by Mike Chen on 02/23/09 at 08:43 PM ET
From time to time, I’ll post fanboy reviews of different new releases in entertainment. In most cases, it’ll either be music (mostly notable indie rock releases) or geeky genre movies. If none of this interests you, feel free to politely ignore these posts.
A few weeks ago, I bagged on one Steven Patrick Morrissey (he of The Smiths and Craig Kilborne favorite), saying that his new song I’m Throwing My Arms Paris was nice but forgettable.
Ok, I take that back. I really, really like that song now, and after giving Years Of Refusal a few go-arounds, I’m ready to welcome Moz back into my good graces. Not that he ever really left, but after the muscular return of You Are The Quarry, I know I’m not the only one who found Ringleader Of The Tormentors to be a rather paint-by-numbers Morrissey experience, like if Microsoft Songsmith had assimilated Your Arsenal and You Are The Quarry, then spit out a bunch of songs.
Part of that, I think, comes down to the fact that much of the focus seems to have shifted away from a strict “Life Is Bad” (or a pigsty, according to Tormentors) perspective to more of a reflectiveness that comes with age. Quarry found Moz looking at the world’s bigger picture with anger and cynicism (well, more than usual) while Years Of Refusal seems to come with a resignation to the passage of time and mortality. That’s How People Grow Up, One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell, and other songs with interspersed imagery and metaphor sees Morrissey longing for what causes people to change more so than just crying boo-hoo about being unloved (though there’s the requisite amount of that).
If you took someone who was new to Morrissey or The Smiths and you gave them a best-of collection and Years Of Refusal, chances are they wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell too much of a difference. That’s not saying that Years Of Refusal is filled with instant classics; rather, it seemingly borrows from every era that Morrissey’s been in, so much so that you could take each of these cuts and stick them on different albums and they’d fit right in. There’s jangle pop of the Stephen Street-produced material, the rockabilly vibe from Your Arsenal, and a little bit of the more thrashing Smiths material such as Sweet & Tender Hooligan. There are also new sounds, such as When I Last Saw Carol, which sounds like Morrissey and co. joined up forces with the ghost of Ennio Morriccone. It sounds weird, but it works.
Years Of Refusal doesn’t define a new sound for Morrissey, nor does it really deviate the general dour outlook we’ve come to expect from his lyrics. Thankfully, Moz’s ability to craft out strong vocal melodies and lyrical witticisms are still in tact; in fact, I’d say the lyrics by and large are much stronger on Years Of Refusal than the Tormentors album. And unlike Tormentors, it’s definitely not forgettable filler material; it’s good, though it only has pockets of true greatness. There are no stinkers, though, which is better than what I can say after listening to U2’s No Line On The Horizon several times (look for that review in a week or so). The songs vary in quality, but they’re composed and performed well enough to show that Moz has still got it.
Of course, “it” depends on what your context is. If you think Morrissey’s a whiny guy with a weird voice and overwrought lyrics, this won’t change your mind. If you think he’s an introspective guy with witty lyrics and a unique voice, you’ll welcome this.
Ultimately, Morrissey’s at a point in his career where new material won’t create many new fans—those come about when they discover Every Day Is Like Sunday or How Soon Is Now? during their formidable teen-angst phase. I’m pretty confident that, in the way that a young Morrissey found comfort in the immortal words of Oscar Wilde, generations of disaffected youth will flock to The Smiths catalog and earlier standouts in Morrissey’s solo material. That’s where his legacy will continue, and while Years Of Refusal is an enjoyable listen, it’s won’t be Chapter 1 of Morrissey/The Smiths For Dummies.
Still, it is what it is. It’s worth a listen, and it justifies its existence as something that you’ll pull out every now and then. The strength of the songwriting warrants that, as does Morrissey’s inimitable voice. Those expecting anything further, though, will be disappointed. Years Of Refusal is a solid album but it won’t become the generational soundtrack that The Queen Is Dead or Bona Drag are for so many people.
Strongest songs: I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, That’s How People Grow Up, When I Last Spoke To Carol, Something Is Squeezing My Skull
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