By Laura Witkowski
It would be disingenuous of me to start this review with anything other than full disclosure. I love Morrissey and consider myself to be far and away one of his biggest and most devoted fans. I frequently refer to him as “the only man I’ve ever loved” and indeed there is much truth to that.
Morrissey’s music had a profound effect on me from the first moment I heard it, and my devotion has only grown over the years. I have for years tried to put my finger on exactly what it is that moves me and consumes me about Morrissey and his music, and it wasn’t until his latest album, “Ringleader of the Tormentors,” came out that I really managed to come up with a good analogy. It just so happens that for the last few years I’ve developed a serious love of Bollywood movies, which is another fascination that I’ve had a hard time figuring out. But you see, Bollywood and Morrissey have something in common, and that commonality is one that gays and lesbians the world over have some experience with: unrequited love, lost opportunity and disappointment.
Your typical Bollywood movie runs over three hours long and manages to fit every known genre into one movie: romance, adventure, musical, mystery, moral lesson and comedy. “Ringleader Of The Tormentors” plays like a Rome-inspired Indian epic. From the bombastic start of “I Will See You In Far Off Places” Morrissey sounds positively optimistic that despite all the mysteries of the world and the obstacles in the way, he will see you in far off places.
But on the very next track we find him pleading to God to help him make sense of a sexual reawakening. Many reviews of “Ringleader” point to this song as definitive proof that Morrissey, a once self-proclaimed celibate, is “getting some action,” but frankly I think that’s a moot point.
“Dear God Please Help Me” holds the same mixture of tension, happiness and apprehension of a great Bollywood romance in bloom. And despite our Hollywood film idea of “true love conquering all,” in Bollywood, as in Morrissey’s world, love alone is not reason enough for two people to be together. If it is not meant to be, then that love must be set free, forgotten or repressed.
That is not to say that Morrissey does not show many hopeful signs that love is possible and that he has actually found it. But the brilliance of his lyrics is in the vagueness – read into it what you like. He’ll hand you but a small piece of the puzzle for you to fit into your own life and make your own interpretations.
Inasmuch as “Ringleader” talks about love’s possibilities, Morrissey’s other recurring topic is death. There are the morbid notions of “The Youngest Was The Most Loved” (“The youngest was the shielded, we kept him from the world’s glare, and he turned into a killer”) and “The Father Who Must Be Killed” (“Stepchild, there’s a knife in a drawer in a room downstairs, and you, you know what you must do”), both of which include a strategically used children’s chorus.
But the more tender sentiments of “I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now, (“My one true love is under the ground”), and “In The Future When All Is Well” (“The future is ended by a long, long sleep”) show that Morrissey still has an ongoing love affair with the romantic side of death. Virtually every song on the album touches on our frail morality (or sometimes, more specifically, Morrissey’s).
I reject the reviews that call “Ringleader” “depressing” or “more gloom from the ‘Pope of Mope.'” Morrissey’s voice soars over the tightest production (thanks to Tony Visconti of T. Rex and David Bowie fame) since 1992’s “Your Arsenal” and “Ringleader” is absolutely solid from start to finish. The mysterious undercurrent of emotion that Morrissey is so tuned into, and his ability to touch upon love, murder, politics, history, God and family in one album, is akin to the fantastic ride of the films of Bombay – foreign, yet relatable, gritty and brash, yet beautiful and wistful.