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Something gained, something lost.
on 28 May 2006
Let's start with the positives. This album is musically the best that Morrissey has created as a solo artist. His voice sounds smoother and more refined than ever. Indeed, "On The Streets I Ran" (the highlight of the record) rivals anything done by Morrisey or The Smiths in terms of vocal expression. The backing on tracks like "You Have Killed Me" and "I Just Want To See The Boy Happy" is heavier than any of Moz's Smiths work while the album as a whole remains less suffocatingly rockabilly than something like Your Arsenal. There is a lovely balance and variation in the tracks here - from the Turkish hypnosis of opener "I Will See You In Far Off Places" to the rainy ambience of the Ennio Morrocone arranged "Life Is A Pig Sty" and similarily Morrocone influenced "Dear God Please Help Me" driven by church organ and lucious string arrangements.
Yet, if this is the most musically daring and interesting Morrissey effort to date, one key ingredient seems to have suffered tremendously; the lyrics. For some this might not be important but to me this is THE reason par excellence to listen to a Morrissey record. Yet we end up with lines like "there are explosive kegs between my legs". There just seems to be something lacking - where there used to be a key concern for Morrissey in creating his own romantic fantasy of pariah championing Manchester, girls jumping from ferris wheels, and a genuine delicacy in his word-choice we now get obtuse statements like "there is no such thing in life as normal". Where Morrissey was once a shoulder to cry on, an artist in whose work one could always find something empathetic, his lyrics now feel almost like a dictation - there's face value and nothing more. This isn't quite true of all the tracks - "On The Streets I Ran" creates a delightfully ghastly imagery while there are other glimpses of lyrical flair. Yet the majority or the record fails to be nearly as lyrically exciting or appealing as much of Morrissey's cannon has been.
Ringleader of the Tormentors is certainly still an enjoyable listen - tracks like "You Have Killed Me", "The Youngest Was The Most Loved", "In The Future When All's Well", "On The Streets I Ran" (can you tell how much I enjoyed this song yet?!) and indeed a fair few others are extremely catchy, while musically this collection of songs is the most daring Morrissey has been. Yet lyrically there is something significantly lacking. For all its glossy production and big-name contributors Ringleader has lost some of the personal charm of past ventures. It is no doubt incredibley hard for someone who has achieved such tremendous success, and consequently some degree of detachment from reality, to find suitabley compelling subject material, and this is what ultimately means this can't be one of the great Morrissey records.