Morrissey Is Not A Yes Man

mariasci | January 5, 2009 5:00 am

ARTIST: Morrissey TITLE: Years of Refusal WEB DEBUT: Jan. 4, 2009 RELEASE DATE: Feb. 13, 2009

ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: Remember When I Was Cruel, the “back to his roots” rock album Elvis Costello put out a few years ago? Refusal sounds a lot like that, though of course Morrissey’s roots are much gentler. The guitars are loud; the drums are pretty close to the red; the bass is distorted; there aren’t a lot of filigrees, though the ones that are there are appreciated. Among the music cognoscenti, this isn’t going to get a lot of attention probably, given its proximity to the shrill, blunt blarefest Pitchfork gave a 9.6 to this morning, but it deserves some. It sounds louder to me than the last Morrissey album (the ostensible rock one), but more than anything else, it sounds tight. The melodies are clear and direct, the songs get in and get out (5 of the 11 tracks are under 3 minutes), and Morrissey sings his ass off. The horns, children, strings, and theremin (?) work within the songs rather than outside them. When he finally breaks off for a ballad in the second half (“It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore”), it sounds earned rather than boilerplate, and the track’s mix of ’80s synths, Marr-ish guitar, and gong gives way to a fair rager of a rock chorus. No idea if this will hold up a few years down the line (I listened to When I Was Cruel incessantly at the time, but have little interest now), but at the moment, it’s a winner.

THE BEST TRACK: I’m a sucker for a leadoff track, and “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” doesn’t disappoint. The arrangement manages to sound like the Smiths but aggressive, the way Moz’s jumps to the final word of the title in the chorus gives me goosebumps, and the pharmaceutical list and refusal chant of the middle 8 barrels intro a practically …Trail of Dead-like coda. Morrissey: He rocked my socks off.