This month it’s been 18 years since Viva Hate, Morrissey’s initial solo foray. That’s right—and that means it’s been over 18 years since the breakup of the Smiths, one of the two most important guitar bands of the 20th century (next to the Beatles), the raison d’etre for MTV’s 120 Minutes, and the staple ingredient of every mix tape you made in high school. Eighteen years… really fogs up your National Health spectacles, doesn’t it?
And there’s been a problem with Morrissey ever since; nobody ever expects much from him. It goes like this: Look—a new album! Then, a critical ceiling is issued, whereupon everyone agrees that, while it can be a good effort, it can never be as good as, you know, that band he was in. I blame his second album, Kill Uncle, a less-interesting retread of Viva Hate, and the first time the voices of the detractors (which could be a Morrissey song title, when you think about it) were coming out of his fans’ mouths.
It’s unfair to say he’s been crawling back up ever since. Fact: Hand in hand with every new album is a critical wave of appreciation that says he’s finally got the ghost back, he’s writing good music again. So is Ringleader of the Tormentors any better than You Are the Quarry? Some might say yes. I’ll assert that trying to plot his career arc is pointless, each album is pretty much the same as the one before it (i.e., absolutely necessary to own; you will love it, after all), only employing a new style to match the croon, the witticisms. This time, the category is: Neo-Glam Rock.
Or at least, sort of. Crunchy guitar leads dominate many of the tracks, there’s a general trend toward distortion, etc. It’s not absolute, and nothing here is pilfered from T. Rex—it’s just a nod toward glam. As much a nod as Morrissey would ever do. This is all about him, after all.
So is it any good? Yes, astoundingly good. But what about the career arc? Fine, it’s like this: