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Morrissey, ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors’ (Attack/Sanctuary)

Five minutes into his eighth solo album, Morrissey drops a lyrical bomb: “I am so very tired of doing the right thing / Dear God, please help me / There are explosive kegs between my legs.” Moments later this grown man of 46 quivers, “I’m spreading your legs, with mine in between.” While lust has been a key theme of his work — stretching back to the first Smiths single, “Hand in Glove,” in 1983 — it’s always been of the tortured, unrequited type. What are we to think now that the ringleader of the tormented virgins has finally gotten himself laid?

Sex is just one of the major topics Morrissey explores in this potentially polarizing mash note recorded in Rome with famed David Bowie/T. Rex producer Tony Visconti and Jesse Tobias (a guitarist-for-hire who has worked with Red Hot Chili Peppers). God and death — or, more specifically, murder — also weigh heavily on this muscular disc, his second heaviest after 1995’s ill-received Southpaw Grammar. But despite the presence of Visconti, it’s not so much glam rock as something like neo-prog, with Middle Eastern flourishes decorating “I Will See You in Far Off Places” and thunder and rain framing the seven-minute synthesized epic “Life Is a Pigsty.”

Moz also employs legendary film composer Ennio Morricone and an Italian children’s choir. Album closer “At Last I Am Born” tosses kettledrums and Spanish guitar into the mix for a veritable vegetarian spaghetti western, while Morrissey calls on that pack of prepubescents to sing along on the chorus of “The Father Who Must Be Killed.” But for all his musical innovation and sexual adventurism, Morrissey still revisits familiar ground. On the anthemic “I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero,” he proclaims, “My one true love is under the ground,” and on “To Me You Are a Work of Art,” he spits, “I see the world, it makes me puke.” It’s the closest the swaggering old lad gets to a straightforward love song.

See also: Gene, Drawn to the Deep End (Polydor, 1997)

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Tags: Albums