Years of Refusal
43:19 min • Decca • February 16th, 2009
On his latest foray into the worlds of Hip-Hop, Crunk and R&B we at last get the chance to hear Morrissey’s much-trumpeted, Neptunes-produced duet with Pussycat Doll Nicole Sherzinger…
Oh of course I’m lying. It’s another Morrissey solo album, peeps, his ninth since 1988’s Viva Hate. It’s only fair to state from the off that if you didn’t find much to like in the previous eight you won’t like this one either. My advice to the non-faithful would therefore be you’d be better off ironing underpants or perming your ears a la Sybil Fawlty than continuing much further with this review. Move right along, nothing to see here…
Phew. I thought they’d never go. Actually, the first ever playback of Years Of Refusal was a rather more exciting proposition than the usual locking-you-in-an-airless-West-London-record-company-office-with-some-warm-Evian affair. Instead, a select few were summoned to The Pigalle club off London’s Piccadilly Circus. Appropriately for one of British pop’s grande dames, it’s the kind of joint the Krays might have swaggered through on a trip Up West, as Diana Dors twinkled prettily from the balcony. In the faded glamour of the club’s gloom waiters noiselessly distributed (vegetarian) canapés as rumours ran rife beforehand that the man himself would be making an appearance. This being Morrissey – i.e. the most capricious artist in the world – the counter-rumours that he wouldn’t turn up were equally alive. As any fan will attest, the last-minute Mo’ no-show rather comes with the territory.
But he did turn up. First, a sort of vague buzz emanating from stage right and suddenly there he was, ensconced in a velvet booth, blue-lit, a star in presence. Then, after a few words from the boss of his record label the man himself took to the mic. Beginning with a rather opaque reference to “the ghost of Dorothy Squires”, he drew our attention to the presence of legendary rock scribe Paul Morley (the stuck in his ears, smirking away.
Years Of Refusal is Morrissey’s most vicious, attacking set since 1992’s Your Arsenal. Pleasantly demented opener Something Is Squeezing My Skull certainly takes no prisoners and deserves a place up there with the very greatest Moz rockers, like Glamorous Glue or First Of The Gang To Die, while the rat-a-tat, military-style drums from new boy Matt Walker on Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed and elsewhere lend the proceedings a steely, brutal urgency. Heck, as if to prove the album’s authentic rock chops veteran ‘60s axe hero Jeff Beck even turns in a contribution on Black Cloud. Except perhaps for the pretty forthcoming single I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris it’s apparent we’re in markedly different territory from the layered lushness of previous album Ringleader Of The Tormentors, a result no doubt of producer Jerry Finn’s insistence that chunks of the sessions be recorded live and on the fly. Whereas parts of the previous Finn / Moz studio collaboration You Are The Quarry felt lifeless against their live counterparts, here they all just nail it. Tragically, what could have been the start of a revitalized relationship between band and producer was not to be, with Finn succumbing to a fatal brain haemorrhage shortly after work finished on the record.
Lyrically the man can still turn a phrase like nobody else. While a disturbingly high proportion of the new songs do seem to allude to a sort of final bowing out (and in a couple of cases actual suicide – don’t do it, Stephen!) that finely-honed, characteristic dark humour abounds. In fact, Years Of Refusal teems with petulant laugh-out-loud couplets – I was a small fat child in a welfare house, there was only one thing I ever dreamed about and fate has handed it to me – whoopeee”; “I’ve hammered a smile across this pasty face of mine since the day I was born in 1975” and “There are worse things in life than never being someone’s sweetie”. More fun than The Pigeon Detectives, huh?
So, at the end of the day, yes it is another Morrissey record. While you could argue he’s said it all before, the faithful among us won’t mind as long as he carries on being so damned entertaining whilst saying it. And we won’t be hankering after any Pussycat Dolls duets either.