Ringleader of the Tormentors
Release Date: April 4, 2006
I knew this album, Morrissey's eighth proper solo album since the 1987 split of the Smiths, was going to be a mixed affair when early reports contradicted each other. Guitarist Alain Whyte claimed that it was going to be a sonic thriller right up there with the glam-influenced "Your Arsenal." Morrissey claimed it was going to be a serene collection of songs, his most gentle yet. Producer Tony Visconti, the fellow behind 12 Bowie albums, 13 Marc Bolan/t-Rex albums and um, three Thin Lizzy LPs, didn't give up much when he stepped in for Jeff Salzman (of the Killers fame who bowed out early in the sessions - - thanks to outsideLeft reader "Zipp" for that notation).
So now that it's all said and done and the reviewer copies are mailed out, it's a mixture of both: some songs sound like punchy pop songs Bolan or Mick Ronson might have shaped 30 years ago. On the other hand, there are a few poorly written ballads, speed bumps if you will, that dilapidate the pace of Ringleader. Fortunately for everyone involved, there are enough strong tunes in the bunch to outweigh the clunkers. But it's going to take a few listens for the gems to shine through the rubble - this one's a grower as the kids like to say.
So with that long-winded intro, I got my hands on a very rare promo copy of Morrissey's Ringleader of the Tormentors (no you can't have it - I'm keeping this one) and after several dozen listens over the weekend, I can now finally give you the official outsideLeft review in its entirety. You're gonna want to print out a copy of this one and glue it in your scrapbooks, kids...br />
I Will See You In Far-off Places
The all-important opening track has obvious middle eastern tinges in the forms of mosque chanting, slithering guitar sustain, finger cymbals and the like - a very bold opening for sure. The first time I heard this track (in its bootlegged form) in December 2005, I assumed that Ringleader was going to be the greatest album ever made in the history of recorded music. Then I heard the next song about a week later and went to bed for the next six days. I think that moment was the flashpoint for the current bout of depression I'm dealing with. A nice way to set up the listener with a cracking tune only to swipe the rug from under them with a stinker - in other words, read on...br />Grade: 7 of 10
Dear God Please Help Me
One of those torch songs that Morrissey was attempting to perfect on You Are The Quarry. What we have here is "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" with less balls. No crunching glammy Mick Ronson-inspired guitars here. This one is full of harpsichords, layers of organs and a funeral march drum pattern. Oh, and the already infamous lyrics: "There are explosive kegs/In between my legs," "Now I'm spreading your legs/with mine in between" and "Then he motions to me with his hand on my knee." Interesting choice of a song for the number two slot - he's almost daring the listeners to press the forward button. This is filler at best, b-side at worst.
Grade: 2 of 10
You Have Killed Me
The campaign's leadoff single and a smart move considering it's probably the hookiest, radio friendly song on the LP. In terms of music and melody, it's a bit like a lightweight "Irish Blood, English Heart." Bouncy verses and simple chord progressions, but the hook is only barely there. Lyrically, This one just treading water - another plea for unrequited love. This relates closest to 1994's "Vauxhall and I"
Grade: 6 of 10
The Youngest Was The Most Loved
There was a time when a song such as this was administered to the b-side of a strong Morrissey single and we were happy about it because it was a great bonus track. But does this hold up as a track worthy of an album? No, no, no. For starters, the Italian children's choir is completely out of place. If you were hoping the kiddies were going to evoke strains of desperation like they did on the Smiths' track, "Panic," you'll be sorely mistaken here. This one is catchy, but the song never goes anywhere - it sounds like a throwaway track. Repetitive with no hooks. By the way, this one is dog-eared to be the second single - start saving your pennies.
Grade: 4 of 10
In The Future When All's Well
This is a strange one - sort of like an acoustic version of T. Rex's "Bang-a-Gong" and Morrissey's b-side sleeper, "Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice." This is a slight retread of Morrissey's past and normally, that's enough to second guess the quality of a song by any artist, but we're five songs into this album and at this point, the listener starts grabbing hold of any track that sounds remotely entertaining. I would have liked to hear this as either the second song of this album or the very last (there's a subtle "see you next time" feeling to the tune), but what do I know? I've only been a fan since 1985. Nice guitar break for the bridge, nice upbeat tempo - this one gets my seal of approval. Good news here, this is the third single and it should be released as such this summer.
