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Morrissey: 'Leader of the Tormentors'

Morrissey has been a fixture on the pop music landscape for more than two decades. During the 1980s, he fronted the highly influential English band The Smiths. He launched his solo career in 1988 and since then, has released a string of albums. His eighth solo album is Ringleader of the Tormentors.

Listening to his new album is like sitting down for a cup of coffee and a conversation with an old, familiar neighbor -- except this neighbor is a bit of a mopey dandy, whose relationships almost always end in lots and lots of tears.

Morrissey is also fond of lacing his life musings with references to the nuclear bomb or class politics. But other than that, it's like a regular neighborhood coffee klatch.

Like REM or U2, groups that also rose to prominence in the 1980s, Morrissey blazed a trail from the underground into the musical mainstream, helping to change it in the process. If his latest releases don't deliver the same pleasing shock of newness that they once did, it is because the larger culture of pop music has taken up and domesticated much of what Morrissey once made sound daring.

After all these years and many albums, Morrissey remains capable of being excitingly, creepily strange, and weaves gothic scenes of the grotesque into his lyrics. He manages to be both sensationalistic and empathetic, a carnival barker who just happens to have a heart of gold.

The tales Morrissey tells are made more startling by the way he sings them -- Morrissey croons, like Frank Sinatra or Robert Goulet. It's good to have Morrissey around, precisely because he defies our expectations and insists on focusing his gaze on strange and painful things. The musical neighborhood is better for his presence.

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John Brady