‘Years of Refusal’ is an odd one indeed. As a big Smiths and Morrissey fan I await his new offerings with as much trepidation as excitement and ‘Years of Refusal’ leaves me feeling rather unsure of whether I love it or hate it. There are the big powerful tunes that are so typical of Morrissey’s recent work, ‘Something Is Squeezing My Skull’ is a pretty generic Morrissey number with a big, dramatic upbeat chorus and the aphorism, “There is no hope in modern life”, as well as a tirade about diazepam, lithium, HRT and temazepam which leads to a thunderous and quite glorious crescendo. It’s great stuff, in the best sense of the word. ‘Black Cloud’ is aggressive and dominating with its howls and fast-paced percussion and a moody collection of snarling guitars.
Single, ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’ is probably not the best advert for the album. It’s a mid tempo affair that sounds hideously like self parody as Morrissey declares, “I’m throwing my arms around Paris because only stone and steel accept my love”. ‘All You Need Is Me’ and ‘That’s How People Grow Up’ have both already featured on Morrissey’s Greatest Hits, and to be honest they didn’t stand up that well amongst true classics like ‘The Last of the International Playboys’ and ‘Redondo Beach’. Both feel more like testosterone-driven showpieces than works of art, but they’re punchy played live.
‘When Last I Spoke To Carol’ is a dramatic number that shimmies along with Spanish guitar and bright brass. It’s intense, passionate and stands out for its inventiveness, as well as its epic nature. Frustration fricassees from Morrissey’s every moan, which makes for a truly stunning piece.
Morrissey has always had a talent for being downright honest in an almost crude way, usually with an eloquent twist, however, “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” borders on the cruel, albeit with a glorious oboe backing, tenderness and overblown wails. “You Were Good in Your Time” sounds like an alternative funeral song, one that would cause everyone to actually bawl rather than try to put on a brave face - it’s a slow and drawn out dirge with some twinkling guitars but it lacks that cheeky edge or grandiosity that has redeemed Morrissey’s most miserable moments in the past. I don’t think Morrissey has ever actually made me want to cry before and I’ve been listening to him since my teenage days. I don’t necessarily class this as a good thing; Morrissey’s power has always been a cynical evaluation of life that has a sarcastic twist that makes you smile and feel like you’re better than all the rest of them because you’ve got the Mancunian legend on your side. This song just makes you feel a little bereft, especially its icy, solemn ending that dissolves into silence.
Morrissey would surely understand that as a real fan, criticism is always meant with love, and there’s a fair bit to criticise in ‘Years of Refusal’ but it does seem to eventually achieve a balance between mediocre power ballads and genuinely catchy and interesting tunes. And even if the former are a little dull and formulaic on record, you know that they’ll shine live when the great singer whips his microphone lead furiously around the stage with a predatory power. This is a Morrissey record; don’t expect anything new but embrace the singer for his quirk’s talents and the things that make him Morrissey.