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Ringleader of the Tormentors

Wednesday, May 3 2006
Morrissey's last record, the commercial comeback You Are the Quarry, was a giant sitting duck for sellout accusations, due in no small part to the thick sheen of Blink 182 vet Jerry Finn's production. However, it also contained some of the Moz's most focused and powerful songs in more than a decade. While he traded more questionably than ever on his pope-of-sadness persona, the record's singles were nevertheless pop gold of a caliber to overwhelm his reflexive detractors. The brand new Ringleader of the Tormentors, the crucial after-comeback album, feels unfortunately a little lacking in the pop magic department by comparison.

The lyrical content is by now almost canonical Mozzian fare — a combination of moribund fixations (child murderers, buried lovers, et al.), unrestrained melodramatic romance-wringing, and hilariously hubristic self-reference. The music, however, feels surprisingly staid for an artist who has undertaken major changes in both his personal life (a move from his longtime home of L.A. to Rome) and his creative foils (the adoption of a new songwriting partner/guitarist and venerable producer Tony Visconti). Lead single "You Have Killed Me" rolls in a satisfyingly familiar Morrissey vein, but never fully takes off. The funeral march of "Dear God Please Help Me" and the breathless "On the Streets I Ran" are close to great, but overall the album never quite matches the highs of its predecessor. It's stuffed with potentially dazzling ornaments (an Ennio Morricone arrangement, children's choirs, etc.), but the meat of the songwriting feels, for the most part, too thin and uninspired to warrant all the dressing.

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Sam Mickens


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