Ringleader of the Tormentors

It's often difficult to critically analyze a beloved artist, because the reviewer's tendency is to excuse irksome traits or loathsome sonic detours simply because of past greatness. And so while it's tempting to give Morrissey a free pass for hauling in a children's choir for several songs on his eighth solo studio album -- in fact, the singsongy rugrats add to the creepy patricide vibe on the otherwise brilliant pop stomp "The Father Who Must Be Killed" -- ultimately their soprano nattering leaves a sour taste. Still, Morrissey has included enough sterling moments on Tormentors to redeem this misstep. Ballads are played down (and when present, possess vaguely electronica undertones Š la Massive Attack) in favor of brisk guitar songs swelling with strings and choruses that ascend like hot-air balloons. Fans will recognize the best bits of Moz's career in these rock excursions -- from the slow chug of "Everyday Is Like Sunday" to Southpaw Grammar's dramatic fuzz-swoops and the muted majesty of Vauxhall and I. There are even some new tricks: See the no-wave trumpet bleats on the fab punk buzz "I Just Want to See the Boy Happy."
Ringleader of the Tormentors: A triumphant new Morrissey.
Ringleader of the Tormentors: A triumphant new Morrissey.

While 2004's You Are the Quarry often focused on Moz's struggle for ethnic identity, Tormentors largely sticks to personal topics: losing (and finding!) love, redemption and rebirth -- all with rejuvenated cheekiness, as on the string-laden standout "To Me You Are a Work of Art" ("And I would give you my heart / That's if I had one"). Even the expected filler on the disc isn't embarrassingly maudlin or cheesy, making this another triumph in Morrissey's career resurgence.

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