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Rusholme ROFLOL? Morrissey's New Album Years Of Refusal Reviewed
John Doran , January 12th, 2009 13:25

Morrissey may have fallen out of love as quickly as he found it during Ringleader Of The Tormentors, but when the feelings fled did his mojo as well, asks John Doran?

'Something Is Squeezing My Skull'

As is his wont, Simon Reynolds cuts straight to the heart of the matter when it comes to The Smiths. To people (such as my mum) who complain about Morrissey ("that terrible man who wants to get run over by a bus") being too depressing ("why doesn't he just cheer up?"), he presents a simple idea: The Smiths weren't too miserable but not miserable enough. This is a sentiment that always rang true to me. The closest they ever came to a 'classic' album (not counting the flawless compilation Hatful Of Hollow) was Meat Is Murder because it was not hamstrung by awful music hall schtick like 'Frankly Mr. Shankly' or the atrociously chipper sounding 'Girlfriend In A Coma'. While it's true that as a solo artist Morrissey has excised every last trace of 'Where's Me Washboard?' tomfoolery, it is also true that this album is a lot more buoyant than the elegiac and accepting Ringleader Of The Tormentors and the mostly world-weary You Are The Quarry. This buoyancy presents itself in what could loosely be termed as pop punk and there are nods to New York Dolls, Foo Fighters and Buzzcocks on this disc; thankfully stopping some way short of acknowledging 'Hooray For Boobies' by The Bloodhound Gang. This is perhaps no surprise given that producer Jerry Finn and keyboard player Roger Manning have both worked together before . . . with Blink 182. The opener indulges in one of Steven Patrick's great loves: a good list. He ticks off his real friends in life: "diazepam, valium, temazepam, lithium, HRT, ECT" causing Quietus Captain Luke Turner to remark: "Moz is like an indie version of Clement Freud when he's winning Just A Minute."

'Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed'

Like a Ken Loach film reborn as an indie song, this is Morrissey's contractual rant against various authority figures including "pigs in grey suits", "uncivil servants", "priggish money men", "bailiffs with bad breath" who drove the protagonist's mother to an early grave. A brilliantly perverse guitar solo is so distorted and processed through ring modulation that no notes can be made out, just a contrastingly pretty/ugly, jolie-laid buzzing noise.

'Black Cloud'

"Why is Jeff Beck be playing with Morrissey?!" I can imagine the howls of protest that would have greeted this daft combo in the '80s but this is as good an indicator as any of how times have changed. Morrissey is of course, despite his protestations, part of the canon now. File him next to Nick Cave as a South Bank Show Special approved, broadsheet backed, bona-fide 'recognised' songwriter of his generation. This is exactly as it should be but does the presence of Jeff 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' Beck suggest that he's perhaps gone too far? (Sonically, there's no question that he has - there's an unmistakable whiff of Dire Straits to this.) Where will Morrissey's rampant nostalgia for a misremembered Britain end up? Employing the Baron Knights as a warm up act? Covering 'Tears' by Ken Dodd? A posthumous duet with Mrs Miller? A split single with Saxon? All of this nonsense is just serving to mask the main thing here, which is that this song is ever so slightly pedestrian and depressing. In the bad, non-Simon Reynolds interpretation of the word.

'I'm Throwing My Arms Round Paris'

It's a classic sign of unhappiness or depression, a rootless inability to settle; like the protagonist with bad nerves from TS Eliot's Wasteland who travels south for the winter. And even though it might just be that, like Woody Allen, Steven Patrick is on some kind of extended tour of Europe in order to reduce viscosity in his creative juices, one can't help but feel that this nomadic, unsettled existence mirrors an occasional lack of concentration on songwriting. This hymn to Paris sounds shiftless in intent when compared to his previous infatuations with Rome, Los Angeles, Camden etc. This is a classic Morrissey single with a classic sound; but this in turn will be thrown into sharp relief when it is released as a single, as it is backed (on some formats) by a live version of 'Death Of A Disco Dancer'. Unintentionally this reminds the listener just how radical The Smiths actually sounded from time to time, rather than uniform as Moz sounds here.

'All You Need Is Me'

This is a lot more dynamic with fuzzed up, overdriven bass and guitars and, like most of the tunes here, will suit the live arena. As it has done already actually. Released as a single last year and featured on Decca's Morrissey compilation, this is one of the oldest songs featured.

