Having enjoyed a blistering return to form with 2004’s You Are The Quarry, anticipation isn’t merely at fever pitch. No, it’s actually on a scale far beyond that, universal even, as to what Steven Patrick Morrissey can serve up with his second album in two years. Since his relocation to LA, and long time sojourn in Rome, where the majority of Ringleader Of The Tormentors was recorded, he seems to have developed a whole new lust for life, and for once, he isn’t afraid to let us know about it either. Forget all the Chinese whispers you may have heard and read about, because Ringleader Of The Tormentors really is a chronicle of some of it’s creator’s most intimate secrets.
Not that you’d be any wiser after the opening bars of first track ‘I Will See You In Far Off Places’, which musically sounds like ‘How Soon Is Now’ re-recorded in an Istanbul Bordello by the local timpani orchestra. “Nobody knows what human life is…why we come, why we go” eschews Morrissey over it’s Eastern palate, before the song’s anti-Gulf War statements manifest themselves in the line “If the USA doesn’t bomb you, I believe I will see you, somewhere safe, messing around and pulling faces.”
It’s on the Ennio Morricone-arranged gospel concerto ‘Dear God, Please Help Me’ though where the intimacy really kicks in, as His Master declares his intent from the off (“There are explosive kegs between my legs”) like some sexually deprived artisan – which many have been led to believe he was for at least two decades – before erupting in magnanimous joy at his success in coveting a relationship at last (“…Now I’m spreading your legs with mine between!”).
And maybe herein lies the secret of Morrissey’s new found happiness? At long last he’s found stability with A.N.other and ‘Ringleader…’ is his celebratory cry. From the rooftops.
‘To Me You Are A Work Of Art’, again musically reminiscent of an Eastern take on Smiths days of yore (this time_ ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’) declares quite sporadically that _“I know there is someone who can soothe me” while first single ‘You Have Killed Me’, with it’s trademark rockabilly as played in the local indie niterie arrangement sees the main tormentor himself admit “I entered nothing, and nothing entered me, until you came with the key and did your best…”. So I guess the days of celibacy are long gone then SP?
The rest of the record however is as much a fascinating journey through Morrissey’s record collection as it is with the complexities of his mind. For starters, getting the legendary Tony Visconti to produce the record was something of a coup de grace in itself, as Morrissey, known to be a fan of his work, particularly with the likes of T-Rex and David Bowie, seems to have revisited his adolescence on the glam rock nuance of ‘In The Future When All’s Well’ while the use of an Italian children’s choir on ‘The Father Who Must Be Killed’, ‘The Youngest Was The Most Loved’ and climactic finale ‘At Last I Am Born’ at a sense of both mystique and fear, as the frailty in their voices could almost double up as a sinister score for some Stephen King horror film.
Granted, not all of Ringleader Of The Tormentors makes comfortable listening, as what was no doubt meant to be the seven minute opus of ‘Life Is A Pigsty’, with Mozzer’s “It’s the same old SOS…” introductory line, meandering along at a sauntering pace before losing direction and turning into a cathartic dirge amidst a hail of thunderclaps. Likewise ‘On The Streets I Ran’, which is Morrissey-by-numbers filler, although the autobiographical line “I turned sickness into popular song” ranks as one of the best lyrical asides on the record.
Still, the album contains at least half a dozen potential singles, with the likes of ‘I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now’ and ‘I Just Want To See The Boy Happy’ as well as the aforementioned_ ‘The Father…’_ and_ ‘Dear God…’ _all expected to be fighting for airspace on MTV and 6Music in the not-too-distant future.
So to sum Ringleader Of The Tormentors up, while it may be the most proficient musical record that Morrissey has put out in aeons, and again most of the plaudits for that must land at the feet of messrs Visconti and Morricone, and some will say to a large extent his least traumatic, it doesn’t quite measure up to the high standards set by You Are The Quarry or the superlative debut that was Viva Hate but still suggests there’s plenty more fuel in Ol’ Misery Guts’ creative tank yet.
7Dom Gourlay's Score