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Years of Refusal is the ninth solo album by Morrissey and was released in 2009. He's not as wonderfully anglocentric as he used to be but the wit-drenched ennui and paeans to doomed romance and maladjustment, the quipping couplets of forlorn love, are all still just about there, albeit with less rain splattered cobblestones and Billy Liar kitchen sink disaffection these days. He's still quirky but not as pricelessly as he always used to be in The Smiths. Perhaps he has dipped into the well of Morrissey for so many years there isn't much left he hasn't already said. Morrissey really and truly lost the plot in the mid to late nineties with a couple of atrocious records and seemed to go completely to ground for a while. He was even without a record contract and manager for a time, maintaining a low profile in his house in Los Angeles where I like to think he drank tea and watched On the Buses videos with the curtains drawn tightly to block any sunlight that might filter into Morrissey Mansions. You'd imagine the sun drenched shallow car saturated Los Angeles to be a very un-Morrissey place really, but I digress. His comeback in the last decade was not inconsiderable and amazing in many ways. Morrissey was yesterday's news but there he suddenly was with number one albums and top ten singles again decades after The Smiths had dissolved and his own solo career appeared to have fizzled out. Years of Refusal continues his return to form and some sort of prominence again. It's a strong and solid - if not quite great album - and arguably his best work since 1994's beautiful Vauxhall & I.
It's true that Morrissey albums do tend to end up sounding all the same in the end and he's really not one for doing or trying anything very different, more of a take me or leave me as I am character, but Years of Refusal has some great moments and is more consistent than many of his solo records with no out and out stinkers to tiresomely navigate. Records like Kill Uncle, Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted had some terrible songs to endure (especially Maladjusted, an awful album with some of my least favourite Morrissey singles and songs ever). Years of Refusal is much better and begins with Something Is Squeezing My Skull, an energetic and pugnacious start to the album with huge drums. This is a fast and - for Morrissey - loud song that sounds like something off his Southpaw Grammar album but with much more of a sense of melody than most of the songs on that largely pointless record. Something Is Squeezing My Skull is pretty good if nothing amazingly great and is about Morrissey's long battles with prescription drugs ("I'm doing very well, I can blackout the present and the past now, I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out, Thank you, drop dead!") and depression. "I'm amazed I made it this far," muses Morrissey in the year of his fiftieth birthday. Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed is next and a lovely song with chiming and reverberating guitars. Morrissey sings very nicely, sounding like the young Morrissey of the Kill Uncle early nineties era, more softer. The chorus is sweeping and elegant although the lyrics are very sad and about a child coping with the suicide of a parent. It's certainly one of the highlights here.
Black Cloud is rather forgettable, trying to be glammy and distorted but never really going anywhere very special. The lyrics are about unrequited love, something which eternally fascinates Morrissey. There is usually a Gatsby moment on every Morrissey song. "I can choke myself to please you and I can sink much lower than usual." I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris is a wonderful song. Solo Morrissey at his best. Beautiful melody with piano and wonderful timing and phrasing by Morrissey to get the maximum effect. Very pretty with enjoyable and touching lyrics. Morrissey is throwing his arms around Paris because "only stone and steel accept his love." This is one of the best singles Morrissey has put out in years. All You Need Is Me is an ironic title and not a bad song. Sounds very much like some off Morrissey's 1988 debut album Viva Hate. His singing is much less mannered than it has been on previous solo records and his elasticity with words and occasional shifts in tone are good. Very Morrissey lyrics too. "I was a small fat child in a welfare house, there was only one thing I ever dreamed about." The song is rather like Speedway on Vauxhall & I where it aims digs at music journalists who have nothing better to do than criticise him and pore over his (in the context of the world and news as a whole) very minor controversies and statements. You'd think Morrissey wouldn't be bothered by this stuff anymore but he's obviously still sensitive. He also touches on his core fanbase who have sustained him in lean times.
