Morrissey’s debut in Britain’s post-punk era was as part of the short-lived Manchester band, The Smiths. And although that band lasted from 1982 to 1987, it quickly spawned an ever-growing cult of followers. As the band’s lead singer and lyricist, his songs and views often flirted with controversy and he proudly wore his politics on his chest. His stance on issues such as the British monarchy, immigration, vegetarianism, Thatcher and Bush and Hillary Clinton has always managed to polarise people. Those who love him are devout loyalists; those who don’t, deride him for his self-righteousness and acute intellectual snobbery.
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Morrissey’s new album is a set of 12 songs beginning with the title track, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, a strongly political number that derides people who vote because they do so for a system and political processes that don’t work for them or ones that they cannot change. Morrissey name-checks Ukraine and Egypt and Brazil and Bahrain and delivers a satire that is remarkably sweet musically. That’s quintessential Morrissey, though. He almost always manages to be a melodic rebel, not needing to snarl or growl and yet delivering a high-powered punch in the solar plexus. It’s like one of those thin but exceedingly sharp blades that you don’t realise you’ve been cut with till after it’s actually slashed you.
On The Bullfighter Dies, an ode to animal rights, it’s the bull’s survival that is, expectedly, lauded and not the death of its provocateur. And on I’m Not A Man, Morrissey’s oft-revealed misanthropy surfaces again as he clobbers the stereotype of the male as a jock. On World Peace, there are surprise turnouts as on Neal Cassady Drops Dead. Cassady was a prominent 1950s Beat generation figure and long-time lover of poet Allen Ginsberg and on the track Morrissey sings about Ginsberg mourning his death. Another song, Staircase At The University, points at the parental pressures to achieve that leads a young girl to leap to her death, but not without some of his characteristic satire and mockery… aimed at the girl.
I like most of Morrissey’s albums and over the years, I’ve got some that are my favourites: his first solo, Viva Hate (1988), of course; but also Vauxhall and I (1994), which I think is his best and many Morrissey fans may agree. Just listen to The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get on that album and you’ll see what I’m talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCj_C-Yb3xI is an album of songs with back stories and references, to films, to parodies of British TV shows and so on, but delving into that is better left to die-hard devotees of Mozza (as he is known to his fans; he’s also known as Moz; or, the one I like best, as the Pope of Mope!).
Getting back to World Peace, it’s not an album that I’d recommend to those who aren’t familiar with Morrissey’s music but it could be part of a nice trifecta that you can put together for a weekend: Viva Hate, Vauxhall and I and the new album.
This one’s strictly for hardcore Deadheads. It took me nearly 20 years to discover Grayfolded, a nearly two-hour-long album divided into two CDs – Transitive Axis and Mirror Ashes.
Dan Auerbach, the singer (who also plays lead guitar, bass and keyboards) sounds like a reincarnation of early black blues singers, albeit a white one who sings with a contemporary tweak, and Patrick Carney, the drummer, has the quintessential simple style of early blues band drummers.
That is, or was, till now. Earlier this month, The Black Keys, after an uncharacteristically long three-year interval, released a new album, Turn Blue, which is anything but minimalistic. Working with the famed producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) who has worked earlier with the band, including on El Camino, The Black Keys’ new album is almost like it belongs to a completely different genre. Yes, there is the ‘blues’ backbone and the ‘rock’ base but the end product sounds more like a polished, pop album than the minimalist, raw-edged blues that we’ve grown to expect from the band. At times, songs such as the nearly seven-minute opener, Weight of Love, seem inspired by the psychedelic sounds that recall the oeuvre of Neil Young or Pink Floyd rather than the stripped-down blues that this band is known for. There’s also a strange, new danceability to Turn Blue, as in the song, In Time, again something one didn’t expect from The Black Keys.
Unsurprisingly, Turn Blue will disappoint many a die-hard fan of The Black Keys who may miss the sound of Auerbach’s raw-edged guitar (or, more accurately, have to aurally peel away a lot of the additional layers of music to be able to get to it); or get used to his occasionally gratuitous deployment of the falsetto; and even have to resign themselves to some distinctly pop-sounding vocal refrains on some of the tracks. There’s an overall dreaminess in the music that The Black Keys have made on their new album that may not fit in well with what one has been used to hearing from the band. But listen carefully, and you get a dark moodiness in the lyrics of most of the 11 songs on the album. And while it left me – and I’m a big fan of the band – a bit befuddled, I’m willing to bet that Turn Blue will probably grow on me as I spin it a couple more times. It’s not easy to give up on a band that you like so much.
Nevertheless, with a sense of being unfulfilled after my first listen to Turn Blue, I had to feed my craving for unalloyed, untampered-with blues. So I turned to what I turn towards when I need to listen to the blues: the Bandana Blues podcast. When I checked the feed, it was their 540th episode, released on May 10, and it happened to be their Mother’s Day edition. Fittingly, it began with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: the song Directly From My Heart To You; the album: Weasels Ripped My Flesh; the year: 1970.
If you haven’t heard this fantastic album, I urge you not to miss it. Bandana Blues podcast episodes are famously long; this one runs for two hours. So there was a whole heap of blues musicians that I heard – a BB King and Robert Cray collaboration, the Vaughan Brothers (remember Stevie Ray and Jimmie?), a Dutch blues band called Sugar Boy & the Sinners, and many more. But one man who stood out was someone I’d never heard before: Oz Noy. An Israeli-born New Yorker, Noy is an obsessively improvisational guitarist whose music straddles jazz, blues and funk and whose guitar playing style has a unique stamp that I would simply describe as explosive. Check out two of his albums Schizophrenic and Twisted Blues: Vol.1. They’re keepers.
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