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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The pop singer, Morrisey, has been making music for more than 20 years. His eighth solo album is just out, and music critic John Brady has been listening for the familiar and the strange.

JOHN BRADY reporting:

Morrisey is a fixture on the pop landscape. During the 1980s, he fronted the highly influential English band, The Smiths. In 1988, he launched his solo career, and since then, has released a string of albums. So, sitting down to listen to his new album, Ringleader of the Tormentors, is like sitting down for a cup of coffee and a conversation with an old familiar neighbor.

It just so happens, though, that this neighbor is a bit of a mopey dandy, whose relationships almost always end in lots and lots of tears. He's also fond of lacing his life musings with references to the nuclear bomb or, as in this song from the latest album, to class politics.

MORRISEY (Musician): (Singing) (unintelligible)

BRADY: But other than that, you know, it's like a regular neighborhood coffee club.

MORRISEY: (Singing) (unintelligible)

BRADY: Like REM or U2, artists that also rose to prominence in the 1980s, Morrisey blazed a trail from the underground into the musical mainstream, helping to change it in the process. If his 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 Morrisey once made sound daring.

Even so, Morrisey still delivers some excellent pop music on Ringleader of the Tormentor. Listen to In the Future When All's Well with it's addicting western guitar fruition.

MORRISEY: (Singing) Hold me closely if your will allows it. In the future when all's well. Head of poor…

BRADY: After all of these years and many albums, Morrisey remains capable of being excitingly, creepingly strange. He definitely weaves gothic themes of the grotesque into his lyrics. Ringleader of the Tormentor features a song about a patricidal stepson, and here, in The Youngest was The Most Loved, Morrisey sings about another son, a pampered favorite, who also has inclinations toward murder.

MORRISEY: (Singing) The youngest was the most loved. The youngest was the shielded. We kept him from the world's glare. And we turned into a killer.

BRADY: In singing about such things, Morrisey pulls off a neat trick; he manages to be both sensationalistic and empathetic. Morrisey is a carnival barker, who just happens to have a heart of gold. He draws us in and invites us to look at the freaks, but then he implores us not to stare and laugh. Instead, he wants us to understand their plight.

MORRISEY: (Singing) There is no such thing in life as normal. There is no such thing in life as normal.

BRADY: The tales Morrisey tells are made more startling by the way he sings them. Morrisey croons; he croons like Frank Sinatra or Robert Goulet. From crooners, we expect songs about love and dreams and sometimes, even rainbows, but instead, Morrisey sings about painful, emotional entanglements, unfulfilled desires and unrequited love.

MORRISEY: (Singing) (unintelligible)

BRADY: It's good to have Morrisey 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.

MORRISEY: (Singing) (unintelligible)

CHADWICK: John Brady's an independent music critic living in Santa Monica, California.

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