When Last I Spoke to Carol is a bit weird. It's the Morrissey who lived in Los Angeles and (strangely) suddenly had a rabid Mexican fanbase. Why Mexicans in Los Angeles went mad for the most English person in the world I don't know. This is a bit carnival and Chicano. The sort of thing Julio Cesar Chavez would have playing as he made his way to a boxing ring with an oversized sombrero. Nothing great really and you could happily live without mariachi Morrissey. Well I can anyway. It's not exactly Everyday Is Like Sunday and one of the weakest things here. That's How People Grow Up has Morrissey appearing (as usual) to have given up on love. Or maybe it gave up on him or they came to a mutual understanding. "There are things worse in life than never being someone's sweetie," memorably sings our hero. That could be a line from the Morrissey of The Smiths. Very charming. This is a good one on the whole. Very strident and punchy Your Arsenal style guitars and Morrissey singing like he did during the Bona Drag era. His crooning warbles are very impressive and roll back the years. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell is a less than cheery song but has an important message. Be nice to people you know and make the most of your time with them because they won't always be around. Life is short and unpredictable and one day goodbye really will be farewell. "How Time grips you slyly in its spell and, before you know, goodbye will be farewell and you will never see the one you love again." Fast song but nothing amazing.
It's Not Your Birthday Anymore is melodramatic Morrissey! Goes very over the top and drama laden. A bit like a new version of I've Changed My Plea To Guilty. I don't think it's that brilliant but it's alright. I think melodramatic Morrissey is a bit hit or miss. He's better at pop songs. The lyrics seem to be about the genuine nature of love and words. Do people always mean what they say? No, is the answer. "All those syrupy, sentimental things that we said?" You Were Good in Your Time is a slow one. A death bed Morrissey seems to be lamenting the days when he was important to people and made them feel less "alone and hunchbacked"! This goes on for about five minutes or something. It's solid enough but does stretch one's patience a bit in the end. Sorry Doesn't Help is rather self explanatory and not bad while I'm OK by Myself is a nice way to end Years of Refusal and a lustrous and pretty song. The lyrics are quintessentially Morrissey and he's got more or less the same message he had when he was the skinny lead singer with The Smiths all those years ago. He doesn't need anyone else and is quite happy on his own thank you very much. Years of Refusal is a good album overall and continues Morrissey's Indian Summer of surprising success and decent records. Definitely one of the better solo efforts from the displaced icon.
Morrissey - Years of Refusal (2009)
Producer: Jerry Finn
Something Is Squeezing My Skull
Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed
I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
All You Need Is Me
When Last I Spoke to Carol
That's How People Grow Up
One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
It's Not Your Birthday Anymore
You Were Good in Your Time
Sorry Doesn't Help
I'm OK by Myself
Released in 2009, Years of Refusal is the ninth solo album by Morrissey. Let me begin by saying that the restoration of Morrissey's popularity has been most remarkable. There was a time there in the mid-to-late 1990s where you'd be forgiven for thinking that Morrissey was dead and buried. After entering the 1990s with a swelteringly accomplished set of albums, Your Arsenal and Vauxhall & I, Morrissey then immediately caused himself harm by releasing the lacklustre Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted. This act, of course, gave ammunition to all the angry Smiths fans who had lamented from the beginning that without Johnny Marr, Morrissey was merely a lyricist without any musical talent.
But then in 2004, after a seven year long hiatus, Morrissey released what was arguably the best album of his entire career, You Are the Quarry. That album brought Morrissey into the new century with an explosion and silenced the many critics. Throughout You Are the Quarry, producer Jerry Finn was to lend modern production flourishes to adorn this master wordsmith's written prose, while portraying Morrissey as a strong, resilient individual. The album was chocabloc with classics and any traces of Morrissey's connection with the Smiths were dead and buried. The year 2006 saw Morrissey deliver another belter, Ringleader of the Tormentors, after teaming up with legendary producer Tony Visconti. While the majority of songs were not as well-rounded or as developed as those on You Are the Quarry, it packed an equally heavy punch, thanks to Visconti's no-nonsense approach to production.
