I have a confession to make: I promised I'd write this over a year ago. "This," I profoundly announced, "will be done". Sadly, life and exams intervened, and I let it sit on the back-burned whilst other things took priority. So, Helen4Morrissey, here at long last is that review I promised...
"Ringleader of the Tormentors" is Morrissey's second album released since his comeback in 2004, one which saw him reaching his highest-yet singles chart placing and very nearly scoring his third solo number one album. Brought back into the spotlight by Sanctuary and given his own imprint, Attack Records, Morrissey returned with a fantastic album and some killer singles. All eyes fell upon him once more as he prepared his eighth solo album, this time accompanied by none other than the legendary Tony Visconti on production duties, as well as his usual backing artists affectionately referred to as "Th'Lads". Having relocated to Rome, would the Moz be able to produce a successful follow-up? Oh, you bet...
The sleeve artwork provides a taste of the music to come, featuring Steven Patrick posing with a violin in a pastiche of the famous Deutsch Grammophon style; typical of Morrissey, it's in duotone. ROTT is a beautiful, gentle, yet still fierce record with some rather wonderful singles and a definite sense of presence - one can feel the effort that's been put into the album, a real sense of urgency that's been with Mozzer ever since he and Johnny Marr first committed music to vinyl. It's not quite the 'balls to the wall' record promised us by Morrissey's publicist, but somehow the result is all the better for it.
Not to say the record is flawless; there are a couple of weak tracks, and a couple of lyrical turns definitely make one cringe a little. For one so renowned for his wordplay, occasionally Morrissey releases phrases that simply do not go. Thankfully they are few in number and not world-ending. Musically there are some wonderfully experimental and quite different songs here, set apart from the normal canon, although again in places they work less well than they really could or should. However, on both lyrics and music, the album in almost all cases provides wonderfully. Morrissey is unusually frank at times, claiming to have "exploding kegs between my legs" - alien words, surely, to one who claimed in 1983 to be celibate. Of course, trying to figure out the mysteries of his sex life has always been part of the fun...
Ringleader of the Tormentors was released on April 3, 2006 and reached number 1 in the UK charts, happily beating its predecessor and earning Morrissey his third solo number 1.
- I Will See You In Far-Off Places - Sounding distinctly Middle Eastern, this opening track comes across as a voice of camaraderie with the downtrodden of the world, claiming that no matter happens to him he'll still be alongside them. Morrissey asks why the world seems so split apart, noting that while we may happily sit next to one another (say, at the negotiating table), we still find it so much harder to truly feel togetherness. He soon returns to similar themes as with "America Is Not The World", slinking in a little criticism of Mr. Bush in the Oval Office. Not released as a single. "If your god bestows protection upon you / And if the U.S.A. doesn't bomb you / I believe I will see you"
- Dear God, Please Help Me - The clashing sounds of the opener are replaced by simple acoustic strumming here, as Morrissey becomes unusually candid. Whether or not he's singing about himself is unknown, as he talks of walking through Rome lamenting the conflicting feelings he feels about himself. He asks God to help him, questioning and prying, asking if even the Creator feels the same way as he does. As he sings, the instrumentation continues to build, swelling as his voice peaks towards the end into true orchestral accompaniment. A truly beautiful song, but not one you can pop on and listen to casually. Not released as a single. "Now I'm spreading your legs / With mine in between / Dear God / If I could, I would help you"
- You Have Killed Me - The album's first single is a rocker in the traditional Morrissey sense, a strong and catchy song declaring how he has apparently been 'killed', referencing himself alongside famous names casually dropped left and right, alongside other Roman references. The video for this song was themed around Eurovision, but it's clearly a cut above the dross that usually comes associated with that little competition. Released as a single on March 27, 2006, reaching number 3. "As I live and breathe, you have killed me, you have killed me / Yes I walk around somehow, but you have killed me"
- The Youngest Was The Most Loved - Another strong guitar-based single swiftly follows. This song fits nicely next to older tracks like "The Boy Racer" as Morrissey laments the fate of said 'Youngest' who became a murderer, almost with a hint of "I told you so!". The song begins with the sound of presumably Italian traffic before kicking off strongly, a welcome continuation of You Have Killed Me's pace. Released as a single on June 5, 2006, it reached 14. "The youngest was the most loved / The youngest was the cherub / We kept him from the world's glare / And he turned into a killer"
- In The Future When All's Well - Things become a little more upbeat and optimistic with the album's third single. Morrissey appears surprised that he's lasted this long, offering his thanks to a mysterious "Lee" and asking for his continued support, while noting in his usual way that the future can only be followed by "a long sleep". Even when he's optimistic he's dour! The music slows down just a tad from the previous two tracks, but is generally quick and pleasantly catchy. This song saw released on August 21, 2006, reaching 17. "Living longer than I had intended / Something must have gone right?"
