Morrissey

Ringleader of the Tormentors (Sanctuary/Attack)

It's often difficult to critically analyze a much-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 sing-songy 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 downplayed (and, when present, possess vaguely electronica undertones à la Massive Attack) in favor of brisk guitar songs swelling with strings and choruses that ascend like a hot-air balloon. 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 Vauxhall and I's muted majesty — and 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 Quarryoften 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 Tormentors another triumph.

 
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