This takes us right up to date and in 2009 Morrissey released the tour de force of cynicism that is Years of Refusal. Once again teaming up with Jerry Finn, Morrissey has rounded off his finest trio of albums in any one decade in some style. The first thing to strike you about Years of Refusal is simply how mean it is. This is Morrissey's hardest rock album to date. The guitars thunder and spark, the drums roar with a brutal ferocity and the bass will literally shake your room. Typically, Morrissey is in fine voice and stands up to the occasion. The second thing which manifests itself is Morrissey's brutal intent to scare the hell out of you. In the past, Morrissey's words caused you to believe that he would fit the bill of the unluckiest sod in all the earth, but now he has mutated into a chief misanthrope, avoiding all humanity, simply because he can.
The poignant tale of revenge that is Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed is Years of Refusal's strongest selling point. "Mama, why did you do it? Mama who drove you to it?" insists Morrissey, time after time, "bailiffs with bad breath - I will slit their throats for you!" The final minute of the song features one of Morrissey's best ever vocal performances, together with characteristically heart-rending lyrics. Morrissey settles the score on his own terms in an undeniably great way.
Black Cloud could have been but a novelty inclusion, what with its guitar contributions from Jeff Beck and short running time. But then Morrissey opens his mouth and drives you into the corner of the room with one of his more intimidating vocal performances. This is truly coruscant stuff, especially how Mozza drives each pained "black cloud" of the chorus to a higher notch on the octave register, until the music crashes in on itself with one of the finest paced acoustic breakdowns I'm yet to hear. Awesome.
The album boasted four singles, two of which had previously been heard on 2008's Greatest Hits compilation. The best of which is All You Need Is Me. One of the less musically complicated moments on Years of Refusal, All You Need Is Me is a straight-laced rocker, but paired with some of Morrissey's most frivolous lyrics of the decade. "There's a soft voice singing in your head. Who could this be? I do believe it's me... there's a naked man, standing, laughing in your dreams, you know who it is but you don't like what it means!" Good times Mozza, good times.
The album's two quieter moments, It's Not Your Birthday Anymore and You Were Good In Your Time, back onto each other. The former delivers one of Morrissey's most acerbic and vindictive choruses. "It's not your birthday anymore! Did you really think we meant all of those, syrupy, sentimental things we said?" While the wordless vocal bridge half way through - which sees Morrissey hit the higher notes - makes me melt. You Were Good In Your Time is the most considered chapter of the record, with speckles of those production techniques which made You Are the Quarry so appealing.
The final song, I'm OK By Myself, has Morrissey crack your skull against the wall, for he has nothing left to prove. There are more than a few quotable lyrics here. "Then came an arm around my shoulder, well, surely the hand holds a revolver?!" Ah, a keen eye for clever wordplay there, Morrissey. Let me now bring this review to a close. I needn't tell you anything else about Years or Refusal, just go out there and get yourself a copy of one of the best albums of the decade. Morrissey will have to go some way to top Years of Refusal, but I'm very interested to see his next move.
Finally, I think I'll let Morrissey have the last word. "After all these years, I find I'm okay by myself, and I don't need you or your homespun philosophy, noooooo!!"
After recently getting into The Smiths I decided to check out Morrissey's solo albums and although there is the odd masterpiece mixed in quite a lot of the albums tend to disappoint. I was pleasantly surprised however when 'Years Of Refusal' was released to find out that it had far greater depth than his previous albums.
The first single 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' is one of the best tracks in Morrissey's solo career and as a result has had more airplay than some of his previous tracks.
The main bonus of this album though is after this track there are several more songs that grab your attention, 'I'm OK By Myself' is one highlight where he sings about being left alone most of his life and scepticism over shows of affection in the lyrics 'Could this be an arm around my waist? /
well, surely the hand contains a knife? / it's been so all of my life' This also indicates how through past experiences he has lost trust in people.
