Thursday, April 30, 2009

Years of Refusal - Morrissey (April Hangover Series)

Years of Refusal

Lost Highway Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

Had the Smiths never existed – the records, the successes, the bad blood and expectations, all - Morrissey’s solo catalogue would still be rife with inconsistencies. This unevenness, which is ever-present in his work, is inevitable for the sole reason that we love him dearly for his shortcomings. The stories he told in the early eighties remain unchanged today; The Moz can’t love anyone, can’t put himself out in the open, won’t take the chance of becoming more miserable. We accept this stagnant storyline because he sells it well – his lyrical bite and velvet voice have aged like dimly-lit restaurant wine – but deep down we know it’s all horseshit; Morrissey is as miserable in his forties as he was asexual in his twenties. Quite the contrary: the man’s greatest shortcoming is that he loves himself more than we fans ever could, and that self-absorption in his writing holds us back from even the occasional surprise. So when the man of so many myths titles his latest album Years of Refusal, is he owning up and moving on or digging deeper in neurosis?

If you’re expecting to read an easy answer here, you best learn from history; Years of Refusal continues both his successful 00s comeback while suffering familiar setbacks. If, however, the majority of songs here are any indication, these "years of refusal" are most certainly behind him as Morrissey sounds refreshed, his purpose reawakened. Opening with ‘Something is Squeezing My Skull’, perhaps his most vital track in a decade, he intones “I know you think I should’ve figured myself out by now but you’d drop dead” over punk-inspired riffs. The brazen guitars make up the personality of this collection, as rocking tracks like ‘Sorry Doesn’t Help’ mark it as more electric and combustible than either You Are the Quarry or Ringleader of the Tormentors. In fact, Years of Refusal makes its predecessors sound manufactured by comparison as many of these songs carry authentic rock dynamics; the heavy percussion and a mariachi band (as featured on ‘The Last Time I Spoke to Carol’) are advancements over You Are the Quarry’s drum machine overdose. And when I said the record had its setbacks, I’m referring to what has plagued most every Morrissey album: those few, mediocre tracks littered among the classics that have kept his solo work for Moz-fans only. Although the six-strings attempt to fill some of these songwriting cracks, ‘All You Need Is Me’ and ‘I’m OK By Myself’ feel slightly rushed.

What’s most interesting about Years of Refusal is that the best songs are quieter ones, like the requiem ‘You Were Good In Your Time’ and the superb highlight ‘It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore’, which whispers and rises in fury like any tumultuous relationship. Between the bold guitar rock and timeless balladry, Years of Refusal has given both fans and new listeners a surprising document; one that finds Morrissey shaking things up, even if he’s still winking at his reflection the whole time.

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