Morrissey, “World Peace Is None of Your Business” (Harvest/Capitol)
His 10th solo album is not a good record, but, on the other hand, it is almost a perfect one.
In its stompy art song streaked with slick noise and nuevo-flamenco guitar, its clumsy lyrics, its condemnation of so much human endeavor, all its stolid idiosyncrasy, “World Peace” constitutes its own weird kind of pedantic success. So much so that a better record — like his last one, “Years of Refusal,” from 2009, or his best one, “Vauxhall and I,” from 1994 — can seem timid or half-formed by comparison.
It seems relevant that “World Peace” is Morrissey’s first album after “Autobiography,” his best-selling 2013 memoir. The book told of his early life in Manchester, England; his period as singer for the Smiths and worldwide hero to students and misfits from 1982 to 1987; his solo career thereafter; and his efforts to persist as a human being in the Romantic tradition amid boors, hippies and royalists.
Morrissey’s major achievement has been a strong and complicated voice: self-effacing and hyper-stylized, large souled and petty, fixated both on bottom-line winning and the temporal long game of literature. That writing voice, through its deliberate rhetoric and vocabulary and syntax, has seemed to generate nearly everything about him: his empathy, his sense of his own difference and isolation, his confiding and controlling positions.
Often, he seems to start with a title — like “World Peace Is None of Your Business” — and then his truth telling begins. “You must not tamper with arrangements,” he sings, mimicking the voice of the state. Eventually, he is chanting, “Each time you vote, you support the process.”
And here, the problem begins. It’s recognizably him, with the same strategy of dissonance as in “The More You Ignore Me”: a love song that isn’t. But he’s not provoking anymore; he’s delivering a position. It’s not a position particular to him, and it might not be particular to you. He gives you a reason to stop listening. A songwriter can adopt a persona for the purpose of any effect he wants. But this is bad and sour poetry.
Ben Ratliff, New York Times
Chicago, “Now: XXXVI” (Universal)
The veteran brassy R&B/jazz outfit has finally outrun the ghost of the ’80s power-ballad sound foisted on it by the lame Peter Cetera. On their new album, co-founder Robert Lamm and company sound closer to their rough roots than they have since their first albums.
The CD’s arrangements may not be quite as raunchy or contagious as “25 or 6 to 4,” but cuts like “Free at Last” come close in punch and gruffness, with a nod to Chicago’s psychedelic start on “Another Trippy Day.”
While maintaining its robust brass sound, Chicago hasn’t forgotten the luster of its harmony vocals (“This Is the Time” could be disco-era Bee Gees) or the rich romanticism of a good slow song.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer