”
“It’s the kind of thing that serves notice that, on a good day, Morrissey is still uniquely gifted,” added Petridis. “As with nearly every artist in rock history, nearly 35 years after his debut, the good days come around less frequently than they did, but it’s still worth hanging around to witness them. Not as great as you might have hoped, but far better than you might have feared … [it] may be as good as it gets at this stage in his career, which is good enough.”
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