Where do you start when reviewing the latest album from the iconic vocalist of what was one of the most important bands in the history of alternative music? Love him or hate him, it is impossible to deny the impact that Morrissey has had on music today. As a longtime and slightly obsessed fan, I was thrilled to get a preview of his latest album, Ringleader Of The Tormentors, earlier this year. After hearing the album in its entirety one time through, my initial thoughts were that this was a brilliant record. Of course, some of that could have been due to simply being a bit overly excited to be listening to new Morrissey. Now that I have my own copy, I have spent some serious time with the album. After many, many listens over the past few days, I will go out on a limb by saying that this is the finest collection of songs he has released since his stunning 1994 album, Vauxhall And I.
The album begins with the bombastic opening track "I Will See You In Far Off Places," immediately showing the work of legendary producer Tony Visconti. The song literally explodes with an eruption of bass drum, Middle Eastern melodies, horns and the three-pronged guitar assault of Boz Boorer, Alain Whyte and Jesse Tobias. This is one hell of a way to kick off an album. Next up is "Dear God Please Help Me", which is just as enormous of a song, but in a much different way. The song opens with nothing more than an organ and Morrissey's vocals, singing higher up in his range than normal. A simple rumbling drum line and a majestic string arrangement by Ennio Morricone eventually joins in, making one of the most beautiful musical moments in the Mozzer's career.
Ringleader isn't all just soaring melodies and huge production, as the band gets an opportunity to rock on the first single, "You Have Killed Me." On songs like this one, you can tell that this was much more of a collaborative rock record than we have heard from Moz's past solo albums. His band continues to take center stage on "The Youngest The Most Loved" and "In The Future Is All Well." The latter is one of my favorites on the record, with some of the finest harmonies he has ever recorded. Big guitars, catchy melodies and vocal perfection with a hint of rockabilly will easily win over fans of old and new.
The highlight of this album is the cinematic "Life Is A Pigsty," containing several different musical movements under the umbrella of one song title. This is more of a mini-opera than a rock track, beginning with the sound of rain falling and a churning, dark instrumental opening with drums, piano and bass. The second movement of the song breaks down to an acoustic guitar and a bass drum, during which Moz repeats the title of the song until he declares: "and I've been shifting gears all of my life, but I'm still the same underneath." He continues: "Can you please stop the pain?" Ah, that is the depressing Morrissey that we know and love. This spectacular piece of work is one of his finest epics to date, showing an artist who has plenty of sorrow left to share.
After all of this, you'd think that the album would begin to wind down. Oh no, my friends, as we still have five songs to go. Morrissey steps up to the plate, giving us one of his finest vocal performances ever on "I'll Never Be Anybody's Hero Now", easily jumping to falsetto during the chorus. He picks up the pace on the rocker "I Just Want To See The Boy Happy," jam-packed with crunchy guitars and a trombone solo. It is marvelous.
I could go on and on, but I'll end it here. This is a classic Morrissey record, from the artwork to the lyrics. While far too many artists would have thrown in the towel by now, the Mozfather still has quite a bit to say. This is the album I have been waiting twelve years for and Morrissey finally delivered. Well done.