Morrissey – Ringleader of the Tormentors

Morrissey is probably the last British musical icon, someone who ranks alongside Lennon, McCartney, Jaggar and Bowie, although a music critic once said that the last British musical icon was Elton John, luckily this person is now serving life in a Siberian cultural gulag….where he sits around all day listening to George Formby and eating canned fruit. It’s probably correct to note that pretty soon Morrissey is going to be 50. You can only yearn for love for so long before it starts to seem a little ridiculous and you can only market angst for so long before it starts to seem like you’re only in it for the money. Is a 50 year old lovelorn Morrissey too much to stomach? Can he still live up to past glories? The answer is very much yes and no.

Years Of Refusal, Morrissey’s first album release since Ringleader of the Tormentors three years ago is, comparing it to his quite illustrious back-catalogue, quite disappointing, yet it is a Morrissey album and his voice and context are still outstanding and original in today’s musical environment. The album does contain some perfectly crafted pop songs such as Mamma Lay Softly on the Riverbed, Im Throwing My Arms Around Paris and Its Not Your Birthday Anymore, but most are lyrically bland and lacking in the humour that once made Morrissey’s lyrics stand out.

The track Black Cloud is the best example of this, even though Jeff Beck is dragged in as a guest guitarist on the cut, the lyrics are still a very average affair. As he croons: “The one I love is standing near ,the one I love, is everywhere, I can woo you, I can amuse you, but there is nothing I can do to make you mine, black cloud, black cloud” etc etc, you begin to think “here we go again”. He also seems to be running out of good workable metaphors to describe his loveless predicament I mean come on “black cloud”! Morrissey sings the weather forecast.

The song “When Last I Spoke to Carol” complete with Mexican style trumpets, sounds almost like something the Arctic Monkeys would do. The song is so lacking in emotion that it may as well be about Carol Vorderman’s shock departure from Countdown. In fact the old Morrissey would probably say just that.

Ringleader of the Tormentors was a revelation, both musically and lyrically. The Italian composer Ennio Morricone, whose master-work is the score to the film The Good The Bad and The Ugly, agreed to do string arrangements for some of the songs and the lyrics were jam packed with references to Rome’s architectural history “Piazza Cavour, what’s my life for?” and Italian cinematic achievements “Visconti is me Magnani you’ll never be”.

There is nothing like that here. Years of Refusal with its mock Herb Alpert cover brings no real musical evolution. Boz Boorer, Morrissey’s long serving lieutenant, guitarist and co – lyricist, (in case you don’t know him, he is the portly gentleman who lurks around in the back of Moz’s music videos and looks like he’s just been hoisted up from a workingman’s club floor, he can play the clarinet apparently –badly), is ever-present providing chunky guitar riffs and the odd
generic rhyme.

The problem maybe was the producer, Jerry Finn, who sadly died not long after the completion of this record. He had produced albums in the past by Blink 182 and Green Day but never in his career worked with the kind of artist, like Morrissey who produces torch songs and ballads. The lack of experience here shines through on this album and the other Morrissey album he worked on You are the Quarry. Ballads on YofR such as “You Were Good In Your Time” seem cheep, with canned strings and bad arrangements. When Tony Visconti took the producing reigns for Ringleader, these slower songs were done to perfection.

So were Viva Hate had the epic ballad Late Night on Maudlin Street, Your Arsenal had the controversial ode to football hooliganism We’ll Let You Know, Vauxall and I had the confessions of Speedway and Ringleader the Carry On references to “powder kegs between my legs” what, has Years Of Refusal got? Well, it’s a good rock record, that certainly has a sense of urgency, but it is little more than that.

To achieve lengthy carers, artists have to adapt and change their style. Morrissey has already proved that he is a master at the Frank Sinatra style mid-career comeback. Now Manc Sinatra must adapt to his 6th decade and write about maturity, with the same wit and sophistication with which he tackled youth. This album is hopefully filler, before his next master-work.

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