Morrissey - Years of Refusal (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Years of Refusal (2009)

Attack / Lost Highway

Years of Refusal, the title of Morrissey's latest release, could easily describe my feelings for the guy's entire solo career. While I'm a Smiths fan through and through ("I Know It's Over" is the saddest, bitterest song ever. This is not a debate), it's always irked me that Moz basically shit-canned his Smiths songwriting partner Johnny Marr only to keep writing Johnny Marr-esque songs, all jangly and sarcastic and blissfully theatrical and what-not. So it's fitting for me that the album should open with "Something Is Squeezing My Skull," a rollicking rocker about tripping balls. The first verse feels like Morrissey specifically telling me (and maybe you) to get bent: "I'm doing very well / I can block out the present and the past now / I know by now you think I should have straightened / myself out / thank you, drop dead." It's with these lines, and the remaining 42 minutes and 49 seconds of music after them, that Steven Patrick Morrissey proves, with or without the Smiths, he's still a vital force of sardonic wit and rocking tuneage. Besides, if new songs like "You Were Good in Your Time" and "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" are any indication, dude will always be better at hating himself than I ever could be.

Years of Refusal finds ol' Mozzy Bear re-teaming with the recently deceased producer Jerry Finn, who provided the similarly slick power behind Morrissey's 2004 comeback album, You Are the Quarry (other credits include Green Day's Dookie, Rancid's …And Out Come the Wolves and Jawbreaker's Dear You!). As one of Finn's final projects, it's a great album to go out on. As for Morrissey, it feels like the real comeback album fans have been waiting for. Quarry had a handful of fast/pounding/biting numbers like "Irish Blood, English Heart." Well, imagine if every song on Quarry was that catchy and kick-ass. Years of Refusal is that album, aside from the string-laden "You Were Good in Your Time." It's like a glam rock Smiths love-in, and it's awesome.

The record opens with the previously mentioned "Something is Squeezing My Skull," and it's clear right away the Morrissey really is "doing very well" with his gang of youngsters, drummer Matt Walker, bassist Solomon Walker and guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias. Boorer and Tobias share co-songwriting credits with Morrissey on several tracks, and thanks is due to them for keeping everything from getting too maudlin or syrupy. Morrissey is famously a New York Dolls fan; this album confirms that fandom. The guitars are constantly thrashing, and Matt Walker infects everything with a nervous energy. Solomon, meanwhile, has an endlessly deep, grungy bass to lay down for any situation, as is revealed time and again on Years of Refusal.

"Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed" briefly recalls the Smiths, if only for that Strangeways, Here We Come-style piano. That's not a complaint, just an observation. It's still just as riveting, as are "All You Need Is Me," "I'm OK by Myself" and "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore." That last one might just be the highlight of the record. It starts out subdued, with the drum beat slowly fading in, until Morrissey hits the chorus, at which point Matt lets loose a buildup barrage on his kit. Moz takes an unspoken party to task for trying to bask a little too long in the limelight ("There's no need to be kind to you / And the will to see you smile and belong has now gone"). Besides, "all of the gifts that they gave can't compare in any way / to the love I am now giving to you right here, right now." It all careens towards a final exhalation of that old pop-punk standard, the "whoa." Morrissey really belts it out over cut-time drums and a meandering keyboard line by Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. This is what scientists and lovers call "the good part."

And Years of Refusal has plenty of other ones: the punter "hey"s of "Something Is Squeezing My Skull"; the distorted freak-out of "I'm OK by Myself"; pretty much any time Solomon gets to hold down the rhythm. Maybe it's best to let the Marr years be what they are; Morrissey's doing A-OK with Years of Refusal.