Tuesday 18th April 2006
Morrissey is one of those few artists who invariably ignite discussion from those who both love him and loathe him. The launch of his latest album is no exception, engendering a media furore over the enigmatic star that he has enjoyed since the critical acclaim of his previous album, “You Are The Quarry”, after quite some time in the wilderness.
The public and critics alike have admired and acknowledged Morrissey’s more recent return to form, and “Ringleader of the Tormentors” has been hailed as his Opus Magnus, possibly even outdoing the much-lauded “You are the Quarry”, and certainly giving him unprecedented commercial success with the album reaching the Number One slot in the charts.
It is not difficult to see why Morrissey is so popular again. This is another superior album, and offers a rare alternative to the sort of mainstream rock that forms the bulk of the album charts. Whereas Morrissey’s cult band “The Smiths” were claimed by a nastily pretentious set of pseudo-intellectual students who were still in nappies when the albums were made, his recent solo albums have managed to achieve what previously seemed impossible – mass appeal. He enjoys popularity amongst divergent sets of music aficionados, from the disaffected young to aging rockers and serious music lovers. Hopefully his popularity will endure and his new-found fan-base will outnumber the old.
The cover of the album gives a fair indication of what it has in store. It is made to look like a classical album, with a black and white portrait photograph of Morrissey clad in evening attire playing the violin. It is fair to say, judging by the quality of the dozen songs that make up the album that Morrissey has pulled off a classic. The beautiful second track, “Dear God Please Help Me”, introduces the Italian theme that runs throughout the songs, and is blessed with sumptuous string arrangements by Ennio Morricone, the outstanding film score composer. Having now relocated to Italy following his brief, unlikely time in the US, Morrissey seems to have immersed himself in a completely different culture and sound. The album was recorded in Rome and the inside photograph depicts Morrissey standing next to a moped. “I am walking through Rome with my heart on a string, Dear God please help me,” he croons in his instantly recognisable morose tones. A different country, maybe, but unmistakably Morrissey.
The album contains the usual explorations of human weaknesses, notably in “The Youngest was the Most Loved”, in which the youngest child, shielded from the cruel world, grows up to become a killer, and “The Father Who Must Be Killed”, in which a much put-upon step-child takes an extreme revenge. It is the usual macabre Morrissey storytelling, peppered with humour (though not as much as usual).
Other standout tracks are the first single, “You Have Killed Me” which, despite its defeatist-sounding title, is very catchy, and the more poetic “To Me You Are A Work of Art”.
The album is very accessible and contains strong songs, and is amongst Morrissey’s finest achievements. The man will always be an acquired taste, but if you are thinking about investing in some of his post-The Smiths work, this album is a good place to start.