Morrissey returns to a thicker, more rock-driven sound on his ninth solo album, "Ringleader of the Tormentors," due this week via Attack/Sanctuary.

Morrissey returns to a thicker, more rock-driven sound on his ninth solo album, "Ringleader of the Tormentors," due this week via Attack/Sanctuary. The 12-track set was produced by Tony Visconti and recorded in Rome, references to which appear in a number of songs. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone scored the string arrangement on "Dear God Please Help Me," while an Italian children's choir can be heard on several others.

Morrissey credits the "marked difference" in sound here to the presence of guitarist/songwriter Jesse Tobias, particularly on tracks like the stomping "In the Future When All's Well," the simple, effective first single "You Have Killed Me" and "The Youngest Was the Most Loved." "These songs, especially, fully release the hounds," Morrissey says.

Album highlights include "The Father Who Must Be Killed," which juxtaposes a murderous storyline with an ultra-poppy chorus; the unusual verse chord progression of "On the Streets I Ran" (during which Morrissey mentions his talent for "turning sickness into popular song"); and the seven-minute plus "Life Is a Pigsty," an ominous, uncommonly multifaceted track flecked with the sound of rain and thunder.

Lyrically, Morrissey the storyteller transcends his earthly constraints (opener "I Will See You in Far Off Places"), laments a lost love ("I'll Never Be Anybody's Hero"), pays tribute to "the someone who can soothe me" ("To Me You Are a Work of Art") and celebrates a rebirth, personal or otherwise (the vaguely Western closer "At Last I Am Born").