Age gives you a great sense of proportion. You can be very hard on yourself when you're younger but now I just think...well everybody's absolutely mad and I'm doing quite well.
Age shouldn't affect you. It's just like the size of your shoes - they don't determine how you live your life! You're either marvelous or you're boring, regardless of your age. - Morrissey
Whenever one speaks about Morrissey, after cheap quips about his latest controversial quote or act, the topic of age is bound to arise. The Smiths are often unfairly (but understandably) thought of as merely a soundtrack to angst-filled adolescence, something to be grown out of and only revisited out of nostalgia. The thought of Morrissey continuing on a solo career well into his forties and still catering to shy, bookish teenagers may lead some to cry "one-trick pony" or "has-been," but to his (sometimes infamously) devoted fanbase, the man can still do no wrong, even as a world-weary geezer.
As an artist, the Moz is nothing if not consistent, so what exactly separates his latest work, Ringleader of the Tormenters, from established solo classics like Vauxhall and I and Your Arsenal? To be honest: not much at all. Upon the release of 2004's You Are the Quarry, his first album in seven years and purported comeback, cynics noted that the man is essentially doing the same exact thing he's always done, only this time it's met with hype and unfounded (to them) critical praise. Even as a longtime Smiths/Morrissey fan, I'm inclined to agree that his work has generally not seen a lot of variety, but in my case as well as scores of other fanatics', this is exactly what makes him so great; he's got a winning formula and is not afraid to use it. He may not be breaking any new ground, but he can sure still cook up a batch of excellent songs to compile into a solid album.
Ringleader of the Tormentors plays like a singles collection: nearly every song could be a smash hit, but the album hardly has anything in the way of flow or overall cohesion. "You Have Killed Me," "The Youngest Was the Most Loved," and "In the Future When All's Well" are all classic Moz: perfectly sculpted pop songs with strong hooks and lyrics that range from scathingly biting to gloriously self-indulgent mopery. The multipart epic "Life is a Pigsty," with its plaintive piano and stock rainfall, evokes Disintegration-era Cure and lyrically revisits the common theme (for Morrissey) of love vs. death ("Even now, in the final hour of my life/ I'm falling in love/ Again"). The album kind of putters out towards the end, but only after the beautiful "To Me You Are A Work Of Art," officially one of my new favorite Morrissey songs of all time.
Ringleader of the Tormentors may be unlikely to go down in history as the best work of Morrissey's career, but it is an impressively solid effort demonstrating the unlikely staying power of one of the 80s' most singular exports.
7.5 / 10
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