Monday, 2 March 2009

Morrissey - Years of Refusal

Morrissey - Years of Refusal (***)
album review for the skinny

Are you sick of reading hagiographic reviews of icons of yore by writers who can't get over their teenage love affairs? Because I am, fed up of hearing about how Stephen Malkmus's latest effort is his best yet, as is Bruce Springsteen's and Frank Black's and Bono's and Bob Dylan's. Morrissey's cult of personality is such that he's always been given generously uncritical reviews of his solo work by still-grateful journos who, like all good canon inquirers, grew up with a healthy portion of The Smiths on every plate. Whatever Years of Refusal means as a title to Steven Morrissey himself - and Wikipedia aint giving any clues towards confirming or denying my "appeal to non-conformity" theory - let's twist it back on itself: fans and critics have refused, for years, to call out Morrissey's limited thematic range and dwindling ability to turn a pithy phrase. They've forgotten that sometimes interesting people say boring things, that not every utterance Oscar Wilde ever made was a pearl of profound wisdom or wit. There's endless streams of daily tedium in-between all the quotables, and Steven Morrissey's been paddling in those streams for years.

Let's begin at the end: Years of Refusal's most exicting moment is its climax, the end of "I'm OK By Myself", in which the guitarist hits the overdrive pedal, the drummer flicks into a rampage, and Morrissey swallows the mic and continues to holler towards crescendo. That brief transcendent point, when Morrissey's band hits the energy levels Trail Of Dead hit a dozen times a song, is the payoff for forty minutes of muscular modern rock that never really adds up to much. At least it's consistent - it's an album full of nothing but album tracks. "When Last I Spoke To Carol" stands out stylistically due to its Latin touches - its Spanish guitar and horn flourishes make a welcome change from the previous five tracks' standard template, while Morrissey's lyrics do evoke sympathy for the suicidal subject. "You Were Good In Your Time" (a title which just begs to neatly close a scathing review) also deals with fatality, with Morrissey paying tribute to an unnamed subject on his deathbed, while dialogue from a French film runs quietly underneath, emerging at the end among ominous winds and creases. And the gleeful "All You Need Is Me" is possibly aimed at snipers who "hiss and groan and constantly moan", but keep coming back for more because "you don't like me but you love me, either way you're wrong, you're gonna miss me when I'm gone". That may be aimed at a specific unnamed person, but it's more interesting if it's aimed at his media detractors. In summing up the conflicted stance of the modern Morrissey skeptic, he's suggesting a middle-ground compromise before spiking it with a cheeky claim of 'hey, but at least I'm a character!'

Sadly, this album leaves that claim floundering on the rocks of his more charismatic past, because there's few other lyrics here worthy of a second look. Lots of artists are boring as hell interview subjects - they're perfectly nice, but have nothing particular to say, and often those who do have something interesting to say have to sacrifice their nicety for it. Morrissey's never been "nice", and judging by Years of Refusal, he's no longer got much of anything to say. No-one expects musical genius from whichever guitarist has been picked to write his riffs, but is it really asking too much to expect a little personality from a Morrissey record?

No comments: