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March 9, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Morrissey – Years of Refusal

The guitars come in with a roar; there isn’t a synthesizer in sight, let alone the influence of a laptop. It’s as if hip-hop never existed. It’s 2009. It’s Morrissey’s new album! I see the words “Play Very Loud” written on the back of the sleeve. Sure thing Moz!

The attention grabbing vocals and crunching guitars on opener, ‘Something is Squeezing My Skull’ set the tone nicely for the whole album. Simply put, Morrissey is not messing about. His voice sounds as good as it ever has, while his backing band, The Tormentors, have turned up sounding hungry and muscular. Years of Refusal finds Morrissey doing everything that he does best. Expect lots of wit, theatre, memorable melodies and an acerbic sense of humor. It might even be as good as his 2004 comeback, We are the Quarry, but for some reason, despite the glowing summation I just provided, I find it hard to get that excited about it. Why?

To answer that question, let’s jump back to 2004. The Arcade Fire have just released Funeral, and Modest Mouse are making hay on the charts. Morrissey’s voice strikes me as being a key touchstone for the theatrical deliveries of both Win Butler and Isaac Brock, making him more than relevant in this unusual environment. Given that he had been out of sight for seven years the scene was perfectly set for a comeback. In 2009 things are a little different. Years of Refusal is his third album in 5 years, making him a known entity once again. Still, a good album is a good album, so what else is going on here? Perhaps it’s just because everything sounds so primitive. Now I still love the sound of a raw, distorted guitar, but on the other hand, much of the music I’ve been listening to lately tends to hit you from across the sonic spectrum. Let’s have a look at my iTunes “Recently Played” list to test this theory:

MIA, Santigold, Kanye West, Animal Collective, Jay-Z, Friendly Fires, The Ruby Suns, M83, The Dismemberment Plan, The Beta Band and El Guincho.

I’m going to assume that pretty much anyone reading this would at least recognise one or two of those names, so you probably get the picture. There just isn’t much coming out right now that uses the formula Morrissey has opted for on Years of Refusal, and if it does it’s probably the work of a young, up-and-coming, energetic act with something to prove (someone like Cut Off Your Hands, who I think are pretty decent). Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the album isn’t too long or too complicated. Its songs are generally pretty strong, but from a sonic perspective there just isn’t enough going on to really pull me in. On previous albums Morrissey’s voice and theatricalities have been more than enough to ensure his work remained engaging, but in the age of ‘Ye and Jay, Moz just sounds old and maudlin

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Comments (5)

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  1. Cameron H says:

    Yeah, Morrissey should have totally put some beats on this album, then it would have been great.

    And it is “You Are The Quarry”, by the way.

  2. Brunswick says:

    Moz has sounded maudlin since 1983. That’s why we love him.

  3. Amy says:

    “The last Morrissey album was great ‘cos it sounded like people who have been influenced by him/ripped off his sound, but now I’m listening to this list of uber-cool music you may have happened to hear, and he sounds different, so it sucks.”

    Wankiest, most self-congratulatory review I’ve read in quite a while.

  4. Skink Newton says:

    You obviously don’t read salient often, huh.

  5. Kim Wheatley says:

    First of all, fair play for calling me out for being self-indulgent. This was one of the first pieces I wrote for Salient this year and I wanted to test the waters and see what I could get away with. I decided that I would rather write straight up opinion pieces than bland descriptive reviews that rattle on about guitar dynamics and what the drums sound like. You can go to http://www.allmusic.com if you want to read something like that. I think I still gave a decent approximation of what the album sounded like in my first paragraph, and then I had some fun! Because of this, I recognize that I run the risk of coming across as a bit of a prick.

    In my defense though, since when was liking Kanye West or Jay-Z considered pretentious? I wanted to list what I had been listening to in order to provide some context, not because I want to impress other people with my taste in music. Had I not done this my argument would not have made a great deal of sense.

    Let me try and clarify things here. There is so much excellent, original music coming out at the moment that a driving guitar album with a decent-but-not-great batch of songs is going to struggle to be compelling, even if it’s a Morrissey album. Had the rest of the album been as strong as Something is Squeezing my Skull I think I would have given it a much more favorable review.

    Obviously some people like this type of music (driving guitar rock with dark, witty lyrics) more than I do. That is ok, but in my opinion we’ve already got 40+ odd years of music composed using roughly this sonic framework. At the moment, I’m finding artists like MIA, or Animal Collective or Kanye West, or Mount Pleasant really exciting. These are artists who can simultaneously push the boundaries, while still writing good songs. Pretty much all great artists have done this. Morrissey is a great, so I’m going to judge him by his own standards. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have said Years of Refusal was about as good as We are the Quarry, whose songs are of a higher standard (and which, as I tried to demonstrate in my review, sounded much more fresh and relevant given the prevailing musical context back in 2004). Years of Refusal pushes no boundaries, and (with a couple of exceptions) the songs are merely OK. Meh!

    Anyway, I’m sorry you didn’t like my review, but I appreciate your feedback nonetheless.

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