Morrissey – Years Of Refusal

years-of-refusal

Morrissey – Years Of Refusal (Attack/Lost Highway Records; released 2/17/09)

Steven Patrick Morrissey is turning 50 this year.

To still be at the top of your game twenty-five years after your star first shone is not only amazing; it’s a pretty rare feat- there’s only a few others who’ve been able to command the attention and maintain the spotlight as long. No wonder Mozza was named the second most important person of the twentieth century on the BBC‘s The Culture Show‘s “Living Icons” by a vote of fans- finishing behind the godfather of nature television, David Attenborough (but ahead of the dude who wrote Yesterday, Ziggy Fucking Stardust and this guy). In some respects the Brits are way behind Americans in terms of exporting culture- but here they’ve nailed it.

Morrissey‘s unique voice is so imprinted on me as such a defining part of my life that it would be hard to imagine him not being there to get me through things like high school, falling in love, break-ups and break-downs. I’ve read too many interviews, articles and books on the man, listened to far too much of his music over the years to give anything less than a sycophantic and fawning review. Steven, you’ve ruined my life…

The influence Moz has exerted over the world of music is so far reaching- look at this list of artists his songs have been covered by: Placebo, J. Mascis, Cursive, Mojo Nixon, Quicksand, Love Spit Love, Everclear, t.a.T.u., Jeff Buckley, Bow Wow Wow, Billy Bragg, Low, Grant Lee Phillips, Anthrax, Muse, Elefant, Deftones, Supergrass, Mark Ronson, Death Cab For Cutie, The Magic Numbers, Anberlin, Stars, At The Drive-In, Therapy?, Kirsty MacColl, 10,000 Maniacs, The Pretenders, Colin Meloy, David Bowie, AFI, Reel Big Fish and The Killers, and about 50 more bands even I’ve never heard of, so you know they’ve got to be obscure as all hell.

His presence has been both comforting and perplexing; I think because he’s such a confusing character study- one minute he’s basking in the limelight, the next he’s invisible for stretches of up to almost two years. A dichotomy between thought and action; if he’s not breaking up the biggest independent act in the world at the height of their popularity to start a solo career, then he’s releasing album after album of quality music (that the critics will always compare to his output with Marr & Co., which is an egregious offense; he’s grown up and away from that naive idealism to a skeptical realism). If he’s not being a very reclusive and private person he’s having a vegetarian Thanksgiving with Pamela Anderson. Then his fans cry they want him out in the open, the image of a more accessible Morrissey seems to both repel and encourage him.

On his ninth record, the once dubbed “pope of mope” has now become the “king of zing”, turning his poison pen outward with such vitriol it’s hard to mention his recent work in the same breath with such self-effacing tunes like How Soon Is Now?, Unloveable(I’m) The End Of The Family Line, Maladjusted, I’ve Changed My Plea To Guilty; you can see how this list could go on forever…

Here on Years Of Refusal he’s on the offensive- nothing and no one is safe. The opening track Something Is Squeezing My Skull is a scathing attack on pharmaceutical drugs; diazepam, valium, lithium- imploring “…how long must I stay on this stuff? Please don’t give me any more!” I knew the Moz has struggled with clinical depression, I didn’t know he’d been so heavily medicated over the years. It’s like twenty-plus years of our strained relationship now make sense; I can see why he’s had such a chip on his shoulder lately.

The second track, Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed is a divisive send-up of life itself; in one breath there’s: Life is nothing much to lose…” and in the next, “…it’s just so lonely here without you”. Life is over-rated and life without you is even more over-rated. Few people have had the luxury Morrissey‘s been afforded- to be both taken too seriously and not seriously at all.

Interviewer: Did you hear t.a.T.u.‘s version of How Soon Is Now?
Morrissey: Yes, it was magnificent. Absolutely. Again, I don’t know much about them.
Interviewer: They’re the teenage Russian lesbians.
Morrissey: Well, aren’t we all?

Of course, every Morrissey sound bite is like gold; he’s either railing against or railing for something- that’s why his lyrics are such pure gold also. On Black Cloud (which is a modified version of an allusion that seems to appear on all his albums): I can woo you, I can amuse you- but there is nothing I can do to make you mine- Black cloud, black cloud…” Unfortunately for Steven, there’s always a black cloud following him- super-producer Jerry Finn suffered a cerebral hemmorage right after finishing the album and died on August 9th. Tragedy comes when you least expect; something tells me Morrissey is always expecting these things.

