To Me You Are A Work Of Art
Then a funny thing happened, which, judging from an e-mail I received last week from old friend and fellow Moz obsessive Matt, has probably happened to a lot of people who’ve spent more time with this album. I’ll let Matt explain:
Despite my comments on your blog the other day, I now find myself REALLY liking “Ringleader of the Tormentors.” It's really weird, because I hated it for about the first five listens, then suddenly – out walking one day with it on headphones, determined to give it another chance - I *got* it. It was one of those "Eureka" moments.
I'm starting to think it's one of the best things he's ever done. Well, except for the second half of Pigsty ... that's still a bit of a shambles. But the rest is pretty brilliant.
Have you had any progress?
Yes, and I couldn’t have put it any better myself. One time through, I just finally GOT it. First, let’s address the original problem I had with it: It starts off strongly, but around track five just seemed to become a blur of sameness with no dynamic or melodic shift. Where were the singalong choruses and slashing guitarwork Moz has groomed us to accept with each new release? The answer is “Tony Visconti”.
I probably don’t have to tell a lot of you who Tony Visconti is, but here’s the Cliff Notes version – world-famous mega producer, best known as David Bowie’s producer during the various periods. If there’s one truth about Morrissey’s solo output, it’s that he’s ever at the mercy of his producer. When the producer is strong and motivated like Stephen Street, the results are stellar. When the producer is phoning it in, a la Steve Lillywhite, that’s when the band steps forward, cranks up the guitars and hopes you don’t notice.
Visconti is unwilling to be unnoticed.
Strange things are happening on “Ringleader”. Songs drift in almost as an afterthought, never reach a chorus, then are over before you realize you basically just listented a song constructed of two verses and a mess of strange electronic, guitar and orchestral effects. A children’s choir pops up to sing along at full blast on one song, only to reappear on several songs later, like the chorus of a Greek tragedy. Some songs are driving, some a slow and beautiful, others are both. It sounds like a bit of a mess, and gee, look at my initial reaction. But repeated plays reward the listener unlike anything Morrissey has ever released.
There is no “Everyday Is Like Sunday” here, no breakthrough single that ClearChannel can glom onto and make a ringtone. This is an ALBUM in the truest, most prog-rock, Pink Floyd-ian sense of the term. It needs to be complete, it needs your undivided attention and if it doesn’t get it, well, your loss.
Lyrically, it may be the most shocking Morrissey creation yet in that the world’s most famous moping “celibate” admits he’s happy, in love and, clutch the pearls, Mary, HAVING SEX. Over what might be the most beautiful instrumentation ever placed on a Morrissey song, "Dear God Please Help Me", Steven brings up the “explosive kegs between my legs” and croons:
Now I'm spreading your legs
With mine in-between
Dear God, if I could I would help you
And now I am walking through Rome
And there is no room to move
But the heart feels free
I don’t know about you, but I am so using “walking through Rome” as my new euphemism for anal.
It all comes to a head (ahem) on the album’s closer, “At Last I Am Born”, a brilliant composition that combines a march, a waltz and flamenco (with castanets!) in a single three and a half minute song. At its core, it’s a coming out song, not only in reference to sexuality, but to living a life without despair. If there’s one consistent criticism I’ve laid at Moz’s feet over the years, it’s his need to grow the fuck up, admit he’s fucking men, and give up the entire Pope of Mope pose that’s impeded his work and kept him the patron saint of 15 to 18 year olds worldwide. That’s fine and dandy in your youth, but pathetic when you’re pushing 50. The cult of Morrissey has sold itself on brutal honesty and introspection, and he hasn’t given us that since 1994’s “Vauxhall and I”. This album and “At Last I Am Born” bring back the truth:
At last I am born
At last I am born
Living the one true free life born
I once thought I had numerous reasons to cry
And I did, but I don’t anymore
Because I am born, born, born
I once was a mess of guilt because of the flesh
It’s remarkable what you can learn
Once you are born, born, born
On around my 50th listen to “At Last I Am Born”, it hit me why I love it so…it’s a Sparks song. Not a cover or anything like that, but Sparks in the jumble of influences and musical signatures, plus pun-filled lyrics. And Sparks’ most famous producer in the ‘70s?
“Ringleader of the Tormentors” comes out April 4th. Buy it. Listen to it. Listen to it again. And again.