EARLIER this year, Morrissey fans were denied the delicious prospect of the man himself on Twitter, firing off his precision-aimed bon mots in 140 characters or less, when the @itsmorrissey account turned out to be fake.
Morrissey: World Peace Is None Of Your Business
Still, there was always the 450 pages of his bitter, bitchy and intermittently absorbing autobiography to be consoled by, and the news that he is writing his first novel.
Now that he has tasted literary success, one wonders if Morrissey even cares about music anymore. He hinted that he may not during a recent fan Q&A, lamenting that “radio stations will not play my music and the majority of people have lost faith in the music industry”. Rather than compose a worthy riposte, his tenth album fails to put up a fight, at least not on the musical front.
He does jab quite effectively at the prevailing world order with the sardonic non-interventionist croon of the title track – which finds him in unexpected sympathy with Russell Brand (“each time you vote you support the process”).
But as a song, World Peace is None of Your Business feels half-finished and, as an album, the music comes as an afterthought.
A series of spoken word promotional videos for the singles, with cameos from Nancy Sinatra and Pamela Anderson, would seem to bear this out.
I am Morrissey, hear me (but not my musicians) scoff. He can still easily – maybe too easily – raise a wry smile with his quotable aphorisms, but often the entire thought of a track can be summed up by its title – Kick the Bride Down the Aisle, Earth is the Loneliest Planet and The Bullfighter Dies all start with the punchline and meander musically from there.
There are pockets of sonic interest in the dark, Smiths-like shimmer of Istanbul or the crunchy distortion on Neal Casady Drops Dead – wherein “Allen Ginsberg’s Howl becomes a growl” – but having said his piece, he seems content for the track to unspool with an absent-minded outro.
The only notable musical signature is the occasional flamenco flourishes on guitar, accordion and organ, but these often sound cheesy and tacked-on in lieu of solid songwriting. Kiss Me a Lot catches Morrissey in blithe, exultant mood and I’m Not a Man is a reasonably muscular takedown of his sex but nothing about World Peace really sticks beyond those point-scoring titles.
Judas Priest: Redeemer of Souls
Forty years on from the release of their debut album, indestructible Brummie metal gods Judas Priest have reversed their decision to retire from touring to rock another day. A fortuitous move, as the ageless metal material on this 17th album deserves to bounce off arena walls. Lyrically and musically, Redeemer of Souls plays steady darts – blood is curdled, guitar strings are shredded and we’re all doomed to a fiery afterlife. The six-minute Priest primer, Halls of Valhalla, covers all points of interest, with Rob Halford in demonic and operatic mode, lightning fretboard wrangling and thrash passages executed with fist-pumping force.
Glasgow-based duo Stina Tweeddale and Shona McVicar distinguish themselves from the rest of the guitar/drums pack on their debut album by eschewing the sub-White Stripes/Black Keys racket route in favour of the pure yet bittersweet pop tones of their foresisters from Strawberry Switchblade through to Camera Obscura. The clear-eyed melodies flatter to deceive, though, as Honeyblood’s lyrics come laced with strychnine. Tweeddale counts the ways on Super Rat (“scumbag, sleaze, slimeball, grease”) and simmers balefully on Choker, while the likes of All Dragged Up are delivered with a winning balance of grit and tunefulness.
Handel: The Triumph of Time & Truth
Handel’s oratorio The Triumph of Time and Truth is a pleasant revelation. Cast as his final such work – it was a protestant recasting of music originally conceived much earlier in his career – it combines, not surprisingly, a refreshing, youthful exuberance with polished maturity of style and flow. Richard Neville-Towle directs his own Ludus Baroque and prize soloists in a performing edition first introduced by the group two years ago, now excitingly captured in this Delphian release. Stylish singing from Sophie and Mary Bevan, Tim Meade,
Ed Lyon and William Berger complements the compact, earthy chorus and alert band of period instruments.
Richard Thompson: Acoustic Classics
While the question of which of these 14 tracks revisited from the 40-year back-catalogue of a consummate songsmith can be fairly dubbed classics – a much-abused term – is infinitely debatable, there is absolutely no question that all of them exude sheer class. Stripping them down to live-style solo performance subjects them to an acid test from which they emerge as true as ever, delivered with articulacy and passion over the fired-up urgency of Thompson’s acoustic guitar work.As with any such selection, aficionados may quibble over choice. What we do have, however, are high-tension numbers such as One Door Opens and a smouldering Shoot Out the Lights, delivered over stalking, stinging guitar, or the heartfelt yearning of Persuasion or Dimming of the Day, while 1952 Black Lightning and Beeswing remain finely hewn masterpieces.
Seasoned by performance over as much as four decades, these songs continue to engage utterly, and Thompson renders them with as much passion and conviction as when they were freshly minted.
Dylan Howe: Subterranean
The subtitle of the drummer’s latest project (and his first studio recording in a decade) succinctly sums up what this one is all about – New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin. Howe has taken a selection of material from two classic, electronics-heavy David Bowie albums of the 1970s, Low and Heroes, and remade them as vehicles for his Coltrane-influenced, largely acoustic jazz quintet, including extended versions of All Saints and Warszawa, and the haunting Some Are. Anyone familiar with the originals will find much they recognise here, but also much creative re-invention, and plenty of improvisational freedom for the musicians, saxophonists Brandon Allen and Julian Siegel, pianist Ross Stanley and bassist Mark Hodgson. Portishead’s Adrian Utley is heard on guitar on Warszawa, and the drummer’s father, guitarist Steve Howe, plays the traditional Japanese koto in an atmospheric take on Moss Garden.
The Rough guide to Latin Music for Children
As Dan Rosenberg observes in the liner note to his new compilation, children’s songs from Latin America draw inspiration from European nursery rhymes as well as from African and Native American folk tales. But one doesn’t need to probe that deeply – and the target audience certainly won’t – in order to enjoy this unashamedly feelgood CD. It opens with the full-on vigour of Afrocubism’s A la luna yo me voy before settling on to calmer waters with Toto La Momposina’s Pacanto and a long string of goodies from groups including Fruko y Sus Tesos, Dan Zanes and Lila Downs, and salsa diva Yoko.