Album review: Morrissey
Years Of Refusal
Facts about this album:
Noel Gallagher thinks that Morrissey is the greatest lyricist ever
As a child, Morrissey was obsessed with ’60s girl groups and female singers such as Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw, who later sang with The Smiths
Morrissey’s first solo album, ‘Viva Hate’ was originally going to be called ‘Education In Reverse’, but was renamed to reflect his feelings after the break-up of The Smiths
Morrissey should be a national treasure; God knows after over 25
years he’s earned it. He should be a magnificent cultural totem with the same status in music as Stephen Fry, Alan Bennett and Bruce Forsyth in their respective disciplines of comedy, playwriting and being a chinny berk. That’s what should have happened by now, anyway.
Of course the clues were there with 2004’s return from the wilderness, ‘You Are The Quarry’, that Morrissey didn’t want to be accepted as a grand dame. With equal parts wit, big unsubtle riffs and portraits of lovelessness and rampant thuggery, this was no quiet acceptance of an anointed role. He didn’t want to soften up and accept the passing of time and the dilution of passion, a position reiterated on 2006’s ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’. He still felt it: St Sebastian with a quiff, the barbs and arrows, however insultingly ill-fashioned, hitting home.
As a result of this, elsewhere you’ll read about how Morrissey is a disciple of grudges, Victor Meldrew running on a diet of powdered vitriol, a man only willing to put right perceived wrongs. It’s an argument demolished by cursory examination of this album, not to mention a single recent event: anyone who can meet Noel Gallagher backstage at an Oasis concert and deadpan “got any new moves?” certainly deserves your attention.
Love and its bruising unobtainableness remains his chief concern, but with ‘Years Of Refusal’ some things have changed. For a start there’s less of the stately strings of ‘Ringleader…’ and more of the direct rockabilly of ‘…Quarry’. ‘Something Is Squeezing My Skull’ is as powerful and muscular an opener as ‘You’re Going To Need Someone’s Help On Your Side’ from ‘Your Arsenal’ but the humour is simultaneously more accessible and darker than before. There’s something intoxicatingly funny about the moment when he hits the high note as he sings the title, which is bettered by a darkly humorous litany of imagined medical interventions that includes both hormone replacement and electroconvulsive therapy. Topping this off is a breathless repeated coda of “Don’t gimme any more”. You’d have to be made of sober, Gordon Brownian stuff not to find it desperately funny. Similarly expressive yelping graces the ‘Sweet And Tender Hooligan’-esque ‘I’m OK By Myself’ and complements the ace fuzz bass of ‘All You Need Is Me’. It’ll have you hugging the air with joy.
Aside from the beautifully mannered tone, wit and audacious “la-la”s there is something deeper going on here, though. Even in The Smiths, death frequently featured in Morrissey’s lyrics, but always cast in flippant tone (double-decker buses etc). Here death is superseded by explorations of mortality – an important distinction. It’s as if Morrissey is at last considering what happens when death at one’s elbow gets a little closer. It’s apparent on ‘Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed’ and ‘When I Last Spoke To Carol’ but nowhere more so than on ‘You Were Good In Your Time’: Morrissey’s doomy vocal laps gently among carousing strings and delicate guitar with what sounds like a fan addressing his former idol. This uncharacteristically subtle arrangement abruptly falls away after he intones “Were you actually aware that you died?” leaving a genuinely unsettling aural vacuum that feels like stepping into your own tomb.
Morrissey is feeling mortality like never before but will – thankfully
– not go quietly (although on the evidence of the blustering ‘Black
Cloud’, you occasionally wish his band would). Or without a well-aimed witticism. So, Morrissey, may you continue to rage against the dying
of the light that previously never went out. You’d be so much less interesting otherwise.