When I think of political music, I either think of the 60s and 70s, Gang of Four or hip-hop (at least some of it). I could think of Morrissey and the Smiths but it’s not the first thing on my mind, since Morrissey is more known for making political statements outside his music nowadays and Meat Is Murder and Margaret on the Guillotine are still in the minority compared to his other songs. So I was somewhat surprised to listen to his new album and realize, hey, for an old man he sure has some statements left to make. Maybe I’m just so surprised because his last albums didn’t feature many political songs in comparison. But here is his new album, after years of delay, and its title already makes some allusions that make you think: World Peace Is None of Your Business.
World peace is none of your business
You must not tamper with arrangements
Work hard and sweetly pay your taxes
Never asking what for
Police will stun you with their stun guns
Or they’ll disable you with tasers
That’s what government’s for
That’s pretty harsh already and I love it. I mean, it’s not subtle or anything but at least he says things by its name and doesn’t beat around the bush. And in a few words he describes how must people live without ever wondering about anything and thereby accepting what the government and the police do. It’s not the most original protest lyrics in the world but at least it is protest lyrics. How often do you still hear that? He drives his point home in the end by repeating:
Each time you vote you support the process
which is still a somewhat risky statement nowadays. Yes, everyone basically knows our democratic system doesn’t really work, but most people still participate dutifully. The statement is phrased in a way that it’s hard to argue against it, despite or because of its simplicity. What a great way to start the album!
In Neal Cassady Drops Dead he refers to the Beat Generation, which never hurts, and I think he tries to imply that people who have been revolutionaries become tame and settle down. I’m not entirely sure about that, though, but the final line
Victim or life’s adventurer
Which of the two are you?
seems to implicate that.
In I’m Not a Man Morrissey deconstructs male myths and stereotypes by insisting that they don’t apply to him, so he can’t be a “real man.” Again, not the most original idea, but it still works, especially if you end with lyrics like:
I’d never kill or eat an animal
And I never would destroy this planet I’m on
Well, what do you think I am?
I guess in another context this could sound like a total hippie/new age/naivety statement, but hearing that from 55-year-old Morrissey who has been to hell and back in his career and has never openly declared his sexuality and can in 2014 compare eating animals with being a pedophile (which is nonsense, of course, but he knows how to rile people up), this comes across in a different way.
He sings about Istanbul, which is the best city in the world, so another point in my book. He laments school/study pressure in Staircase at the University by singing:
Staircase at the university
She threw herself down and her head split three ways
“If you don’t get three As,” her sweet daddy said
You’re no child of mine and as far as I’m concerned, you’re dead
Again, this is not something many people sing about. Pressure in our education system is a huge problem in my opinion and I know many students who seriously suffer from that. But I don’t really see anyone really caring about it. But Morrissey already has songs like The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils and The Headmaster Ritual in his repertoire, so it’s not a surprise from him.
Are the lyrics
The bullfighter dies
And nobody cries
Because we all want the bull to survive
in The Bullfighter Dies more animal rights issue or cynical description of behavior in our culture? It works either way for me.
There is a love song called Kiss Me a Lot followed by an anti-love song called Smiler With a Knife. Mountjoy requires some research first to find out that he sings about a prison in Dublin and the terrors that happened in there. It’s an interesting song because it’s much more literary than the other songs, there are fewer repetitions, there is name-checking and lots of desolate, nihilistic statements that again decries authorities:
What those in power do to you
Reminds us at a glance
How humans hate each other’s guts
And show it given a chance
We never say aloud the things
That we say in our prayers
Cause no one cares
Rich or poor, we all lose
Rich or poor, they all lose
The final song Oboe Concerto sums up a lot of the album, especially this brilliant verse:
All the best ones are dead
And there’s a song I can’t stand
And it’s stuck in my head
The older generation have tried, sighed & died
Which pushes me to their place queue
Round, rhythm goes round
Round, round rhythm of life goes round
Is this hope in the end with the last lines? Bitter hope, but at least some hope? The anger of the first songs is gone here and there’s a mixture of resignation and cautious optimism.
After my first listens I probably didn’t enjoy the music as much as on previous albums, but it could still grow on me. I really like the lyrics, despite all the theoretical criticism one could come up with. It’s courageous, angry and scathing. Above all, it tries to unsettle and to upset and that’s always a good place to start. I don’t know if Morrissey still believes in change but he definitely still asks you to think about things you chose to ignore.