'When I Last Spoke To Carol'

A cheeky Mariachi six string guitar intro (presumably played by Jesse Tobias) and some muted Tijuana trumpets make for a jaunty counterpoint to a kitchen sink vignette about Carol who was "born in 1975". When introducing his band at the short-lived Camden Roundhouse stint after his comments on immigration were printed in NME, Tobias "a real live Mexican" was brandished like a get out of jail free card. This, once again, demonstrated his complete detachment from what you or I would call normality and showed that just as the singer was unparalleled at being a cartographer of his own interior landscape, he was often clueless when it came to dealing with the exterior world. This is one of three songs that he has co-written with Tobias for the new album. (Ed: It's co-written by Whyte not Tobias)

'That's How People Grow Up'

Mum, if you're reading, look what the terrible man has to sing: "I was driving my car. I crashed and broke my spine. So, yes there are worse things in life than never being someone's sweetie." He seems to be concerned with getting his waspish anti-mojo back after getting all giddy and falling in love during the run up to 'Ringleader. After all, only in MorrisseyWorld would you be presented with the logic 'Well, no one loves me but I've been crippled in a car crash so I'm not going to sit round whinging about it.' Another single taken from the Decca Best Of from last year.

'One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell'

Even though on the whole I really like this album a lot there are a couple of really non-descript songs like this that probably shouldn't have made the final cut. Would it be too much to ask for SPM to concentrate on being less inoffensive musically rather than spending his time tiresomely courting controversy by being offensive when it comes to proclamations on UK immigration, one wonders?

'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore'

The admonishment you'd give to a festively, over performing child is brandished as cutting metaphor. The protagonist tells his lover that they have reached the end of their honeymoon period. This acidic attack is made all the more effective as it is contrasted with a remembrance of happier, lustier times: "all of the gifts that they gave to you can't compare any way to the love I'm giving to you, right here, on the floor". This is a delight on every level. The epic, swelling whip-crack of a song is enhanced by an oboe solo. No jokes please.

'You Were Good In Your Time'

His nibs is a past master at kicking former pals and idols in the teeth on withering tracks such as 'We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful' but this appears to be a heartfelt tribute to an idol who made him feel less "deformed, uninformed and hunch-backed". Steel brushes caress snare skins allowing his marvellous croon to flow unimpeded. Do samples of voices speaking in French maybe suggest a subject? Serge Gainsbourg? Jean-Paul Belmondo?

'Sorry Doesn't Help'

An overdriven glam guitar wails over synthetic strings and a hectic piano refrain calls to mind The Sparks and Bowie; and it's highly unlikely that this was an accident. Here Morrissey castigates an unspecified person for saying sorry and not meaning it and saying that to apologize for a situation is not the same as mending it. Surely this is a notion that my mum would appreciate much more than "all that awful car crash nonsense"?

'I'm OK By Myself'

I love it when Morrissey rocks out. When he did the theatre tour around the release of 'Ringleader the undoubted highlight for me was watching the spectacle of 'I Will See You In Far Off Places' ending in a blitz of strobes with Moz lying on the floor in crucifix position while Boz Boorer hammered the neck of his guitars into the stage summoning up howls of white noise as Matt Chamberlain played the world's biggest drum that doubled as a search light. I can imagine this song being played live in the same way. It is a great ending to the album, with fuzzed up bass, frenetic drum fills and a petrol-powered front man yodelling his arse off. Talking of recent tours, many people were disturbed by the extent that Morrissey seemed to have been affected by conjugal bliss, changing the lyrics to 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want' to reflect how happy he was. He refers to this period specifically (as he does elsewhere on the album) when he sings: "Could this be an arm around my waist? Well, surely the hand contains a knife. It's been so all of my life. Why change now? It hasn't." And despite it all – the disappointing little Englander, Daily Mail-esque outbursts of recent years – you can't help but hope the silly old sod hasn't shrugged off a shot at happiness just because his mental fans (i.e. people like me) expect it of him.

Read The Quietus' second take on Years of Refusal

Read The Quietus' review of 2008's Sound Of The Smiths compilation

Mr Morrissey meets Mr Agreeable