Monday, April 10, 2006

Morrissey, "Ringleader of the Tormentors"

"Your songs are not as good as they once were".

A review of Morrissey's new album

I bet he knows it. Ok, what a joy when your new album is strutting triumphantly at no.1. But what an odd state of affairs, to reach your commercial peak when your inspiration's gone to the dogs. If you think that Morrissey endured years and years of stick right when he was putting out some seriously inspired good stuff. He was pilloried while, for better or for worse, each of his 90s albums had some real depth, a specific tinge, some experimentation. Yes, even the clumsy stammer that was Kill Uncle, the rockabilly hooks of 1992's Your Arsenal, not to mention the heart-rending Vauxhall and I which, while the NME was busy issuing its anti-Moz fatwa, was hailed by his fans as up there along with the best of The Smiths. Those were the days when Britain was in awe of the flash in the pan of Oasis, Blur & co. Yet Mozzer seemed on a one-man mission, a release after the other, Boxers and Southpaw Grammar sporting some of his most daring music to date, brutal and violent, the guy clearly with a score to settle against bucketloads of nasty, nasty press. Put simply, if you liked Morrissey solo in the 90s you were considered a freak. It's only with the unimaginative Maladjusted (1997) that some cracks finally showed, even though Morrissey could still pen gems like 'Trouble Loves Me'.

What follows is well documented. The tale of a massive comeback after seven years in the wilderness without a record deal, Morrissey finally being paid his dues with a place in history. Were it not for the old law of pendulum-swings and revivals due every 20 years, the change of heart would be all but inexplicable. In 2004, you had to like Morrissey. His new label invested on him and did so heavily. He was the flavour of the year, TV, radio and magazines, namechecked by the new hordes of 80s revivalists. Yet it was obvious that You Are The Quarry sucked, as simple as that. Just one big clump of MoR, and ten more listens down the road you still wouldn't remember a single tune (except...maybe... 'First of The Gang To Die'). Which is why many long term fans hoped for a reprieve when the release of Ringleader of the Tormentors was announced. His move to Rome was seen as a promising change of scenery for a man in desperate need of new ideas. And yes, his interviews are still the most interesting ever. In a music-scene epitomised by the cerebral death of stuff akin to Channel 4's Popworld, it's always refreshing to read Morrissey telling it like it is.

But the music? Ringleader of the Tormentors is Quarry-part 2, just a touch better. Mostly, another clump of unremarkable MoR starved of hooks and brilliance, stifled by those trademark- alas- mildly dull distorted guitars. Little sticks in your mind. In a word, bland. You can even sing the tune of You Are The Quarry's 'I Like You', on top of the new single 'You Have Killed Me'. It just goes nowhere. And it's the usual collection of "i-forgive-you, please-god-help-me, I-live-longer-than-intended", none of the genius social observation of Your Arsenal, the wit of Bona Drag, and only glimpses of the passion of Vauxhall And I. It's only when the trite and tiresome tangle of sapid guitars keeps quiet that the music and vocals do have a chance to shine, like in the gorgeous, stunningly wholehearted 'Dear God Please Help Me' (featuring arrangements by Ennio Morricone). In fact, the whole album is gagging for those dreary guitars to shut up. As such, the few moments with new ideas are indeed quite brilliant: Tony Visconti's laudable production is tangible on the 'Panic'-like choir of 'The Youngest Was The Most Loved', or tracks that don't rely on the usual MoR formula (the glam-stomp of 'The Father Who Must Be Killed', the eastern swirl of the touchingly anti-Bush 'I Will See You In Far Off Places', the drums and trombone of ‘I Just Want To See The Boy Happy’ and the eerie piano of 'Life Is A Pigsty').

In 1990 Morrissey wrote a b-side called 'Get Off The Stage', a scathing attack on ageing rockstars who just can't jack it in. How ironic, how foretelling. In the meantime I'll stick the title 'Your songs are not as good as they once were' on this review. It sounds, would you believe it, almost Morrissey-esque.

1 comment:

Chriswab said...

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