CD Review of Ringleader of the Tormentors by Morrissey

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Ringleader of the Tormentors
starstarstarno starno star Label: Sanctuary
Released: 2006
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When word leaked out that producer Tony Visconti – famed for manning the boards for T. Rex’s Electric Warrior and The Slider, not to mention a sizable amount of David Bowie’s classic ‘70s output – would be taking the reins for Morrissey’s new album, Ringleader of the Tormentors, people were excited. Then, when the news broke that legendary composer Ennio Morricone, of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” fame, would be making a rare foray into the recording studio to provide string arrangements for one of the songs, even more people found their curiosity piqued.

So why is it that Ringleader, which comes on the heels of the critical and chart success of You Are the Quarry, is ultimately a disappointment?

Well, rest assured, it isn’t the lyrics. Morrissey still has his usual way with words, with great lines like, “There are explosive kegs / Between my legs” (“Dear God Please Help Me”) or, when he gets offhandedly political in “I Will See You In Far Off Places” by crooning, “If your God bestows protection upon you / And if the USA doesn’t bomb you / I believe I will see you / Somewhere, safe.” The much-vaunted happiness Morrissey has reportedly found is evident throughout the disc, but particularly in the album’s bombastic closing track, “At Last I Am Born,” where he declares:

Historians note
I am finally born
I once used to chase
Affection withdrawn
But now I just sit back and yawn
I once thought that I
Had numerous reasons to cry
And I did – but I don’t anymore
Because I am born, born, born

There’s also the instant-classic first single that’s a hallmark of all Morrissey albums; in this case, it’s “You Have Killed Me,” where – presumably as a result of recording the disc in Rome – he throws around references to Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, his film “Accatone,” and Italian actress Anna Magnani, as well as Rome’s Piazza Cavour.

Unfortunately, much of the album is, musically speaking, Morrissey by the numbers. There are certainly stand-outs among the songs, like the Eastern flair of the aforementioned “I Will See You in Far Off Places,” or “In The Future When All’s Well,” which has single potential – and the fact that the latter song as well as “You Have Killed Me” were co-written by Mozzer’s new collaborator, Jesse Tobias, could potentially bode well for the future – but too much of the material comes and goes without a trace. It’s not that it’s awful, you understand. (If it was, then we’d be all about the Kill Uncle II: Electric Boogaloo jokes.) If anything, it’s more like a sequel to Malajusted, which, despite a fair amount of critics using it as proof that Mozzer was all washed up, really wasn’t that bad. Its greatest sin was simply that it was, well, just another Morrissey album.

And that’s what Ringleader of the Tormentors is: just another Morrissey album. It’s neither awful nor brilliant, and, with enough spins, all the songs will no doubt grow on you…but given the pedigree of the participants, it really should’ve been a slam dunk.

~Will Harris