- The Father Who Must Be Killed - How many artists can write a good song about patricide? Morrissey's taken his turn, and the result is scarily good - joined by an Italian children's choir he lectures the stepchild who, having suffered for too long has finally snapped, before taking a more detatched viewpoint as he details how the child implores his mother to let he go as she joins him in death. Grisly stuff, but the song works wonderfully, although it cannot hold a candle to the yet more powerful "Jack the Ripper" (which sends chills through me every single time...). Not released as a single. "Just as motherless birds fly high / So shall I..."
- Life Is A Pigsty - It's customary for Morrissey's solo albums to have an 'epic', longer than any of the other tracks and forming the album's centrepoint, and here this role is fulfilled by Life Is A Pigsty. The sound of rain floods the speakers as a piano begins, before being met by glass bottles being played as the song truly begins. This is indeed an epic song, and while lyrically less complex than others of this type, it works beautifully. One can really feel the emotion poured into the song, and ever since first hearing it I've adored it. 7:22 long, it uses every second to full effect. Not released as a single. "It's the same old S.O.S. / But with brand new broken fortunes"
- I'll Never Be Anybody's Hero Now - The tempo quickens just a little for a more upbeat (perversely) track. Here, amid the differences between the classes, our protagonist laments that their love lies buried and he's missed his opportunity to be somebody's "hero". This is perhaps one of the weaker tracks, easy to listen to yet not saying particularly much (although featuring some wonderfully humorous lines). Not released as a single. "I am a ghost / And as far as I know / I haven't even died"
- On The Streets I Ran - A much quicker song than the one prior, this track seems to be rather contentious amongst Morrissey's fan base. It gets more flack than I feel it deserves, conveying urgency alongside a great couple of guitar lines. Morrissey's subconscious seems to be at war with him here, seemingly turning on him for being successful, for "turning sickness into (un)popular song". In my opinion, certainly not a bad song at all. Not released as a single. "And when the palmist said / 'One Thursday you will be dead,' / I said 'No, not me / This cannot be'"
- To Me You Are A Work Of Art - Another of the weaker tracks on the album, sadly using the echo effect a little too much on Moz's voice. It seems to plod on a little, featuring a passable but sluggish musical backing and lyrics that don't sit particularly well. The word 'puke' rarely belongs in popular song, and sadly enough, not here. Not released as a single, which is probably just as well. "And I would give you my heart / That's if I had one"
- I Just Want To See The Boy Happy - The fourth and final single from the album is a welcome return of the faster rock numbers, starting strongly and continuing to do so. Declaring looming mortality, Morrissey asks for a final request, being to see 'the boy' - whoever he happens to be - happy in his life. Lyrically the song is simple but works rather nicely, Moz imploring for this unknown person to know happiness where he hasn't as guitars thrash in the background. Unlike earlier, the echo effect works better here. Released as a single rather surprisingly on December 4, 2006, it reached number 16. "I just want to see the boy happy / With his arms around his first love / Is that too much to ask?"
- At Last I Am Born - Finishing the album with a triumphant, boastful flourish, Morrissey answers the question we haven't all been asking by declaring he has been 'born'. He charts the changes in his life - which have indeed been many - announcing his 'birth' as his final passage away from the troubles of the past. Whether or not he has actually put them all behind him remains to be seen, of course. Not a bad way to close the album, although certainly not his best; using a live version of "Speedway" as a recent B-side only shows this off yet more. Still, not bad, certainly. Not released as a single.
Ringleader of the Tormentors is a fine album, and one which Morrissey has gladly toured, featuring many of its tracks in setlists (to the despair of some fans, who'd rather his older material). He's clearly very pleased with it, as am I; although it's not his very best, there's a lot of excellent material on it, and the choices of singles were definitely among them. "Life Is A Pigsty" is so good as to make the whole album worth it on its own. If you're a Morrissey fan, I'd strongly recommend it; if not, it's not as good an introduction as "Vauxhall and I" (which remains the definitive) but is still a fine LP.
All lyrics by Morrissey. Song information taken from my CD and vinyl copies, Passions Just Like Mine, and Wikipedia.