The two most overhyped parts of growing up?

Easy: losing your virginity and going to college.

Morrissey, the maudlin, sarcastic and delightfully puffed-up bard of Manchester (feeling slighted by Prince’s apparent lyrical emulation, he once referred to The Purple One as “Ponce”) and the progenitor of every contemporary literate, melodic troubled boy singer, is famously celibate. It’s his hook as a songwriter. It was the main hook of The Smiths.

In interviews he’d say things like “the last person to see me naked was the doctor who brought me into this cruel world.” He’d reference Keats and Yeats while guitarist Johnny Marr would stir up digital flakes with delay pedal abuse. Then The Smiths broke up and he stayed bitter, churning out dependable albums of ennui and grief, guilt and literary obsessions.

But all the while, he stayed innocent. Miserable and over the top, but as of yet physically untouched.

The Ringleader of Tormentors, the 10th solo album from Moz, could finally be the exit ticket from Morrissey’s dark little exile. Two songs into the album, he starts singing about “explosive kegs between my legs.” For the early stretch of the disc he actually sings happily about thighs, glances and sweet, sweet release.

Wait.

Did he finally give in? Is it over?

It sure sounds like it. The rich, dappled production of Tormentors was all made during Morrissey’s extended stay in Rome with help of famed post-punk producer Tony Visconti and even legendarily lush Italian producer Ennio Morricone. The melodies themselves certainly sound a bit more experienced: guitar solos lashing out, drum fills snapping. Musicially, at least, the album shows portions of uninhibited punch.

New Morrissey is loose, loose-lipped and already a little sappy: “I entered nothing / and nothing entered me / till you came / with the key.”

Damn, that’s some revelatory love.

But right after the halfway point, right after Morrissey has torn through surprisingly up-tempo, sunny licks like the earnest, almost arena-ready stomp of “In The Future When All’s Well,” the old pope of mope comes calling.

Even this beautiful Roman holiday comes crashing down around Moz’s inner demons. The dependable upbeat backing band on the album – Jesse Tobias on guitars, Matt Chamberlain on drums and the pleasingly indispensable Michael Farrell playing everything from piano to trombone – only makes the fall from sunny, sexual, liberate Moz to the old-hat, dry, moody Manchester boy a little more forced.

We liked Tormentors when Morrissey was happily playing in the Roman sunshine, we don’t need him to chime in with old hook-y morals like: “Dear God when will I be / Where I should be?”

No, no, no, no. When you lose your V-card, you don’t get to go acting like a timid young squire again. You can pout and whine, but act like you’ve been there before. And yeah, the second half of the album is reliable and witty Morrissey. But after the breezy sojurn in his newly liberated internal space, pushing us out so easily makes it look like the whole sex thing was no big deal. Bummer.

And if anyone thought Morrissey might come back to the released grin of the album’s first half, along comes the aborted catharthis of “I Just Want to See the Boy Happy”

You’re not the only one, buddy.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Morrissey
The Ringleader of the Tormentors
Attack

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