Grade: 7 of 10
The Father Who Must Be Killed
Not all that bad of a tune when the chorus kicks in with its nice driving guitars - very British and good use of the Italian children's choir. The verses on the other hand seem a little forced. Still, this is a nice track - it's a shame that the album couldn't thus far, have been as strong as this tune.
Grade: 7 of 10
Life Is A Pigsty
This is the song that everyone's calling the centerpiece of the LP and I wanted it to be as well. After all, it's the only record that long time guitarist Alain Whyte wrote (newcomer Jessie Tobias wrote everything else) and it's Whyte's comeback of sorts after a brief hiatus from the band after he took time off for depression. I wish I could take time off due to my depression - I can assure Whyte that his depression is nowhere near as bad as mine, but I digress. So "Pigsty" - it's OK and just OK. It's a mid-to-slow tempo funeral march (yes, another one) without a hook or catchy melody. As far as lyrics are concerned, nothing new here either - old Mozzer's treading old ground with no new insight.
Grade: 5 of 10
I'll Never Be Anybody's Hero Now
I don't hate this one. It's a bit generic in terms of the melody or the execution of the song itself, but this is one of the perfect example of Morrissey's word play and histrionics making an average song sound exquisite. Think "Late Night, Maudlin Street" on this one. There was a time in 1994 during the Vauxhall and I era when this little chestnut would have been saved for a b-side or a stand-alone single, but these are desperate years. The sleeper hit on this album.
Grade: 8 of 10
On The Streets I Ran
Funny that the album finally starts to pick up now. This poppy four-minute rocker probably should have been up higher on the track listing and we probably should have gotten a couple more like these earlier on as well. It still has the high gloss that plagued You Are The Quarry, but it's just nice to see everyone in the band striking their instruments with a little gusto. With that said, by no means is this worthy of a single release, but it's right up there with "Dagenham Dave" and much better than the second slotted single ("The Youngest Was Most Loved"). It's almost like Morrissey wants to fail - why can't this one be a single?
Grade: 7 of 10
To Me You Are A Work Of Art
Maybe one of the worst titled songs Morrissey's ever penned. He's having sex now and it's showing its ugly head, like bad poetry on a MySpace.com website. But how's the song? This is one of those times when the music overshadows the lyrics. Morrissey sounds like a stupid lovesick teenage girl with lines like "I see the world, it makes me puke" and "And I give you my heart if I had one." Where's the inspiration? Where's the sense of mystery? And it just loops over and over like that. The actual music is very nice though - atmospheric even. Sort of reminds me of Suede's Dog Man Star. Tony Visconti actually leaves his masterful fingerprints on this one.
Grade: 6 of 10
I Just Want To See The Boy Happy
Yes, Yes, Yes! The second to last song, but he finally hits the nail on the head with this one. He comes straight out of the corner as the distorted guitars rev up like a lost Cult riff by Billy Duffy. Perfect music, perfect lyrics, perfect tone, perfect delivery. There's even a muted trumpet during the bridge - fucking genius. This should have been the leadoff track. If this song did kickoff this album (along with the tinkering of the rest of the song order and extracting "Dear God Please Help Me" and "The Youngest Was Most Loved") this would have been Morrissey's finest album since the split of the Smiths.
Grade: 10 of 10
At Last I Am Born
So Ennio Morricone's contributions finally make their way to the forefront and again, this is another beautiful track buried at the bottom of the pile. This one is probably the album's most layered and sophisticated track. Lots of strings, timpanis, cellos, tubas, French horns and that unmistakable tremolo guitar riff that has accompanied every spaghetti western that Sergio Leone ever made. Morrissey got it right this time with the placement of this track - it's a perfect closer, it's very regal, almost ceremonial.
Grade: 8 of 10
It's a shame that Morrissey couldn't edit himself on "Ringleader" - it's the only thing that made this album good as opposed to epic. If he rearranges the track listing and gets rid of a couple of the slow songs at the beginning, Morrissey becomes everyone's hero again. Unfortunately, the way it stands, this is just a good album that's going to give the finger that presses the forward button on your iPod a good workout.
Overall grade: 7 of 10
All images within the body of this review are courtesy of Tony Visconti.