Every artist who makes music for more than twenty years will live to embarrass themselves. It is as inevitable as it is disappointing. For example, there is no sight more distressing than The Who noodling through endless jams whilst the 60 plus Roger Daltrey warbles ‘I hope I die before I get old’. For Morrissey, the sad fact is that his career sometimes resembles the lyrics to The Smiths’ ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’. The man who once sang ‘reissue, repackage, repackage, re-evaluate the songs, double pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge’ whilst lampooning the music industries has now managed to do all of the above and even appear on the BBC One Show. The thing is, Years of Refusal is a good album, in fact it’s a very good album. It is just that for all serious Morrissey fans the majority of the songs have been floating around the internet for more than a year. The biggest insult is that two of the songs, ‘All You Need Is Me’ and ‘That’s How People Grow Up’, were released less than a year ago as exclusive tracks on his Greatest Hits. The thing is Morrissey fans will, being a strange bunch, always buy anything and his record company know this. Yet despite all my protested cynicism I was there first thing on Monday to buy Years of Refusal.
The album, the third since his comeback with You Are The Quarry in 2003, sees Morrissey in rude form. With Jerry Finn back on board as producer, the strings and melodrama of Ringleader of the Tormentors are gone in favour of the rockabilly punk of You Are the Quarry. The instruction on the back cover to ‘Play very loud’ is not a pithy joke but an indication of what lies inside. Things kick off rather strongly with the thrashy ‘Something is Squeezing My Skull’, which is reminiscent of previous solo glories like ‘First of the Gang to Die’ and ‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’. More importantly though it sounds like Morrissey, the pope of mope, is having fun. You can tell by the way he yelps out the chorus line or how he makes light of his public image with the songs lyrics, particularly in the bridge’s shopping list of medication. Things admittedly take a dip following this, with the half okay ‘Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed’ and the plodding ‘Black Cloud’. Things return to top form on current single ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’, a piece of jangly loveliness that surely ranks among his best solo singles. The high quality is maintained throughout with the mariachi band stomp of ‘When Last I Spoke to Carol’ and the grandeur of ‘It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore’ being particular highlights.
What is really striking about this album though is the sense of defiance that runs all the way through it. Where Ringleader of the Tormentors often felt petulant and too willing to wallow in disappointed hubris, the likes of ‘I’m OK By Myself’ is the polar opposite. On this album Morrissey emerges head held high, defiant and with a greater sense of purpose. Furthermore his vocals are sounding better than ever and his band, though nowhere as good as The Smiths, provide a muscular backing that do the songs justice. Overall, Years Of Refusal is possibly Morrissey’s best solo effort yet. At its best, such as on ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’ and ‘It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore’, it would easily stand next to the best work of his ubiquitous former band. What is more important though is that this is the third good Morrissey solo album in a row, which means that he seems to have found the consistency his solo career has severely lacked over the years. Years of Refusal is a triumph. Defiant and swaggering, it will remind fans everywhere that, at his best, Morrissey is truely untouchable.