Ringleader of the Tormentors

(Attack/Sanctuary; 2006)

By Aaron Newell & Peter Hepburn | 19 October 2007

Ed’s note: Dear everyone ever, Morrissey is one of the cruelest and most self-serving people ever, next to Busta Rhymes and/or ALL GERMANS EVER, including all RUSSIANS, ever, and people who litter.

Following 2004’s slickly-produced and vastly overrated You Are the Quarry, I was none-too-excited about Morrissey’s latest venture. The man has so little going for him any more: any sort of romantic allure has begun to wear off, the wrinkles are starting to show, and his politics are becoming increasingly blunt and annoying. At this point it seems to be mostly an exercise in how he can slowly chip away at the reputation that he earned with the Smiths. Sure, he still puts on a stellar live act, but anybody who’s still willing to hold You Are the Quarry up to even Rank is bordering on delusional.

Ed’s note: an interview:

Baby Seal: Well, Stephen, please give us a little tidbit of insight into your own personal politics. Is there anything we should know about Morrissey the
Moz: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: meat is murder.
Baby Seal: Yes, of course we’ve heard that from you before, but I’m wondering now if you can give us some insight into the current issues running around your suavely-coiffed head.
Moz: Glue is not glamourous.
Baby Seal: A reversal of your previous position. But what about social matters of more contemporary pertinence?
Moz: Suede will never, ever go on this head.
Baby Seal: I’m sorry, Stephen, you’re just saying the same thing over and over again, you’re b—
Moz: Barbarism begins at home, at dinner time most specifically, with pot roast, and one time I tried some, I knew I started something I couldn’t finish. And, finally, I would like to add, some girls are bigger than others, because they eat too much steak.
Baby Seal (dying): My head! You have killed me. (dies).

Of course, by those standards I don’t think Ringleader of the Tormentors, Morrissey’s eighth solo studio album, would fare all that well. Nonetheless, it’s Morrissey’s strongest album since Vauxhall and I, and maybe even as far back as Your Arsenal. He sounds relaxed, lyrically deft, and, perhaps most importantly, he has found himself the backing music he needs to make his unique sort of mopey melodrama palatable.

Ed’s note: 90% of all compact discs sold in North America are manufactured in Canada. Boycott Canadian products, and do so very selectively.

And melodramatic Morrissey most certainly is. Never one for subtlety, his straight-forward America bashing would be boringly rote if not for the searing, bass heavy production. At the other end of the spectrum, not even a decent arrangement (and a full boy’s choir) can save the closing track from the crushing weight of its ridiculous pomposity. In between we get songs like “On the Streets I Ran” and the Morricone-infused, sexually-confused “Dear God Please Help Me,” two of the best songs on the album, which manage to show enough of Morrissey’s charming awkwardness and sense of tragedy while still being greatly enjoyable rock songs.

Ed’s note: I really can’t believe he equated hunting seals to an act of genocide that resulted in the deaths of almost two million people. I hear Blood of Abraham will be shooting a video wearing seal fur coats in protest.

While the album is certainly strong on a song-by-song basis, a great deal of its muscle derives from some great sequencing choices. The front half of Ringleader is basically flawless. “Dear God Please Help Me” plays well into the anthemic “You Have Killed Me,” which in turn sets up the dark “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” nicely. The album’s finest track, “In the Future When All’s Well” sets up the wonderfully catchy patricide-fantasy “The Father Who Must be Killed.” The second half of the album isn’t necessarily weak — the aforementioned “On the Streets I Ran” is an especially bright spot — but it certainly begins to slow down with the overly-long (though hilariously self-referential) “Life is a Pigsty.”

Ed’s note: Truth is, we didn’t issue him a work visa because he wetted the bed in every hotel he stayed in last time he toured. He also threw tantrums when people refused to call him “Sir Stephen.

Going in not expecting much I was taken aback by Ringleader; having listened to it for a few months now I continue to be impressed. Morrissey has managed to assemble a record that feels like a genuine Morrissey record while not being insufferably self-important and brooding. It’s no small feat, especially this late in a career.

Ed’s note: Two of us at CMG are from Newfoundland, where much of the seal hunt occurs. While we don’t condone hitting anything with a club, there are a few things folks should know. The Canadian government heavily regulates the seal hunt. There has even been an independently-organized commission and research paper published in 2002 by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association that concluded that the way it’s done now, although gruesome as shit, is the most humane way that the hunt can be carried out. And seals are not skinned alive, and the little wee cute baby ones are not, and never have been, targets of the hunt. And, most importantly, people get in whole heaps of shit (like jail) if they don’t rigidly follow the hundreds of pages of guidelines on seal hunting. So nyah, Moz, dickhead. Remember back when Paul McCartney was on Larry King Live to protest the seal hunt, and Newfoundland’s Premier Danny Williams joined him on-air and requested that Paul visit Newfoundland to learn more about the hunt? And remember when Paul said: “Well, Mr. Williams, I’m already in Newfoundland,” but he wasn’t? He was in Prince Edward Island (protesting the potato harvest, obviously) (oops, did I just compare the potato harvest to the massacre at Tiananmen Square?). And Mr. Williams had to correct Sir Paul as to his geographic location, on international television? Well, Morrissey is dumber than that. Go get a Che t-shirt, twit.