Manchester. Los Angeles. Rome. And now, according to one track on Morrissey‘s ninth solo album, you can add the French capital to that list of cities that the singer has tried and failed to find peace in.
The last time we heard from Morrissey, he was settled in Italy, collaborating with the likes of Ennio Morricone and Tony Visconti and even – gasp – seemed happy and in love (remember the famous line about “explosive kegs between my legs”?).
Well, for Years Of Refusal, normal service has been resumed. Hell hath no fury like a Moz scorned, and the lyrics here are amongst his most vicious and vitriolic yet. Which, given the man’s previous work, is saying something.
With his usual band reassembled, including familiar faces Boz Boorer, Alan Whyte and Jesse Tobias all featuring, there’s an urgent, vital quality to much of the album, with opening track Something Is Squeezing My Skull being the most musically exciting thing Morrissey’s produced in years.
Sadly, it was to prove a swansong for producer Jerry Finn, who died of a cerebral haemorrhage last year. There’s no finer tribute to the man though, yet it’s fair to say the sound of the album is light years away from his usual work with the likes of Blink 182, NOFX and Sum 41.
The aforementioned Something Is Squeezing My Skull kicks things off, swaggering into view with a terrific guitar riff while Morrissey tells tales of struggling with anti-depressents (“I can block out the present and the past now”) before reciting a list of various medication: “Diazepam, Valium, Temazepam, Lithium, ECT…HRT…How long must I stay on this stuff?”.
The following Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed is almost as intriguing, the sad tale of a woman driven to suicide by, amongst others, “pigs in grey suit”, “uncivil servants” and “bailiffs with bad breath”. It’s vintage Morrissey and quite, quite brilliant.
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris is another highlight, the jangly guitars bringing to mind the heyday of The Smiths, and home to another classic Moz couplet in “I’m throwing my arms around all of Paris because only stone and steel accept my love”. The flamenco feel and mariachi guitar of When I Last Spoke To Carol meanwhile is one of his most musically adventurous moments.
The momentum does come to a bit of a halt in the middle of the record with That’s How People Grow Up and All You Need Is Me. Both tracks were included on last year’s unnecessary Greatest Hits sets – they sounded like filler then, and just sound a bit unnecessary now.
Elsewhere though, Years Of Refusal is Morrissey on top form – with Sorry Doesn’t Help mentioning one of his bete noirs, the legal profession (“wide-eyed simple smiles, certain to see you through, like a QC full of fake humility”) and the magnificently epic It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore boasting a particularly sour payoff line: “Did you really think we meant all those syrupy sentimental things that we said yesterday?”.
The highlight of the album is the terrific, string laden ballad You Were Good In Your Time. Bringing to mind one of his most under-rated moments, Interlude, it sounds like a valediction to a former lover (“you made me feel less alone, You made me feel not quite so deformed, uninformed and hunchbacked”) and has a particularly eerie outro consisting of ghostly French voices.
Although this may sound, on first hearing, like Morrissey on auto-pilot, repeated listens bear out its many charms. “Could this be an arm around my waist? Well, surely the hand contains a knife? It’s been so all of my life” run the lyrics to the closing track I’m Ok By Myself, and a thought flashes across your mind that this sort of mind-set is no good for a man approaching 50. But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have him any other way.