By JAMES PARKER  |  March 27, 2006

It might have interfered a bit, however, with my enjoyment of the new Morrissey album, his eighth, Ringleader of the Tormentors (Sanctuary; out April 4), recorded in Italy and written with the assistance of new guitarist Jesse Tobias. All Morrissey’d up, as it were, by Simpson, in a big lather of Morrissey-hood, I listened to Ringleader with pointy ears and found it to be . . . ghastly. Ghastly! The production by Tony Visconti, who in his prime worked with Bowie and Bolan, made no sense to me at all: cruelly shrill singing children, cack-handed allusions to his illustrious past (like the T. Rex chug that opens “In the Future When All’s Well”), random splashes of Ennio Morricone, and an outsize Moz voice horning through the mix, flapping dirty-sheet lines like “I see the world, it makes me puke.” And no tunes. Tunes, Morrissey, tunes! Like “Dagenham Dave.” Remember?

But I was going at it all wrong. You mustn’t listen to Morrissey in the context of himself: you must listen to him in the context of everything else, of KFC and James Frey and The Apprentice. Silhouetted against universal stultification, Morrissey regains his magnificence. Who but he can saunter the streets and piazzas of Rome, tremendously serenading his own balls? “There are explosive kegs/Between my legs,” he sings, with real feeling, in “Dear God, Please Help Me.” Ringleaders does suffer from a lack of hooks. “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” has a good one — “We hid him from the world’s glare/And he turned into a KILL-ER” — and the single “You Have Killed Me” reveals itself upon third or fourth listen to be a stone-cold Moz masterpiece: “As I live and breathe/You have killed me, you have killed me/Yes I walk around somehow/But you have killed me, you have killed me.”

But elsewhere Visconti allows his man a windy, decompassed latitude — the band thrash and wallow through glam chunkiness, scuffling Mozzabilly, and torch-song sprawl, and the singer goes yodeling off into solipsism. “The Father Who Must Be Killed,” some sort of abuse/homicide drama or Oliver Stone operetta, may be the worst Morrissey song ever. “Just as motherless birds fly high/Then so shall I.” Good Lord. “Life Is a Pigsty” improves things somewhat, as the Moz appears undecided as to the wearing of a cardigan: on or off? “I’m too cold/Now I’m too warm again/Can you please stop this pain?” The closing track, “At Last I Am Born,” sprinkled with space squelch and creaking, dislocated Morricone strings, is simply very, very odd. “The spectral hand . . . blah blah blah,” mutters Morrissey into an echo box, as his band search half-heartedly for that elusive resolving chord. In a couple of weeks I might think it’s fantastic.

Marks out of 10 for Ringleader of the Tormentors? Minus 12. Three hundred and two. Morrissey exists on nobody’s scale but his own, which is his great problem and his gift to the world. Mark Simpson calls him “the last, greatest and most gravely worrying product of an era when pop music was all there was and all anyone could want.” To me he will always be a savage poet, a hard bastard, and a handsome devil. Just like Henry Rollins.
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Smitten by the Smiths: an excerpt from Saint Morrissey. By Mark Simpson

Morrissey and the media

Five precious moments in a long, long love affair:

1) You must get a few propositions these days  . . . “Not many! The shock of the whole thing to me is that not many situations do arise. I thought literally queues upon queues would form, but it’s not the case. After the end of a sizzling performance, where people are simply eating each other to get close to the stage, I find myself back at the hotel with Scrabble and an orange. It’s all very curious.” ( Jamming , 1984)

2) What do you like in your music? “ I can’t forgive anybody a bad lyric, really. I like to think a singer is singing with a sense of immediate death. The Gallows Humor, la-di-da. That it’s the last song I’ll ever sing, quite literally. I like singers to sing with desperation. ( NME , 1989)

3) Where do you go for your holidays? “ I don’t go on holiday. Not since they shut down Butlins at Bognor. I just hang around the East End in a long black cape.” ( Q , 1995)

4) “I’m not a phone person. I can’t quite get used to the telephone.” Why? Lack of intimacy? “ Lack of interest. There’s usually a person on the other end.” ( Modern Rock Live , 1997)

5) Did you hear t.A.T.U.’s version of “How Soon Is Now”? “Yes, it was magnificent. Absolutely. Again, I don’t know much about them. They’re the teenage Russian lesbians. “Well, aren’t we all?” (Word, 2003)

- from Saint Morrissey

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