'All You Need Is Me' is another good song off the album with a good solid base of mostly guitar sounds with strong backing from the drums. 'That's How People Grow Up' continues in a similar vein and adds more depth to the album.
The album also has a good start and finish with 'Something Is Squeezing My Skull' opening the album up and after this start you will probably be gripped.
I would definitely recommend this album, it's an improvement on some of his previous solo albums and contains some of his best material as a solo artist.
I'm a huge fan of Morrissey and this latest record didn't fail to impress. It kicks off with the aggressive sounding 'Something Is Squeezing My Skull', which is laced with humour in true Morrissey fashion. The way he sings 'skull' is delightful, as it screams out and really makes you listen. You are forced to have an opinion, it's thought provoking, which is the great thing with Morrissey, he is always thought provoking.
There are different styles of music on show throughout the album, with the excellent 'When I Last Spoke To Carol', dsiplaying a Latin guitar style which worlks really well with the horns and general melody of the song. The howling wind at the end of the track is a touch of greatness that really embellishes the track in a dramatic feeling.
Another example of differing music style is on show in 'Sorry Doesn't Help', with a very Sparks-esque piano line which works very well indeed.
The album finishes with the poignant and provocative 'I'm Ok By Myself', which is a song I think Morrissey has always threatened to write if you like. I feel he's got to an age where he just wanted to say it bluntly, that he is ok by himself and it's a great way to finish the album. The bassline is a particular highlight musically.
A small criticism is that 'All You Need Is Me' and 'That's How People Grow Up' are included, having been released previously on his 'Greatest Hits'. Otherwise it's a superb album by a superb artist which will appeal to new fans and Morrissey veterans alike.
I must start this review confessing I am a Morrissey fan, but not the rabid kind that doesn't admit the man has his flaws - he's been peddling the same album for the last couple of decades, some of his opinions are a bit iffy, and some of his output in the past has been decidedly below par.
However the previous two albums to this one, 'You Are The Quarry' and 'Ringleader of the Tormentors' were some of his best, especially the latter which saw him experimenting with a more grandiose sound and lyrically overcoming some of the themes that had become Mozza cliches. That is he seemed to be in the throes of love (hetero- or homosexual we'll possibly never quite know), and allowed himself to sing about the rather un-Moz themes of actually having sex and (heaven forbid!) happiness.
Whatever love affair Moz had while writing 'Ringleader...' must now surely be over, and sadly this has meant a return to some of themes of loneliness, celibacy and being unloved that have started to become somewhat tired for a man pushing 50. And the lush arrangements of Tony Visconti that graced 'Ringleader' are now back to typical, slightly lumpy pubrock that has underpinned most of his solo output.
The best tracks on 'Years of Refusal' are corkers, with opening track 'Something is Squeezing My Skull' a Morrissey classic, with pithy lyrics and a tongue-twisting middle eight. Single 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' is another great track, if retreading some of the more tired Morrissey territory lyrically ("I'm throwing my arms around Paris/As only stone and steel accept my love"). Perhaps the best track is 'All You Need Is Me', a savage song with a great, driving guitar part, that is dripping with Morrissey's trademark wit, but spoilt slightly by the bad taste left by the fact this, and 'That's How People Grow Up', have already been released as bonus tracks on, and released as singles from, last year's cash-in 'Greatest Hits' album.
The rest of the tracks fare less well, with silly mariachi on 'When I Last Saw Carol', and other rather lacklustre tracks that bang away as typical Morrissey album tracks, both musically and thematically.
This album is by far not the worst he's ever produced (you'll have to go back to his nadir in the mid 1990s for that), but after his last two phenomenal comeback albums is something of a disappointment. The good tracks are excellent, and good enough to make this worth buying, but it's still not his best work, and Morrissey newcomers would better off buying 'You Are The Quarry', 'Ringleader of the Tormentors', or one of his early albums such as 'Viva Hate' or 'Your Arsenal'.
