Years Of Refusal


Attack/Lost Highway, 2009

REVIEW BY: Giselle Nguyen


Morrissey isn't well-known for good cover art – not since the days of the Smiths, anyway. On the cover of his newest record, Years Of Refusal, he stands dressed in a tight blue shirt, baby dangling from his arm. A step up from the cover of the last album, on which he channelled Andre Rieu with his signature quiff and violin cradling – and also an indication of the veteran's return to more youthful, punchy rock tunes after a decidedly schmaltzy past few years.

Roaring in with the energetic “Something Is Squeezing My Soul,” Years Of Refusal quakes with ferocious rock energy, paired with Moz's signature pop sensibilities. Synthesisers and trumpets make their way into the accompaniment of some tracks, providing a breath of fresh air from the continuous hammering of furious guitar.

The real grabber about this album, though, is that while it remains very Steven Patrick, it also borrows from and blends with more contemporary bands – Morrissey's dry sarcasm and crunchy riffs wouldn't sound out of place on a Fall Out Boy record, and the bass-heavy intro to first single “All You Need Is Me” could have come straight from Art Of Drowning-era AFI. This doesn't necessarily mean that he has compromised his originality; all the basic elements of a Morrissey album are here, but it's packaged and delivered in a way that is more 2009, meaning that newcomers to the world of Moz won't be isolated. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While second single “I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris” begins with a very Johnny Marr riff (and subsequently makes me very nostalgic), the marriage of old and new shines through most brightly on standout track “It's Not Your Birthday Anymore” (it would seem that Morrissey really doesn't like joyous celebrations of aging, having already wished an “Unhappy Birthday” in 1987). Any moments of lyrical weakness from earlier tracks are forgotten as his voice steadily rises to a heady strength, cynically mocking the ingenuine pretension surrounding birthday greetings over a Stars-like ostinato, pedalling its way to a subtle climax. It is reflective moments such as these which allow you to really get inside Morrissey's head – understated but opinionated, soft but forceful.

There are also a few weak moments, though. In the otherwise memorable “Black Cloud,” Morrissey takes a leaf out of Chris Carrabba's book as he sings, “The one I love is standing near / The one I love is everywhere.” Good to see his angst-ridden diaries from his days as a thirteen year old boy have come in handy. Structurally, some of the tracks are maddeningly simple and run the risk of falling into a banal formula, but the catch is that sometimes it's this simplicity that makes the most impact, creating catchy melodies that are easily committed to memory.

With rumours of Moz's career possibly coming to an end, the ending of the album is bittersweet. “You Were Good In Your Time” is a quiet moment of introspection, as Morrissey croons, “Please understand / I must surrender” over a smooth Spanish-like swirl. It's almost like he's meditating upon what the past 25 years have been for him; the meditation culminates in a 90-second mash of noise at the end of the track, where you can picture the instruments all coming to a disorderly head. He begs to “live and let live” in the penultimate track before bowing out fiercely with the rambunctious closer “I'm Okay By Myself,” finishing the album on a cliff-hanger – what happens next in this prolific career?

The answer lies in the hopeful records to come. YearsOof Refusal is by no means Morrissey's strongest work, and there's no “Suedehead” here, but it is a fine return to form for one of rock's best-loved veterans, with humble moments countering explosively egoistic ones. It's proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks, and is a worthy introduction to the world of Morrissey, and the Smiths, for a new generation.

P.S.: If you buy the single for “I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” you get to see as much of Mozzer's naked body as will ever be possible. Worth it.

Rating: B

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© 2009 Giselle Nguyen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Attack/Lost Highway, and is used for informational purposes only.