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Solo record number nine by Morrissey is surprisingly an all out, balls out rock and roll album. The guitars are right up front in the speakers and the production is bursting full of modern day digital tint. Aside from the initial shock of the hard rock songwriting, Morrissey is in fine form here. His vocals are confident and he sounds rather youthful on this release, maybe in part due to some subtle vocoder voice enhancement.
Lyrically, we have the classic traits of wit, sarcasm and acumen that Morrissey has become renowned for. The first song, “Something Is Squeezing My Skull,” gets things really moving. The guitars are universally crunching as he lists out some common mood stabilizers and then goes on to shout out the lines “Don’t gimme anymore…you swore you would not gimme anymore.” Elsewhere, “Black Cloud” is a punchy composition that begins with the lines “The one I love is standing near/The one I love is everywhere…but there is nothing I can do to make you mine.” Yes, it is the same old Morrissey and musically, it sounds a bit like one of Peter Murphy’s more rock oriented solo tracks circa Cascade.
Morrissey is a singer. The heavy rock approach subtracts a certain amount of attractiveness to his familiar croon. One of the few ballads, “You Were Good In Your Time,” despite being a little maudlin is one of the more effective tracks on the entire album because of its softer melody, which actually allows him to sing without strain. The album’s finale, “I’m OK By Myself,” is another loud track, but he is allowed to sing in his recognizable register and this one works quite well too. “This might make you throw up in your bed,” he sings, “I’m OK by myself and I don’t need you” before the song fades out with some pretty cool fuzz bass. There is also an interesting song called "When Last I Spoke To Carol" that has a Latin rhythm guitar sound complete with mariachi horns. It sounds odd, but it works well and the drumming on the song is nothing short of fantastic. Morrissey's vocals sound particularly great on this one too.
Despite a plethora of positive reviews for Years of Refusal, I am not entirely sold on it, but it is growing on me. That is not to say that I don’t think that the album is not deserving of high ratings. It has its merits, but it also has its shortcomings. Part of the problem lies in the musical style that is omnipresent. As stated above, this is a loud rock record. If there were a handful of raucous guitar stomps, that would be one thing, but there isn’t enough variety on the album. Even in softer moments such as the opening bars on “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore,” there is a little bit of forced musicality going on. The songwriting doesn’t sound entirely natural even if Morrissey sounds like he was thoroughly enjoying himself during the recording sessions. All in all though, it is still Morrissey, who is a far sight better than most of the other acts that get a fair share of radio time. In the song "All You Need Is Me," he sings "You're gonna miss me when I'm gone," and he he is absolutely right.