Morrissey's new album is another gritty affair, he has ditched some of the sounds which shaped the last album 'Ringleader Of The Tormenters' and gone for a more rockier sound. As can be expected, miserable lyrics and a bleak outlook on life, delivered in his droll tuneful way.
Who is he:
Former lead singer of The Smiths, Morrissey is a great lyricist, outspoken on his views on politics and refuses to be pigeon holed with his music.
It gets off to a blazing start with the startling, 'Something Is Squeezing My Soul.' A macho performance from Morrissey as he pulls of the high notes with ease and builds to a frantic if not over excitable climax.
Things beging to get gloomy on 'Black Cloud' which finds his temper controlled yet the words dismal and bleak. The tune is less accessible on this, but the content more thoughtful.
'Im Throwing My Arms Around Paris' is about as happy as the album gets, as he laments how nobody loves him and only sand and stone will take his love. Grim lyrics are lifted by a positive melody, which harks back to 'First Of The Gang.'
Morrissey explores some new sounds, toying with a Mexican flavour on 'When Last I Spoke To Carol.' It sounds somewhat out of place, stirring memories of Morricone in parts, yet his delivery is faultless here.
'One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell' is uptempo and charged with a gripping chorus. A gutsy vocal and an anthemic feel about it ensure this is one of the more commerical offerings.
A Morrissey album would not be complete without the final dusting of doom, 'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore' does this quite well. Epic in length, it starts in a haunting almost ballad like form, before building to a heaving finale in which Morrissey shows his vocals are in their absolute prime. I was surprised at the notes he could still pull off here.
12 tracks, some good artwork, song lyrics included. Better than the last album.
Ever since Mozzer fans were left high and dry after the release of 'Maladjusted' (The seven year wait between that album and 'Quarry' being a highly inconsiderate length of time!) we've been treated with a flurry of new material, re-issues and greatest hits packages.
Previous album 'Ringleader of the Tormentors' was a slight disappointment after the excellent return of 'Quarry', but this latest album sees Morrissey sounding re-energised and as lyrically incisive as ever. Opener 'Something is Squeezing my Skull' flies out of the traps, covered in grungy guitars, Morrissey showing his vocal range in the chorus as he sweeps from baritone to falsetto in one fell swoop - The ending is awesome, layers of pounding drums over more drums.
Two of the songs on here were previously available on the recently released Greatest Hits -'That's How People Grow Up' and 'All You Need is Me' - both potential singles. Actual single 'I'm Throwing my Arms Around Paris' is more introspective, Moz finding home for his love in 'Steel and Stone'
Morrissey sounds younger than ever on this album, and his bandmates have helped craft a set of songs that belies his age. Its good to have you back Moz.
"Years of Refusal" is Morrissey's ninth solo album. It was recorded at the end of 2007, mixed in the first half of 2008 and finally released in February 2009. Morrissey co-wrote the album's 12 tracks with Alain Whyte, Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias, and has reportedly described it as his "strongest work to date." In the following review I will discuss whether the album lives up to the Mozzfather's claims.
As we have come to expect from Morrissey, many of the songs on 'Years of Refusal' appear to have an autobiographical origin and fans will recognise several of Mozza's reoccurring themes: unrequited love, mortality and loss etc. Even though the content of the songs is familiar, Morrissey's high energy delivery appears to be more passionate and edgier than before. Perhaps this vocal quality illustrates his conscious decision to no longer repress his thoughts and emotions; and to alternatively settle a few scores - after years of refusal. This sense of pent-up frustration and urgency is further accentuated by the album's aggressive, punk feel.
Track 1 - 'Something is Squeezing my Skull'
Morrissey draws on his own experience of using prescription drugs to combat depression in the album's opening track 'Something is Squeezing my Skull.' When he repeatedly delivers the line "I'm doing very well" his sarcasm is all too evident. The song's massive drums and jarring guitars echo the mood of many of the tracks that follow.
