Courtesy of Filter Magazine, we have one 12″ vinyl copy of Years of Refusal to give away to one lucky winner. To sign up to win, just comment this review or email us. We’ll randomly choose a winner Fri Mar 13. Morrissey plays the Warner Theatre in DC on Sat Mar 14.
One of the trickiest things to do is weigh in on an icon. While I steadfastly maintain that feigning any sort of objective position to critique art devoid of personal experiences is folly, the hazards of bias and personal baggage are exponentially amplified when dealing with pivotal and popular figures.
Morrissey (Wiki), lead-singer from a little band known as the Smiths, is such a figure. But if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to attempt to brazenly traverse this minefield of my mind and give some thoughts on his latest release, Years of Refusal.
With Morrissey, you know what you are going to get from the moment you click play. This new album features no surprising paradigm shifts in sound, approach or sensibilities. Still present and accounted for are the rather generic pop-rock sensibilities, punctuated by brief creative bursts all couching Moz’s signature vocals and particular lyricism. What makes this album worth a listen, unsurprisingly, is what got Morrissey much of his acclaim in the first place: his vocals. Crushing with either their power or their weight, Morrissey at his best is an absolutely devastating force few can match, and one that he replicates here for the first time in years.
One hallmark of Morrissey’s solo career is seemingly a softening of this impact, his voice progressively losing its edge and punch, becoming almost dispassionate at times. On this latest effort, it seems that this icon has rediscovered a bit of his renowned vocal piss and vinegar. You can hear it in nearly every phrase issued forth; his vocals are more fierce and vital than they have been for ages. It’s plain from opener “Something is squeezing my skull,” Mozster scaling smoothly and effortlessly up an impressive vocal range before dropping into an increasingly furious and frustrated repetition of “don’t gimmie anymore,” a vigorous response to the mind-numbing culture of drug-centric therapies. The ominously titled “Black Cloud” bears a befitting mood, Morrissey’s voice diving in and out of cavernous, minor key baritone bellows to garnish the tried-and-true theme of unrequited love. But I’m fairly confident the highlight track is “It’s not your birthday anymore.” This takes the cake for the most disturbed content on the record, turning in a rather shocking rape verse: “it cannot be given/and so it must be taken/All of the gifts that they gave can’t compare in any way/to the love I am now giving to you right here right now/on the floor.”
While lyrically on point, musically the album feels overproduced: the overprocessed bass and percussive elements are too tautly punchy and sound pre-packaged for a top 40 radio debut. Overly slick, even by Moz standards. The upside: the musical monotony that can often plague Morrissey’s albums is somewhat averted by liberal use of horns, piano and other instruments to help texture the songs more than the standard rock instrumentation. The aching ballad “You were good in your time,” lushly appointed with yearning strings that land the track just shy of a Broadway tune, collapses into an atmospheric din. In fact, Moz even ventures out of his comfort zone to reveal a bit of modern influence/tribute: the bass line and wood block accents from “That’s how people grow up” bear uncanny resemblance to LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk is playing at my house.” So here we find ourselves with another aging icon, Morrissey, clearly settled into his creative niche and content with not wandering much further; this same story is one we’ve seen many times before. The difference here being that Morrissey re-vitalizes his formula by sheer force of charisma and passion. That alone warrants a listen, if only to hear that legendary fire in Moz’s voice again.
Release Date: Feb 17 2009
Label: Lost Highway Records
- “Something Is Squeezing My Skull”
- “Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed”
- “Black Cloud”
- “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”
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