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 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."
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.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.