Morrissey has built on the success of ‘comeback’ album ‘You are the Quarry’ with his strongest, most assured, set of songs since ‘Vauxhall and I’. Recorded in Rome with legendary producer, Tony Visconti, ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors’ is full of passion and drama, and features a rich blend of sounds, including a children’s choir and strings arranged by Ennio Morricone.
The album opens with ‘I Will See You In Far Off Places’, with its rumbling electronic rhythms, Arabic motif, and vague lyrics about the afterlife, but it’s the second track, ‘Dear God Please Help Me’, where the record really hits its stride.
There are explosive kegs
Between my legs
Dear God, please help me
– Morrissey implores over delicate piano accompaniment. And later, over a shimmer of strings –
The heart feels free
Indeed, the album is littered with comments that point to a happier, contented (if not perfect) life.
Another highlight, the closing track, ‘At Last I Am Born’, sees the artist declare –
I once was a mess of guilt because of the flesh
It’s remarkable what you can learn
Once you are born, born, born
‘To Me You Are A Work Of Art’ and ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ are other tracks hinting at the possibility of love, albeit in a world otherwise bereft of goodness.
The latter song is a seven-minute epic that starts moodily, a throbbing bass over sounds of rain, and ends with clattering drums and splintered guitar, over which Morrissey intones –
Can you stop this pain?
Even now in the final hour of my life
I’m falling in love again
‘To Me To Are A Work Of Art’ offers a similar view of the importance of love in an otherwise bleak existence.
I see the world
It makes me puke
But then I look at you and know
That somewhere there’s a someone who can soothe me
Amid these more dramatic moments there are some fabulously catchy pop songs – the first single, ‘You Have Killed Me’, with its references to Italian film directors, ‘In The Future When All’s Well’ and ‘The Father Who Must Be Killed’, with its menacing verse and singalong chorus.
For me, the only misstep is ‘On The Streets I Ran’, a rather pedestrian rocker amid a set of gems.
Apart from this one track, the album exudes a confidence missing from Morrissey’s music for many years. Where ‘Quarry’ was tentative, ‘Ringleader’ is assured. And his voice has never sounded stronger. The vocal in ‘I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now’, for example, might even induce ‘I Know It’s Over’ flashbacks.
The reasons behind this newfound confidence might be numerous – a new writing partner (five of the songs were co-written with new boy, Jesse Tobias), Rome, Tony Visconti, a generally adoring press, the success of ‘You Are The Quarry’ and subsequent tours.
Or maybe it is just love.