Years of Refusal
2 out of 5 stars
Nostalgia’s a bitch. If you have too much of it, you’re punch-drunk and the warm sentiment hazes all reason and judgment. In the world of music, such nostalgia-induced beer goggles make it all too easy to become convinced that less-than-genius music is classic. But the hard truth is this: What once was perfection might not remain great forever. For, as Robert Frost once said, “nothing gold can stay.”
On Morrissey’s Years of Refusal, it’s tempting to hear his cool, cocky voice — the once-signature sound of The Smiths — and declare the album a triumph by default, stellar by association. But while distinct tracks are successful, the album doesn’t quite reach the soaring heights where Morrisey’s icon perches on its pedestal.
One of the world’s more forthright and controversial rock stars, Morrissey has a flair for the dramatic, an abundant amount of confidence (which is abhorrent trait for anyone but a rock star) and a penchant for engaging in conflict with, well, everyone. Years of Refusal is a musical manifestation of all these elements.
Morrissey’s voice is his most recognizable quality. His strong, melodic tone and marked British accent have long worked wonders, lending just the right amount of arrogance to maintain his musical allure. This time around, his vocals are more punctuated, though. Where there used to be undertones of annoyed detachment, there now lies degrees of full-frontal aggression.
This is befitting to the album’s largely heavy subject matter. His words are clipped as he takes vengeance against ex-lovers, drugs, alcohol and human mortality. He takes on drug addiction in “Something Is Squeezing My Skull,” which he sings in true to form, over-the-top fashion. In the song, he punches with lines such as “Diazepam, Valium, Tarmazpam, lithium / ECT, HRT, how long must I stay on this stuff? / Please don’t give me any more.”
“All You Need Is Me” provides an example of when Morrissey’s proud ego outwears its allure, leading itself to hollow kitsch. He tepidly announces, “You don’t like me / but you love me / Either way you’re wrong / You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.”
One of only two true ballads on the album, “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” begins with enough cymbal swooshing and pitch bending to cause some serious indigestion. But the chorus soars with Morrissey’s powerfully emotive bellows coupled with classic power chords, saving him from sounding too much like a Robbie Williams clone. Lyrically, the song goes from nonsensical (“Your voice it might say ‘no’ / but the heart has a heart of its own,”) to raunchy (“All 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”).
Despite these notable tracks, the album itself lacks an ebb and flow of energy. Years of Refusal doesn’t fall flat — the majority of the songs throb with a brash vigor fashioned by eager drums and garage-rock guitar — but the energy level is at a constant throughout the album’s entirety. And by the fourth track, those drums and power chords have pounded any apt eardrum into numbed boredom. There is no progression or variation of verve, and, while individual songs succeed, the album lacks dynamics.
Years of Refusal brings Morrissey’s outspoken and salaciously arrogant voice back onto the scene and dishes out a refreshing dose of good old fashioned rock’n’roll. There’s a fine line between the throwback album of a seasoned musician and that of a washed-up rock-star. Years manages to achieve the former, but flounders in piecing together a moving, complete album up to the caliber of Morrissey’s former band.