[sic] Magazine

Morrissey – Years Of Refusal

A great album is made of more than its component parts, of an integral narrative, made of light and shade, with an arresting opening and a fitting finale. Think of the great songs that have opened records: ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Regret’: the parts open with a fraction of the finished song: a rolling bass line, a spindly guitar motif, the roar of feedback. It’s all about drama. Sound is as effective a tool as anything. A great album moves between moods and moments, shifts tempos and styles, subjects and ideas, whilst also maintaining a cohesive narrative structure and ensuring that not one moment, not one song, is misplaced thematically or musically, and everything you hear as a listener is there for a reason: that it cannot not be there.

Now that Morrissey releases his tenth album in twenty years you would’ve thought he’d got the hang of brilliant album sequencing: after all, few albums are as immaculately assembled as ‘Your Arsenal’ and ‘Vauxhall And I’. But reports of this being a great comeback album are wholly exaggerated. It is a fine album: made of solid songs, produced with a cohesive ear and made of powerful recordings. Nothing on this record is slapdash…

….except the sequencing. ‘It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore’ may very well be the best thing Morrissey has recorded in years. But it’s buried in the tail of the record, where really it should be the grand finale or the heart wrenching opening, a moment of complex and arresting drama where Morrissey moves from an effective whisper to a yearning, singing his heart out with a conviction and power not seen since ‘I Know It’s Over.’ Following this song with ‘You Were Good In Your Time’ reminds me of the end of The Lord Of The Rings films, where scenes drag on and on, long past the moment of narrative and emotional closure. The end of the record sags with misplaced pacing.

The album also opens in an equally ineffective way. ‘Something Is Squeezing My Skull’ – which Moz has been performing live for two years now – is a fine song with a typically arrogant lyric which reminds me of ‘I arrive in incredible style’ from ‘Kill Uncle’. But it’s like opening an album with ‘Vicar In A Tutu’ and ending it with ‘Cemetery Gates’ – it’s just not as good as it should be. The song just starts in a blip. No drama, no power, just a bludgeoning beginning. Like being woken up by a tank knocking down your front door. It does the job, but it’s not as effective as being roused from the sonic dead by a gentle, unwinding moment of musical drama like ‘Now My Heart Is Full’. Following it with the mid-paced military tattoo of ‘Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed’ takes the momentum built from this opening, and suddenly shifts gears in a moment of musical schizophrenia. But that’s not to say it isn’t just another brilliant Morrissey song. Unlike some past Morrissey albums (‘Kill Uncle’, ‘Maladjusted’), ‘Years Of Refusal’ is made of solid, powerful songwriting. There’s no dulling of the artistic blade over time, no dimming of the flame in this work. It’s the sound of a man who used to be a boy, wrestling with adulthood, and finding that whilst you can fight the march of time, you can never defeat it, only try and understand it. And this is like many great late-era works of genius: often misunderstood by the traditionalists and nostalgic. This album is the sound of a man trying to find his place in the world, 20 years after ‘Bengali In Platforms’, still asking questions and unsure of the answers. I’d rather ask a question and learn something new than know all the answers.

Lyrically though, Morrissey is on fine form. And sonically, ‘Years Of Refusal’ reminds me more of Morrissey’s mid-period from the glam rock stomp of ‘Your Arsenal’ to the more traditional rock of ‘Maladjusted’. His band, now almost completely replaced from the gang of 1991-2004 with largely anonymous session musicians and featuring former members of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Smashing Pumpkins – two reference points miles removed from Morrissey’s lineage – simply put aren’t quite as good as their predecessors. Bassist Solomon Walker lacks the character of Gary Day, and Jesse Tobias, whilst a great guitarist and capable of almost anything, lacks much in the way of a distinct musical personality. Thankfully, Moz retains Alain Whyte as a songwriting partner, and maintains Boz Boorer as musical ringleader and sonic architect: now 18 years on, Boz is clearly relishing his role in creating this wall of sound, and is a valuable addition to the Morrissey world. That said, the songs are occasionally flattened by production and arrangement to be less than dramatic, an occasional monotone of style that starts to reduce its effect through repetition. The only real break in styles come with the slightly Mexican leaning ‘When I Last Spoke To Carol’ which dances with trumpets and textures. There’s nothing as brilliant as ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ on here, (though some moments come very close) let alone a stone dead classic of ‘There Is A Light…’ proportions.

Whilst Morrissey’s steadfast refusal to become an irrelevant nostalgia act, to explore new ideas and still remain artistically valid is admirable, ‘Years Of Refusal’ is no awe-inspiring return to form, but a solid, consistent, Morrissey album of his usual high standards.

After all, it is still Morrissey’s World. We Just Live In It.



The full, unabridged version of this review and more at The Mark Reed website