Luke Haines is an English musician and writer. He has recorded under the name of the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder. His books include the bestselling Bad Vibes – Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall. His latest solo album, Smash The System, is out on Cherry Red Records on October 7, 2016. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and his website.
Every year on the 26th of December in Clovis, New Mexico, a pageant takes place. It is known as the Real Feast of St. Steven. Hundreds of be-quiffed, bespectacled men wobble through the streets astride punctured bicycles. The bespectacled bike riders are followed by a group of music journalists, some in blackface and wearing huge platform boots. The journos stop every 30 seconds, get down on one knee and perform a finger-wagging ritual at the be-quiffed bike men. A mariachi band made up entirely of Yootha Joyce lookalikes runs alongside. Their yellow plastic macs shine like pus-coloured lightning in the refried New Mexico heat. After much yodelling and preening and chanting of dubious statements (mainly about the Chinese) the procession settles down for the feast. The food-bearers (Ronnie Kray and Sal Mineo lookalikes) set down the food on trestle tables: plates of lukewarm watery mushrooms and veggie sausages. The pageanters give the food a sniff and let out a collective “Nah.” For there are more important things to dwell on than nut sundaes. The evening will bring on the annual sacrifice: the “Burning of the Spare Parts of a Lawn Mower” ceremony.
It is of course almost impossible to write anything about Morrissey – El Moz — without mentioning his excellent and frankly mad-as-Tuesday booky-wooky, which sent the British media into a collective knicker-twist. So before we turn our attention to Steven’s latest Opus Popus, let’s deal with a few of those Autobiography warm potatoes:
The book is too long.
Well, it is an autobiography. How long is a life? 200 pages? 1000 pages?
The book is a vendetta against almost everyone — with the exception of Jonathan Ross.
Yes, but isn’t vendetta just another word for life?
The book should not have been published as a Penguin Classic.
Pickle my nut-sack, Jack! Of course it should. I know that if I’d have been given the choice of having my classic memoir (Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall) published as a readymade classic, I’d have been in like Flynn.
And it came to pass — with maximum publicity bagged and grabbed, the Moz tome went on to become a bestseller. So, now purged and signed to Harvest Records, Steven Hero goes on to make his finest record in, well years and years. World Peace Is None of Your Business — for that is what it is called, is quite unlike any other Morrissey record. Madder, badder and two fucks it doth not give. The band – the much criticised band — strike out and stretch out like never before. Latino guitar solos give way to mariachi brass, castanets have epileptic fits and there’s even a drum solo. (You can’t scare me, Morrissey, with you drum solos — I’m a Soft Machine fan, I’m disappointed if there isn’t a friggin’ drum solo.) The production is, erm, very contemporary, and on top of this Technicolor heap of sound sits Big Mozza. With his big, big voice — all manly, and warm like bread.
Since humans first realised they could get a tune out of a mammoth’s arse bone, it has been their predilection to moan. Moan that they’re not getting enough of The Other, moan that another is getting too much of The Other, moan that the mammoth’s arse bone won’t stay in tune. Moan about their fellow man moaning. This is called protest music, and Morrissey has made a big, bold protest album. Title track “World Peace Is None of Your Business” is anthemic and in no way as dumb as it first sounds. If this had been a latter-day Smiths track it would have been full of provincial ambiguity but now it’s a big world protest song – that almost crashes straight into the dunderhead ditch when Morrissey starts singing “Each time you vote you support the process.” Suddenly I get a nightmarish vision of Moz and top British thick man Russell Brand discussing their plans for world revolution at a vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles. Somehow, Morrissey pulls it all back from the brink when he sings “Brazil, Bahrain, Egypt, Ukraine/So many people in pain.”
It’s all in that newfound voice. The opening killer triptych continues with the “Neal Cassady Drops Dead” (and Allen Ginsberg’s tears shampoo his beard). Morrissey is hardly trying, and of course it’s utterly ace. A beatnik nursery rhyme gives way to an even stranger nursery rhyme: “Everyone has babies, babies full of rabies, rabies full of scabies, scarlet has a fever, ringlets full of ringworm, angel of distemper…” Hell, it’s as good as the Pistols’ “Bodies.” “I’m Not a Man” is the centrepiece of the first half, a fantastically wrought Jobriath/Judy Garland, gender-challenging burp ballad. It’s what Morrissey has been singing for most of his adult life, but this time with the hard-won conviction of a man comfortable in his skin and with his age. And then he pulls the rug. “Wolf down, wolf down t-bone steak/Wolf down, cancer of the prostate,” sings meanie Moz sweetly — wishing cancer death upon us meat-eaters. “Oi, Steve, do one,” I shout into my laptop. Just for that I’m going to write an answer song about mass vegetarian death caused by an unwashed lentil.
The swipes, of course are all part of the fun, especially with Morrissey switching from assured iconic “older” Latino balladeer to excoriating madman in seconds. A couple of mariachi power-poppers later – the quite excellent “Kiss Me a Lot,” which sounds not unlike the Jags covering Love’s Forever Changes (a good thing) – and we’re into what lesser writers might call “the dark heart” of the album. “Smiler with Knife” is Powell & Pressburger as narrated by Anthony Hopkins’ deranged ventriloquist from Magic. “Kick the Bride down the Aisle” has possibly some of the most misogynistic lyrics ever committed to song — I can only assume the the ventriloquist’s dummy has taken over. It’s all great fun. “Mountjoy” is somewhat incongruous, as the Mexican band have now been sacked and replaced by an Irish show band playing a grim tattoo, whilst First Officer Moz laments Brendan Behan, that very model of macho boorishness that our hero was railing against half a dozen songs ago.
It’s about this time that I begin to wonder: Is this the record that David Bowie should have made instead of the rather timid The Next Day? For timid is not a word that shares the same planet as this new Morrissey elpee. Much like Autobiography felt like it just had to be unleashed. World Peace Is None of Your Business sounds much like the record that Morrissey has always threatened, and wanted, to make.
“Oboe Concerto” concludes the proceedings. I’m exhausted. The mad Mexican Technicolor show band have wandered back into the studio, whilst Judy Garland and Jobriath have been summoned again on the Ouija board (Ouija board).
Back in Clovis, New Mexico, the Real Feast of St. Steven carries on singing, prancing and la-de-da-ing long into the night. Lurking on a street corner, a man in a floral shirt and sombrero wolfs down a beanburger. The real Steven Patrick Morrissey turns to the camera and smiles sweetly, “Frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn.”