A handful of tracks on Morrissey's 10th studio album, "World Peace Is None of Your Business" (Harvest/Capitol), begin or end with a queasy burble of low-volume noise, like something out of the soundtrack to "The Walking Dead." All is not well in the singer's world, and ardent fans (are there really any other kind?) wouldn't have it any other way.
In comparison to the compact rush of Morrissey's previous album, "Years of Refusal," produced by the late pop-punk guru Jerry Finn, "World Peace" is dour and slow-moving. Morrissey has never had a particularly optimistic view of the planet he shares with the rest of humanity, but even by his misanthropic standard, this ranks with his darkest.
The title track, perhaps the first pop song ever to rhyme "Bahrain" with "Ukraine," is basically his state-of-the-world address. "You poor little fool," he croons, admonishing those who would actually bother to vote in an election. It's all rigged, Morrissey pronounces, and let the drowning begin. As this ship goes down, however, the singer is in superb voice, his longtime band subversively sinister in its mix of beauty and din.
There is substandard Morrissey here and there: the Beat generation rant "Neal Cassady Drops Dead" and the oddly playful "Kiss Me a Lot." An off-putting self-righteousness scuttles the bro-bashing "I'm not a Man" and the snide "Kick the Bride Down the Aisle."
But "Earth is the Loneliest Planet," with its flamenco guitar and melancholy accordion, strikes the right balance of drama and poignancy, a sentiment amplified by "Mountjoy," a cello-inflected lament for a nation of misfits: "We never say aloud the things/ that we say in our prayers/ 'cause no one cares."
There are brief moments of triumph. Infused with mariachi horns, "The Bullfighter Dies" turns the tables on the toreador, much to the narrator's delight. In the closing "Oboe Concerto," Morrissey — who has played the dyspeptic observer throughout most of the album — places himself at the center of the narrative, and he's not championing his superiority. Instead he views his mortality through the lens of a sour oboe solo and a brief, chaotic drum flurry. He concludes that after finally shoving aside "the older generation," he's only managed to assume "their place in the queue" on the way to obsolescence.
This is not Morrissey's finest solo work by a long shot, but as the singer enters his 55th year, its moments of vulnerability feel earned.'World Peace Is None of Your Business'
2.5 stars (out of 4)