Morrissey | Years of Refusal
Most Likely To: make you start using the phrase “going on holiday” in polite conversation. Whether or not this is a good thing is questionable.
Morrissey is a fascinating figure to me. Very few in his particular position would have either the longevity or the curiosity of character to maintain as influential a persona as Morrissey has been able to do since his time with The Smiths. One way or another, the man has been able to cultivate a cult of personality rivaled by few, if any at all. This is understandable in one respect – Morrissey is a gifted vocalist, simultaneously aware of his limitations and how to best exploit those limitations so as to leave an indelible impression on the listener.
Years of Refusal is replete with the Morrissey-isms the faithful have come to yearn for (speaking, of course, of his signature frog-in-throat caterwaul and novel vowel emphasis) and is as much fanservice at times as it is anything else. I mean really, who else but Morrissey would have a fanbase forgiving enough, affectionate enough towards their foppish demigod to tolerate the straight 60/40 lyric-to-moan ejaculation that are tracks like “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore”?
As much as we could spend pages wrapping ourselves up in the man’s quirks and egomaniacal indulgences alone, we must move on. Years of Refusal is an excellent record, yes, but one that (much like all of Morrissey’s other solo efforts) is impossible to digest from outside of the shadow cast by the man’s previous works. Within The Smiths there are, of course, Morrissey’s greatest artistic achievements. I personally believe this to be due entirely to the tempering spirit provided by Marr and the rest. It was Johnny Marr that brought Morrissey out of his shell in the first place. Through what I can only imagine to be vast reserves of patience, The Smiths honed Morrissey’s skills as a pop vocalist to a razor’s edge, but at some point the spirit behind what made the man great hit the roof of his own ego. Years of Refusal emphasizes this point strongly for both better and for worse. As he’s continued to develop himself over the years, Morrissey’s technical skill as a lyricist/vocalist only reaches new heights (the passionate and clever turns of phrase on “I’m OK By Myself”, for example) with every new offering refining his science and wit to a spearpoint.
The problem, really, is that Morrissey’s greatest antagonist is now someone with whom he is overpoweringly in love with: himself. This fact becomes obvious when you take into account the sonic quality of Years of Refusal. Our kid is first in the mix, above and beyond all instrumentation by a landslide. Not that there’s much musical content of worth to distract from his constant wail anyway, but even that just further proves my point that the band on this Morrissey record (much like the band on every Morrissey record) is a prop, a flimsy roadsign meant to dutifully point one in the right direction down Pompadour Road and nothing more. Even the production is of a glossy, shiny, altogether phoned-in quality that actually ends up being grating in its consistent inability to act as any sort of counterpoint to Morrissey himself.
This sums up Years of Refusal in its entirety, actually. Another Morrissey record, another reminder of the fact that there is something tangible behind the mythos and also another reminder of why Morrissey needs to step outside of his chateaux one of these days and reconnect with what actual suffering is.