MORRISSEY "World Peace Is None of Your Business" (Harvest, 2 1/2 stars)
That's a great title, Moz. As are song titles on this CD such as "Neal Cassady Drops Dead" and "Smiler With Knife," although the latter is something Morrissey, former leader of the Smiths, would never be labeled. Not the knife part: His acerbic lyrics still occasionally display cutting wit. But even his ardent fans would be hard-pressed to remember a day a grin appeared on the perennial sourpuss's face.
Naturally, there are pedantic rants and unfortunate use of words such as "beefaroni" in "I'm Not a Man," a song in which he rhymes "T-bone steak" and "cancer of the prostate" and bangs on about how he's not the kind of macho man who would go around destroying the planet. It's "the loneliest planet," he sings in another song, as if he had a point of comparison. But on the plus side, "World Peace" is impressively varied and energized musically and can be touching and quite lovely, even touched by poetic grace. "You're that stretch of the beach that the tide doesn't reach," he sings in "Kick the Bride Down the Aisle." "No reason, no meaning / The lonely season" - of course, in Morrissey's world, that season could be winter, spring, summer or fall.
IAN MCLAGAN AND THE BUMP BAND "United States" (Yep Roc, 3 stars)
He's not making any grand statements about the state of the Union. Rather, Ian McLagan's "United States" is about personal unions - fractured or fraught, longed-for or so redemptive the singer can't help bursting out into "Shalalala."
On his last album, 2008's "Never Say Never," the former Small Faces and Faces keyboardist wrote movingly about the loss of his wife, who had been killed in a car crash. "United States" doesn't hit that peak, but the session man extraordinaire and his Bump Band still make the most of the record's modest scale.
McLagan's weathered but warm vocals suit his plainspoken songs, as does the organic and mostly relaxed accompaniment built on R&B and roots-rock with splashes of Tex-Mex and country. It all adds up to a set that is never less than winningly heartfelt.
SIA "1000 Forms of Fear" (RCA, 3 1/2 stars)
She's slathered her face in distorting makeup, worn bags on her head, and, in a recent appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' show, sung with her back to the audience. But the Australian-born Sia Furler is always recognizable. This songwriter with a penchant for melancholy lyrics, emotional hooks and swelling choruses (ask Beyonce, Rihanna, and Katy Perry) saves the lowest and the highest for her smoky, electro-pop albums. It seems to be of a piece with her well-publicized self-doubt, substance abuse and attempted suicide. Living inside her own head has become difficult, and she chooses to deal with it, in public, by hiding.
On "1000 Forms of Fear," however, Sia makes no attempt to disappear, instead whining, crying and rasping with histrionic fervor while twisting pop's usual confines at will. Personal torment and soulful loneliness haven't sounded this effortless and contagious since Dionne Warwick asked if anyone had a heart. Standout moments include the letting-go of the self in the midtempo "Dressed in Black," the Munch-like cry for help of "Chandelier," and the love-or-career ballad "Big Girls Cry." Even "Elastic Heart" - a duet with the Weeknd - and the quick-stepping, beachy, poppy "Hostage" are more storm than sunshine.