I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris is obviously the best choice for the first single; it’s as Moz as it gets. The music is on point and the lyrics evoke something of a diary entry- saying something to the effect of “I’ve found where I belong; for now…” This man has lived all over the world, each time adapting a new persona to fit his surroundings: Manchester, London, Los Angeles, Rome, Paris- and every album has an inspired feel to it.

On All You Need Is Me, we’re reminded that it’s in fact Morrissey‘s world and we just happen to live in it. For the next song, which has been a hot topic on the Moz-related message boards: is When Last I Spoke To Carol an ode to Kirsty MacColl? It’s been a known fact that Steven changes the names of his song’s subject to an assumed pseudonym, and there’s some evidence in the lyrics to support this fact. Then there’s the requisite good-bye to youth song, That’s How People Grow Up and the once-and-for-all kiss-off One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell.

Then again, all these songs could be aimed at Johnny Marr, what with his recent re-emergence and success with Modest Mouse and all. There’s been this rumor flying around for years now (it’s funny how much speculation there’s been about the Mozza‘s love life…) that Morrissey and Marr were lovers, and The Smiths were crushed under the weight of their jealousies and all that. Irreconcilable differences over just music? I doubt it; there has to be some other component to their relationship. I’m just saying is all…

It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore sounds like it could’ve been a B-side back in the Kill Uncle days, I know full well that album’s been much maligned but I (of course) love it for its under-rated quirky appeal. Next, You Were Good In Your Time follows- as a track for the slow and crooning Moz to take over; I was wondering when that side of him was going to show up on the record. You know, there’s been a lot of mention of the heart as well as the mind; and there you have the battlefield where the war is being fought and that resulting struggle serves as the impetus that makes Morrissey‘s music as great as it is. (Am I making you sick yet?)

I’d say sorry, but sorry doesn’t help us / And sorry will not save us / And sorry will not bring my teen years back to me / (Any time soon)”, the Sad One sings on Sorry Doesn’t Help. Which is what people say when they want to force humility out of themselves; I’ve seen children use that word and expect everything to be OK- but sorry without an effort is phony, and Morrissey knows this all too well.

There’s a handful of songs in Steven‘s back-catalog that are what I call “quintessential Mozza tunes”; usually one from each record, (more often appearing near the end of the tracklisting) that captures his mission statement (if he were to have one): Suedehead (Viva Hate), There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends (Kill Uncle), Tomorrow (Your Arsenal), Speedway (Vauxhall and I), Reader Meet Author (Southpaw Grammar), Satan Rejected My Soul (Maladjusted), Irish Blood, English Heart (You Are The Quarry), I Just Want To See The Boy Happy (Ringleader Of The Tormentors), plus a handful of B-sides like I Know Very Well How I Got My Name, Boxers and I’ve Changed My Plea To Guilty.

On Years Of Refusal; it’s the last track I’m OK By Myself. “Could this be an arm around my waist? / Well, surely the hand contains a knife / It’s been so all of my life / Why change now? It hasn’t!” Getting stabbed in the back (another Morrissey motif, going all the way back to 1994’s Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself) and the wall he erects around himself with: “This might make you throw up in your bed / I’m OK by myself and I don’t need you / and I never have, I never have / No, no / No, no!” Playing the last line of the record against the first; “I’m doing very well…” I believe he’s effectively quashing all hints at a reunion with these statements.

So what else is Moz saying on his ninth solo album? That he’s wealthy (as opposed to “rich”) so there’s no need to worry about selling records (they will sell anyway, good or not) or pleasing the record company (he’s one of the few artists that the word “integrity” actually still means something to) and that he’s been able to maintain some semblance of a private personal life while selling somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 million records worldwide (I’m combining his previous body of work); it’s become painfully clear that Morrissey doesn’t need anyone.

Tracklist:

1. Something Is Squeezing My Skull
2. Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed
3. Black Cloud
4. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
5. All You Need Is Me
6. When Last I Spoke to Carol
7. That’s How People Grow Up
8. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
9. It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore
10. You Were Good in Your Time
11. Sorry Doesn’t Help
12. I’m OK by Myself

Years Of Refusal