I'm the youngest. I'm not a killer. What went wrong?

The critically-lauded return of Morrissey, the quiff-saddled Grand Master of irony-drenched melancholic romanticism has taken a while. After a relatively taciturn late-90s, the big man (I mean have you seen him lately? I'll bet you my Ironman Ultra-Strength Bicep Crusher that Fitness First are begging him to star in an advert wearing only his pants...if only to show off those unexploded kegs) hit a rich vein of form with the 'You Are The Quarry' album, and this year's follow-up 'Ringleader Of The Tormentors' proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's no one-trick comeback pony. But is all this merely money for old rope? Is Morrissey, in fact the saboteur of his own legacy? Why do you ask, I hear you cry? (Well, actually I don't, I just thought I'd try and justify continuing blindly on with this train of thought.)

Morrissey has always been a great lyricist and vocalist - no argument. But the reason The Smiths became one of the greatest bands of all time is due entirely to the synthesis of Morrissey's biting irony and Johnny Marr's astounding guitar work - no argument. Yeah, 'Vauxhall & I' and 'Your Arsenal' are great stand-alone stabs but as with Morrissey's two most recent albums, there's always the feeling that something is missing, that something is not quite right. It's the music.

Bland isn't the right word. I'd go for safe instead. Johnny Marr took risks - he created music as adventurous as the lyrics that Morrissey himself so effortlessly crooned. It was an undeniably perfect match. 'How Soon Is Now' for instance - has any song released during the past couple of years come even close? Or try 'Girlfriend In A Coma' - are you seriously going to argue that David Gray or Kaiser Chiefs could come up with anything as hilarious, despite their puppet heads and on-stage bouncing? What about 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', a song that makes grown men weep - even though we all KNOW it's as ironic as Michael Jackson's 'Black Or White'. Morrissey needs Marr and Marr needs Morrissey - no dispute - although you'd be wise to argue that Marr needs Morrissey more. His output post-Smiths has been disappointing to say the least, while Mr Quiff has at least released some pretty decent material. Anyway, I apologise. I think I'm getting sidetracked. I think you're getting bored. Let's get back to the review, shall we...?

'The Youngest Was The Most Loved' opens with a cacophony of traffic noise (presumably Italian as the album was recorded in Rome - though why that's of any interest to you is anyone's guess) before lurching into a slick, by-the-numbers guitar-pop tip - courtesy of guitarist Jesse Tobias. It's not terrible; don't get me wrong, just pretty standard. But, of course it's the lyrics that are most important here. A tale of overbearing, over-conscious parental influence (it's pretty clear that the man still has issues with his folks), it is pretty uninspiring by Morrissey's astronomical standards - and the child choir backing vocals are an unequivocal mistake. If I want to hear such nonsense, I'll throw on Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' thank you very much.

There's much to appreciate on 'Ringleader Of The Tormentors' but sadly, 'The Youngest Was The Most Loved' ain't worthy of the Mozzer. It really is just a torment.