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    Ringleader of the Tormentors

    Mon, 10 Apr 2006 16:06:55

    Album Reviews: Ringleader of the Tormentors by Morrissey

    While Morrissey's triumphant career renaissance has been nearly unanimously declared since 2004's hot-selling You Are The Quarry, the fact remained that there were a number of influential critics who didn't actually like the record all that much. But the "comeback" story, coming on the heels of a rather dormant period, was so powerful that, as a consequence, Quarry has become one of those "important" records -- one that will always receive extra attention in a career bio.

    So what's the angle on Ringleader of the Tormentors? The consensus this time seems to that it's his "happiest" work, a judgment that often conflates "sounding happy in songs" with "being happy in life." Perhaps only Morrissey could release an album that prominently features a moody piano piece -- complete with rain and thunderclaps -- called "Life is a Pigsty" and have it be hailed as his sunshiniest solo work to date.

    To simply say that Ringleader isn't a defining album should not discount it as a solid addition that offers up yet a few more gems to a well-stuffed catalog (with a few clunkers mixed in, too, like "The Father Who Must Be Killed"). To be sure, there is some real joy on Ringleader, starting with the orchestral flourish in the lyrically naked "Dear God Please Help Me," in which Morrissey, after fretting about the "explosive kegs between my legs," and then "spreading your legs / with mine in between," finally declares "the heart feels free." Even in a catalog that continuously aches with collisions of guilt and lust, "Dear God Please Help Me" stands out, both because of the Ennio Morricone string section and the fact that our protagonist does indeed appear to be about to seal the proverbial deal.

    Producer Tony Visconti, king of glam-rock (T. Rex, David Bowie), is a good fit for Morrissey's theatrics. The closing "At Last I Am Born" is gloriously campy and pompous (and, yes, happy), and isn't the only song that unabashedly uses a children's choir to back the unmistakable lead vocal. Visconti also helps the album get off to an exciting start, with the menacing-then-sweet, Eastern-influenced "I Will See You in Far Off Places." This, along with "In the Future When All's Well," would presumably represent another vein of happiness -- the promise of a better tomorrow -- but in the latter song, Morrissey comes clean: "Every day I play a sad game called 'in the future when all's well.'" Now there's the Morrissey we all know and love. -- Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert

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