Morrissey's eighth solo release since the fateful demise of The Smiths proves that an artist can basically pull off the same sound throughout his career without sounding old, monotonous or bored. Thematically, the album can be summed up in five categories ... birth, sex, murder, death and ... Pittsburgh.
And though all but the last are to be expected, Morrissey's lyrics seem to have grown more frank and less verbose. There are still the typical references to world-weariness, the questioning of faith ... even a tale about a murderous/suicidal stepchild. But though the subject matter is indeed morbid, the album itself is at times almost joyous, a highlight being a children's chorus that backs him on certain songs.
Musically, Ringleader keeps steady pace with 2004's comeback You Are the Quarry. After seven years of somewhat-silence, that album's power was tremendous and unforgettable ... but the music had abandoned his often twangy, almost rockabilly sound for more fully orchestrated pop music. Ringleader is similar, but lacks some of the romance that was expressed so well on the previous album.
Ringleader's most puzzling aspect is an unexpected quip about our city in the song "On the Streets I Ran." It contains the peculiar lyrics, "Take him, take them, take anyone, the still-born, the new-born, the infirm, take people from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ... just spare me."
What's he got against us? In early 2000, he cancelled his show at the A.J. Palumbo Center minutes before the doors opened (he had back issues). Years before that, he cancelled his IC Light Amphitheatre show ... he's rumored to have refused to play "in a parking lot." And when he toured in 2004, he didn't even bother to book a show here.
Makes you wonder. Not a Steeler fan? Come on, hasn't he ever been to Cleveland? So it's a little snub. We Pittsburghers are thick-skinned; let's not take it personally.