Album Review: Morrissey – The Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)

Morrissey finally finds a way to make himself look more pretentious. It wasn't easy.

MorrisseyThe Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)

Track Listing

1. I Will See You In Far Off Places
2. Dear God, Please Help Me
3. You Have Killed Me
4. The Youngest Was The Most Loved
5. In The Future When All Is Well
6. The Father Who Must Be Killed
7. Life Is A Pigsty
8. I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero
9. On The Street I Ran
10. To Me You Are A Work Of Art
11. I Just Want To See The Boy Happy
12. At Last I Am Born

Morrissey‘s latest album kicks off with a tour-de-force track, “I Will See You In Far Off Places” announcing an exciting new direction for his music after 2004’s comeback album You are the Quarry. Filled with horns, soaring guitars, pulsating drums, and Morrissey’s trademark grandiose vocals, the song has a Middle Eastern flair that gives it an epic feel to go along with Moz’s incendiary lyrics. The addition of Tony Visconti as producer promised changes in Moz’s sound, and with the first track, it seems like the pairing was a success.

Unfortunately, no other track on the album matches the energy of the first track, and few even sound similar to the exciting new direction it promised. The immediacy given to the album by the track is quickly evaporated with the second track, “Dear God, Please Help Me”, a good song in its own right (featuring an Ennio Morricone string arrangement), but too quiet and deliberate to maintain the energy of “I Will See You In Far Off Places”. Chalk it up to poor album placement, because it is one the album’s best tracks, with more sexual immediacy than any Morrissey track I can think of since… well… The Smiths “Handsome Devil” (but, to be fair, I’m not that familiar with Moz’s early solo work).

A better choice would’ve been to follow with track three “You Have Killed Me”, the lead off single of the album. While not as strong as the opener, it at least matches that track’s urgency, playing off Moz’s new residence of Rome, so it also blends with the first track’s international flare. It’s a catchy track, which makes it a wise choice for a single.

These are the three strongest tracks of the album, with the rest each suffering from various problems, keeping them from being the excellent tracks I’d hoped for when experiencing “I Will See You In Far Off Places”. “The Youngest Was The Most Loved” is catchy, but in an unwelcome way, employing one of the most highly pretentious tricks in all of music, the children’s choir. Which I find annoying. Plus, thematically, it’s a little too close to You are the Quarry‘s “First of the Gang to Die” for me to see it as necessary. “The Father Who Must Be Killed” also has the children’s choir, so that’s a minus. “Life is a Pigsty” is more Moz misery, which I don’t mind necessarily (I am a fan of his music), but, again, nothing special.

Which is ultimately the problem I have with The Ringleaders of the Tormentors. What originally looked so special and different, ended up being standard issue in the end. There are no bad songs on this album, and Morrissey fans should appreciate it, but their are a few average songs, and good songs that are similar to what Moz gave us two years ago. And if he didn’t tantalise me with tracks like the first three of this album, then I might appreciate tracks like “I Just Want to See the Boy Happy” and “To Me You are a Work of Art” more, with their sweeping Moz harmonies and horns and such. Instead, the album feels like a transition album, with Morrissey testing out a new sound, then filling it out with his old sound.

Instead, he should’ve taken another year or so trying out his new influences and Italian mindset and come out with something unique. He already released a live album in 2005, so its not like he was going to fall off the radar with another year off (hell, he took seven years off between Maladjusted and You are the Quarry, and by all reports, was better off for it). So while The Ringleaders of the Tormentors gave me my Morrissey fix, I can’t help but seeing it as an overall slight disappointment.


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