Here’s to Many More of Dissent: Morrissey’s Years of Refusal

I wasn’t hugely fond of Morrissey’s last album, Ringleader of the Tormentors, nor was I terribly impressed by the That’s How People Grow Up single that released last year as part of the latest Greatest Hits package. To be fair, Morrissey is one of those artists who have been around so long that it gets more and more difficult to make a grand impression while retaining the originality that drew fans to you in the first place. Nonetheless I always look forward to a new release from Morrissey and his latest, Years of Refusal, is no exception. My initial listen of the record made me quite happy if only for the fact it sounded very different from the slow-moving Ringleader of the Tormentors – in fact, Years of Refusal puts the savage passion of earlier, more youthful times back into Morrissey’s repertoire.

Maybe it all comes down to which parts you love most about Morrissey; for me, it’s the acrid wit and apt descriptions of kicking out against a world you don’t fit into, and Years of Refusal bring those aspects back into the foreground with a vital rage and potency. Maybe my personality just gels better with this vituperative Morrissey than with a loved-up Morrissey (in some ways, I think Morrissey has always been there to make me feel better about my semi-autistic tendency to crave being alone). Now that I’ve had a few more listens of the latest record, I can temper some of my excitement with a little more perspective; I still greatly enjoy the album, but there are times when the lyrics aren’t as witty as they could be or as witty as they have been in the past, and when wit is one of your biggest strengths, it can get disappointing. There are also times when the boundless energy seems to overtake the vocals in a clumsier way; it’s kind of the same feel I got from Morrissey’s performance of This Charming Man on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross a week ago – the delicate, nuanced touch of Marr was discarded for a ragged, bolshy dynamic that ruined the song for me.

The album opens with a blinder called Something is Squeezing My Skull, which sets the crashing-snare-buzzsaw-guitar tone that dominates the record. It also features some of the best lyrics on Years of Refusal, including “The motion of taxis excites me/When you peel it back and bite me,” while resonating with my own feelings of skull-crushing stress and depression, being frantically opposed to being drugged out of existence for survival and for achieving the normalcy of others. I’m not quite as thrilled with the following two songs, Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed and Black Cloud, which tend to get a bit overblown musically and not very strong lyrically. The latter sounds a little Don’t Fear the Reaperish at the beginning and has uninspired lines like “I can woo you/I can amuse you/but there is nothing I can do to make you mine.”

However, the recently released single, I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, breaks through the of the previous two tracks and absolutely soars. It has a delicacy not found on most of the songs on this album and allows Moz’s voice to unfold in beautiful, mournful waves. This is followed by another strong track, All You Need is Me, which has, too, already released as a single, but as part of the Greatest Hits package last year – I, myself, hadn’t been aware of it until I heard it on this album. It expresses a similar self-assured sentiment to The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get, and it is definitely a stand-out track with a gritty, romping guitar sound and a vocal dripping with sarcastic sneers and an arch sense of self-importance, not to mention great lyrics like “You roll your eyes up to the skies/Mock horrified/But you’re still here/All you need is me” and “I was a small fat child in a welfare house/There was only one thing I ever dreamed about/and fate has just handed it to me.” A Latin influence with flamenco guitar and mariachi trumpets (perhaps due to Morrissey’s surreal mutual love affair with Mexico and Latinos) pervades the brisk When Last I Spoke to Carol. The narrative tells a story of a woman who gave up pretending and living, which ultimately are the same thing in this song. While the musical style can seem a bit jarring and bizarre in relation to the subject matter, it does exude a palpable air of anxious energy that emulates Carol’s edging around the narrow ledge of her life in abrupt, rehearsed steps.

I’m still fairly underwhelmed by That’s How People Grow Up, but the next two tracks make up for it and make the album for me. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell begins with scattershot drums and roiling guitars that counter Morrissey’s rich, smooth vocals perfectly. It is both sad and urgent in its depiction of mortality and passage of time. My absolutely favourite song on the album is It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore, which feels like the more dramatic companion piece to Unhappy Birthday from the Smiths’ days. It begins gently with small cymbal flourishes and a heartbeat of bass drum before exploding into dramatic chorus, showering the object of the vengeful sentiments in emotional shrapnel. The soft-loud-soft dynamics shiver through me, and when Morrissey reaches for those high notes, my heart crashes through my epiglottis; the intuitive shift in melody and tempo in the interlude with clarinets provides a musical respite, but continues the savagery verbally with the lyric “All of the gifts that they gave can’t compare in any way/To the love I am now giving to you/Right here, right now on the floor.” The unbridled vocal acrobatics that begin about a minute from the end are also refreshingly strange and un-Morrissey-like. On You Were Good In Your Time, Morrissey speaks to an unnamed washed-up idol with tenderness that blankets the subliminal abstract noise and muttering voices before the latter take over completely. One of the more disappointing, throwaway tracks is Sorry Doesn’t Help, which most seem to agree would have been better off languishing as a forgotten b-side, but the record concludes with I’m Okay By Myself, another one of my favourite compositions. It begins with the familiar Moz wit with the sardonic first line: “Could this be an arm around my waist?…Well, surely the hand contains a knife.” And with its driving guitars and desperate howls, this song closes the album in the same rollicking, self-affirming spirit that it opened with. No apologies for being “disturbing” and having a propensity for solitude.

Years of Refusal is a fantastic shot in the arm and reminds me that Morrissey can still create brilliant vitriol and fight with the energy he always had. Yes, I feel let down by some of the lyrics, but I’m not going to side with some of the recent criticism that claims this is a step backwards into some sort of adolescent petulance. These critics seem to assume that maturation equals mellowing out and resigning yourself to the pleasures and mentality of the status quo you rebelled against as a young person; that’s not how all people grow up. I want to keep fighting as I age, and I don’t think it’s immature to want to remain apart from society’s expectations. Like Johnny Rotten once said, “Anger is energy.” I suppose I feel that I can get orchestral love songs anywhere, but there are few that I can turn to for reassurance that I’m not alone in wanting to be alone. And I think Morrissey effectively answers those critics of this album by the lines in Something is Squeezing My Skull: “I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out/Thank you. Drop dead.”

All You Need Is Me – Morrissey

It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore – Morrissey


2 Responses to “Here’s to Many More of Dissent: Morrissey’s Years of Refusal”

  1. 1 Rol
    February 22, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I’m still waiting for my copy (if it’s not here tomorrow, there will be trouble!) so I’ve only heard most of these songs once, but I’m encouraged by what I have heard and by your review. Like you, though I found much to admire in his last album, it didn’t stay with me as long as many others have – yes, I think he was almost a little too happy, lyrically. I’m glad to hear the anger is back in his songs – even if he seems quite mellow and content in interviews.

  2. 2 JC
    March 6, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I remember when I had the energy to write reviews like that.

    Wonderful stuff.

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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