Years Of Refusal
, February 10th, 2009 07:33
That an artist could reach his or her half-century and still be recording new material was once (often quite justifiably) considered something of a joke. Look at the half-arsed nonsense that much of the 60s generation left behind at that stage of their career - middle of the road pomp rock barely hinting at what had made their name in the first place or the inevitable covers album that went some way to paying the mortgage and the kids' private tuition fees.
And yet, as displayed by the punk generation and beyond, that's a theory that no longer holds much water. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds reached a high-water mark with last year's Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, Paul Weller stretched himself beyond his comfort zone for 22 Dreams, Mark E Smith continues in his own idiosyncratic fashion while Siouxsie Sioux's position as the Grande Dame of British Rock remains undiminished. Only Robert Smith has failed to pass muster, though in fairness to the big fella, he doesn't hit 50 until April, a month before Moz.
And what of Morrissey, the Queen Mum Of British Indie? After seven years in the wilderness, his own Lazarus-like (or Christ-like, in the eyes of the believers) resurrection in the shape of 2004's You Are The Quarry proved there was life in the old dog yet while Ringleader Of The Tormentors showed that its predecessor was no one-off. Though hardly consistent listens, they did at least display a fire in the old trooper's belly that many assumed had gone the way of the dodo.
Years Of Refusal stands as the best of his post-comeback releases and it's not difficult to see why, containing as it does his best songs since God was a boy. The problem for many people – this writer included – is that too often Morrissey has sacrificed tunes in favour of a lyrical verbosity that takes precedence over everything else. So while it remained a joy to listen to Morrissey's witticisms, waspish put-downs and the aural equivalent of Kenneth Williams' rolling eyes, flared nostrils and 'o'-shaped mouth, they didn't really amount to much without the sonic arsenal to match.
This time, however, things are very different. 'Something Is Squeezing My Head' is positively muscular as guitars finally do what they're supposed to (ie rock – those quiffs seem justified at last) while Morrissey seethes with a passion that's utterly re-affirming. Proving this isn't just a flash in the pan, Morrissey flexes himself again on 'All You Need Is Me' and the maudlin 'Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed'. Credit, therefore, is due to Mozzer's hired hands (the ever-faithful Boz Boorer, Jesse Tobias et al) and the sparkling production techniques of the late So-Cal punk knob twiddler Jerry Finn.
But it's not all bombast. 'When I Last Spoke To Carol' finds Morrissey employing mariachi horns and flamenco guitars to grand effect while 'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore' veers between extremes with a deftness of touch and more than a drop of malice. Perhaps mindful of his mortality, Morrissey confronts his limited time with grace and wit. 'One Day Will Be Final' does pretty much tackles what it says on the tin while 'All You Need Is Me''s refrain of “You're gonna miss me when I'm gone” has more than a ring of truth about it.
Naturally, this being Morrissey, a few bollocks are dropped here and there. The ephemeral 'Black Cloud' – featuring Jeff Beck, ferchrissakes – leaves nary an impression while 'Sorry Doesn't Help' meanders in that circuitous and pointless way that the dregs of his material tends to and it's difficult to shake the feeling that it arrived on the back of roll that no one wanted to admit had stopped.
It's unlikely that Years Of Refusal will win Morrissey any new admirers; this far down the line both Morrissey and his many detractors are way too stuck in their ways to ever sway each other but crucially – and this, one suspects, has been the game plan all along - it will win over the legions of floating voters. But will Morrissey have the last word? He's certainly dropped enough hints that pastures new may be beckoning. He very probably will but not just yet. Not this time.