April 17, 2006 12:00 PM

Ringleader of the Tormentors

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

CRITIC’S CHOICE

ALT-ROCK

Reportedly the Smiths were offered $5 million to reunite for a gig at a California festival later this month, but the Brit-pop heroes turned it down. Certainly Morrissey, the group’s iconic frontman, isn’t ready to be an ’80s nostalgia act just yet. Nineteen years after the Smiths took their final bow, his solo career is thriving: His last album, 2004’s You Are the Quarry, was a smashing comeback, and Moz continues his creative renaissance with Ringleader of the Tormentors. At 46, Morrissey seems revitalized, rocking harder under the guidance of producer Tony Visconti, whose glam-period work with David Bowie and T. Rex is an influence on cuts like the crashing, Middle-Eastern-tinged opener “I Will See You in Far Off Places.” The singer, once an avowed celibate, also seems to have experienced a midlife sexual awakening. “I once was a mess of guilt because of the flesh,” he confesses on the self-liberating “At Last I Am Born,” while acknowledging the “explosive kegs between my legs” on the sweeping, string-laden “Dear God, Please Help Me.” Of course, Morrissey wouldn’t be Morrissey without some grand-scale moping, as he does on the disc’s seven-minute centerpiece, the classically titled “Life Is a Pigsty,” which goes from a driving dance track to a melodramatic ballad. But even when he croons that “You Have Killed Me” on one Smiths-like jangle-rocker, he sounds anything but ready for the cemetery gates.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Dear God, Please Help Me”

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