Morrissey: Years of Refusal (Lost Highway)
The much misrepresented man returns with an album in his fiftieth year. Those with conventional expectations who would like to wallow in a dollop of gray and sorrowing songs from the perceived maestro of misery will be bitterly disappointed with the serving of throbbing insistence on their plate. Morrissey is in a spirited mood. One dares to infer that he is happy, because on the evidence here, he most certainly sounds it.
The air of optimism in Years of Refusal is infectious. It could even win over a few doubters, and definitely won't lose him any of his existing supporters. Are we about to see droves of men of a certain age disrobing and covering their bits in pieces of seven-inch vinyl, as he has done on the inner sleeve of the single "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris?" There'll be a disorderly cyber queue parodying the move on YouTube as you read this. He is in good shape and gets away with such a brave piece of brazenness. For the patron saint of the shy and embarrassed to get naked suggests confidence and no great concern about living down to expectations. The blessed or misguided will don 12-inch disco platters, whilst the underprivileged -- or the painfully honest -- will resort to compact discs.
Proceedings burst upon the ears with the breezy "Something Is Squeezing My Skull," which rocks along with sublime energy.
"I'm doing very well / I can block out the present and the past now... / There is no love in modern life / I'm doing very well / It's a miracle I even made it this far."
A song in which he sounds diplomatically resigned to an informed sense of modernity. He touches upon the usual theme of unrequited love in "Black Cloud," an inspired slash-and-burn stomp, ably abetted by guitar licks from Jeff Beck. After the evocatively infectious "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris," which has a real Smiths-like longing, arising from the advantage of having been around long enough to take inspiration from his own vintage, the record adopts a sure-footedness which never deserts it. There's a lively eloquence to "All You Need Is Me," in which he complains, "You hiss and you groan and you constantly moan but you / but you don't ever go away and that's because all you need is me." A strangely astute observation of the problem of couples from one who has disavowed such pairings -- but then, if absent from the fray, you have a keener view of the tango of need.
There's an almost Duane Eddy/A Fistful of Dollars feel to "The Last Time I Spoke to Carol," which will undoubtedly increase his increasingly loyal Hispanic audience, an unusual luxury in the career of one who manifest such resolute Englishness. He informs us:
"I was wasting my time / Trying to fall in love disappointment came to me and booted me and bruised and hurt me."
An air of resigned delighted defiance resides within "That's How People Grow Up." And "One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell" has a strongly '60s edge that harks back to the girl singers he so much admires from that era, whilst "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore" is vintage Morrissey in tone and sentiment, but holds a strangely poignant and heavy musical edge.
It is worth noting that he hasn't totally abandoned elegant, eloquent melancholy. "You Were Good in Your Time" could be a near missive to a former adored star, an elder brother, or a lover. In most instances the edges are as blurred as they are in this hauntingly memorable song. "Sorry Doesn't Help" is one of the major heart bursts on the album. Strident and exuding a posed certainty, it harnesses the air of resolution that pervades the proceedings. Even the closing track, "I'm OK By Myself," expresses a contentment of sorts in things being as they are; with driving, glammy guitar slicing the song along, it ends a statement of arrival.
The production by Jerry Finn -- it was the last album he worked on before his premature demise in August 2008 -- is pristine and energetic. Although the previous album was the much-anticipated Tony Visconti collaboration, he lent a smothered tone to the finished product. Finn brings the verve and swagger one would anticipate from one who's worked with Blink-182 and The Offspring.
This album stands as a fitting tribute to his talents, and is a perfect companion piece to You Are the Quarry, which he also produced. Morrissey has created an album that writhes and kicks with assurance and energy. He is physically manifesting the brooding demeanor of the late British actor Stanley Baker, an increasingly masculine presence in a world of pretty boys and girls, and this from one who was once so effortlessly effete.
Not that there is anything wrong with prettiness, but as the writer Kathleen Farrell (1912-1999) pithily observed in one of her long-forgotten novels, it isn't what it once was, as these days there's so much of it about! That was fifty years ago, and Morrissey is now reaching towards that meritorious number. It is a sad reflection of our times that he remains the uniquely unsettling and rewarding presence he most defiantly is. Here's to further and abundant years of refusal.