Track 2 - 'Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed'
Perhaps the strongest track on the album is 'Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed.' (Surely destined to be the follow-up single to 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris.') The song explores a child's attempt to explain and ultimately come to terms with its mother's suicide. Like the album's opening track, this song has relentless, unforgiving percussion. Its soaring chorus is Morrissey at his very best.
Track 3 - 'Black Cloud'
'Black Cloud' opens with angelic voices and heavenly guitars. But this mood is short-lived. Distorted guitars, rock drums and a relentless bass-line soon kick in as Morrissey explores what happens when unrequited love becomes an obsession.
Track 4 - 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris'
Mozza has jokingly described 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' as his aborted 2007 Eurovision entry. In the track he casts aside his previous love affairs with Los Angeles and Rome, to alternatively flirt with the French capital. The song's strength comes from its beautiful simplicity. It is perhaps the most commercial track on the album, as confirmed by its almost continual airplay.
Track 5 - 'All You Need is Me'
Like 'That's How People Grow Up,' 'All You Need is Me' was featured on Morrissey's 2008 'Greatest Hits' album. Morrissey alludes to his motivation for writing the track in a recent interview - "If you have a really dedicated audience who will follow you, come what may, it really annoys a lot of people and it annoys a lot of so-called critics. So they dig into you further and more so than they would otherwise." In the song Mozza reminds music critics how dependent they are on him, and gives advice to those who have nothing better to do than criticise his work, "There is so much destruction all over the world and all you can do is complain about me." The track's enormous drums and wall of raw guitars provide an appropriate backdrop to his angry vocal.
Track 6 - 'When Last I Spoke to Carol'
The sixth track on the album seems strangely incongruous. 'When Last I Spoke to Carol' has a carnival-like "mariachi" feel to it and is perhaps included to satisfy Morrissey's ever-growing South American fan base.
Track 7 - 'That's How People Grow Up'
Morrissey returns to his obsession with love and its pitfalls in 'That's How People Grow Up.' His tongue-in-cheek lyrics mock our constant desire to be loved; and give us one of the most memorable lines in the album, "I was driving my car. I crashed and broke my spine. So yes there are things worse in life, than never being someone's sweetie!"
Track 8 - 'One Day Goodbye Will be Farewell'
Morrissey has recently admitted that he is "obsessed with the brevity of life and how you use it...what you do with your time." In 'One Day Goodbye Will be Farewell' he examines this very subject; ruminating upon the unpredictable length of human mortality. The song mixes manic percussion with soaring synthesizers, and in the middle-eight mariachi trumpets are thrown in for good measure!
Track 9 - 'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore'
Morrissey explores the gap between "syrupy sentimental" affection and spontaneous physical love in 'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore.' What the track lacks in content - it certainly makes up for in volume!
Track 10 - 'You Were Good in Your Time'
The album changes gear with 'You Were Good in Your Time' and almost grinds to a halt. Morrissey takes us to a death bed and then (for what seems like ages) the strange "white noise" sounds that lie beyond...
Tracks 11 & 12 - 'Sorry Doesn't Help' & 'I'm Okay by Myself'
Even though the tempo picks up again for the final two tracks on the album, its momentum doesn't really return. 'Sorry Doesn't Help' features loads of melancholic guitar, whimsical strings and rock drums. Like 'Sorry Doesn't Help,' the topic covered by 'I'm Okay by Myself' needs no additional explanation. Neither songs are particularly 'deep.'
Whilst I don't think that 'Years of Refusal' is Morrissey's strongest work to date, I must admit that there are some truly stunning tracks on the album; 'Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed' and 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' spring immediately to mind. As he approaches his half-century it is clear that the Mozzfather can still produce the goods. Long may his reign continue...
(Price: £ 8.98 at Amazon.co.uk)
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Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Something Is Squeezing My Skull
2 Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed
3 Black Cloud
4 I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
5 All You Need Is Me
6 When I Last Spoke To Carol
7 That's How People Grow Up
8 One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
9 It's Not Your Birthday Anymore
10 You Were Good In Your Time
11 Sorry Doesn't Help
12 I'm OK By Myself