Throughout his career, Steven Morrissey has enjoyed a steady, successful catalog of gloomy music. During his unlikely partnership with Johnny Marr, the two helped make The Smiths (no, they aren’t reuniting) one of the most revered bands of the 80s. Alone, he’s also enjoyed a rich solo career that some consider being just as good, if not better, than his output with his erstwhile English bandmates.
One thing’s for sure, Morrissey is an unmistakable artist. Always one for dramatics, his style and method is characterized by his swooning voice, understated music and those depressing tales of lost love. Rather than attempting to re-create his long lost days of glory, the Moz has revitalized his career in the best way; with slamming drums, bombastic bass and stadium-style rock. It’s with his newest album, Years of Refusal, that Morrissey has delivered one of his finest albums to date.
On the album’s opener, “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” Morrissey and his band tear through the music in a relentless fashion. Drums blast away like there is no tomorrow and the guitars squelch beneath Morrissey’s flamboyant singing. It’s a thrill to hear the English marvel sing, “Don’t gimmie anymore, don’t gimmie anymore, don’t gimmie anymore, PLEASE.” But it’s this fervent passion that is painted over the entire album and when it’s performed in such a rousing approach, it’s remarkably powerful.
Morrissey stops at nothing to denounce ex-lovers, heartbreakers, posers, hypocrites and the occasional jerk. But what he’s spouting about is entertaining and almost always arrives with a strong message. His intent has always been clear in being someone who openly wears his heart on his sleeve but here, it’s ridiculously engaging. His voice sounds powerfully muscular and passionate on “Black Cloud,” with everything powering around him and hammering away, he sings “I can woo you, I can amuse you, but there’s nothing I can do to make you mine.”
All of this is fine and dandy, sure, but what makes everything sound that much better is the recording process used. Recorded in a loose, open, live setting, the band is able to improvise and create as Morrissey wails away. The result is an accomplished album that, as Morrissey puts it himself, might just be his “strongest work to date.”
A principle and significant highlight has to be the bitterly told, “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore.” Beginning with subtle keyboard strains and a hint of guitar feedback, it increasingly grows into a resentful tale of vanity. The juxtaposition between loud and quiet is brilliantly orchestrated by Morrissey’s voice and even when he is singing about being taken advantage of, there is hope. Then there is the flamenco-guitar suited, “When Last I Spoke to Carol.” A classically-played guitar strums away about a passing love and once that fitting trumpet hits, it’s a musical moment unlike many others. But the best lines have to be on the next song, “That’s How People Grow Up.” Fitted with grinding guitars, tempo-stamping drums and keyboard flurries galore, Morrissey gives his best advice on how to handle heartache and how to put it all in perspective. He poignantly sings, “I was driving my car, I crashed and broke my spine. So, yes, there are things worse in life than never being someone’s sweetie.” Ah, how grippingly true.
While listening to Years of Refusal, it’s hard not to admit that it is one of the artist’s best solo albums to date. Even when the music world around him is changing, Morrissey stays close to his roots and continues to deliver honest, compelling, influential music. No one really knows how much longer he’ll make music for, but if it continues to be as good as this, we’ll gladly wait with open arms.