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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

'Years of Refusal' is a gem among Morrissey's albums

By Tatiana Craine

Morrissey and his dashing band of (mostly) young men, having spent the last few years recording and touring in support of both “Ringleader of the Tormentors” (2006) and last year’s “Greatest Hits” compilation, have produced a dozen songs of admirable vitality and finesse, united on “Years of Refusal,” out last Tuesday. Before I get to that record, however, a brief State Of The Moz address is necessary.After petering out in the nineties with “Maladjusted” (1997), our hero moved to Los Angeles and stayed mostly quiet until his reemergence in the twenty-first century for a pair of critically celebrated albums (2004’s “You Are the Quarry” and then “Ringleader of the Tormentors” in 2006). Both albums benefited from a disarmingly direct approach that saw Morrissey crooning over prog-influenced distorted guitars while sounding enthused and reinvigorated in the process. With Years, we have arrived at the third installment of this rewarding new chapter.

The Pope of Mope’s continued relevance as well as the success of this album reflect a certain devotion to and care for his art that is sorely lacking in the maintenance of his public persona. The commercial music press, especially the sensationalist British magazine NME, have kept their bills paid over the past couple of decades with assistance from the stubborn singer’s distaste for media etiquette. Nonetheless, he has always saved his most eloquently gloomy sentiments for his lyric sheets, and “Years of Refusal” is no exception.

Morrissey was never a cheerful bloke on record. But lest you question his motives, he asserts “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 now / Thank you, drop dead.” Once the task of retrofitting the ever-present emotional wall between him and his fans (and really everyone else) has been accomplished, he goes on to address his preferred topics: love, relationships, isolation and the decay of modern society. In the album’s latest single “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” he expresses his love for the city because “In the absence of human touch,” “only stone and steel accept my love.” Slow-burner “You Were Good in Your Time” returns to the subject of Viva Hate’s “Little Man, What Now” as he lies on his deathbed, surrendering to modernity. “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” finds Morrissey resentfully making it known that “The will to see you smile and belong has now gone.” And in the album’s closer, the defiant “I’m OK by Myself,” he lets us in on something we have known for quite a while.

While the lyrical content has nearly always been centered on a few themes, the music underwent a big change for Morrissey’s comeback in 2004 and for the most part “Years of Refusal” sails under the same flag. With producer Jerry Finn behind the helm-a man known for producing Blink 182’s later records, of all things-the sound is often muscular and urgent. “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” springs off the blocks with a wall of guitars and an uncommon show of vocal range from the front man, “Black Cloud” features some tasty guitar licks courtesy of tasty lick connoisseur Jeff Beck, and a growling bass guitar takes the lead on “All You Need Is Me.” What keeps this set of tunes from being a Green Day record, other than the guy holding the microphone, are some charming and diverse additions to the otherwise basic sonic palette. Soaring trumpets and classical guitar give a Spanish zest to “When Last I Spoke to Carol,” while strings, soft brushes on the snare and atmospheric vocal samples make a mood piece of “You Were Good in Your Time,” one of a pair of ballads in “Years'” second half. “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” potentially the album’s most concisely affecting track, contains a doubled guitar and piano melody evocative of Johnny Marr’s best verses with the Smiths.

While some tracks are less vibrant than others, Morrissey’s consistency as a songwriter allows for very few weak points. The most pleasant surprise about this record is that Morrissey doesn’t sound remotely out of breath or ideas. The man’s fiftieth birthday is in May, and he is more alluring, commanding, and sharp-witted than he’s ever been. The fact that age has not yet dissolved his inner contradictions or quieted his convictions allows all of us fanboys and fangirls to breathe a collective sigh of relief and serves as testament to his refusal to fade into irrelevance. Let’s hope that yet another strong addition to Morrissey’s canon is a good omen for a fruitful year in pop music.

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