Listen carefully and you can experience the sound of your own death
On the 16th February Morrissey released Years of Refusal which, despite the British music press, entered the UK album chart at No. 3.
Reading reviews of Morrissey’s work over the years you get the impression that their authors briefly read the lyric sheet listen to the album once, then join the stampede to mash-up their piece in a rush to be the first to print. No wonder Morrissey detests the British press and lives in America.
Unless Socrates could be raised from the dead noone can really expect to write anything meaningful about Morrissey in five minutes? Maybe that is why the national press overlooked this charming man in 1984. Twenty five years on, it is Morrissey who is ignoring them.
The themes weaved into the Years of Refusal love, death, loneliness and loathing will be familiar to Morrissey fans. The lyrics, as expected, are up to the job, gently drawing you then punching you in the face until you sit up and listen. Morrissey informs us from the start that he is "very well", but makes it plain that this is no thanks to the world, or its sickening contents. Despite years of success the engine that seems to drive Morrissey is intact and impervious to temptation by an industry colonised by an endless spew of celebrity.
Morrissey comes out fighting in Something Is Squeezing My Skull; what is applying the pressure we cannot tell, but somehow we know Morrissey means it. All human frailty is here and painfully true, from the mourning of the loss of life as "nothing much to lose" now that the final hope of plenitude lies suffocated with Mama of Lying Softly On The Riverbed to the "one I love is everywhere," but impossible to obtain in Black Cloud. Black Cloud is a simple, sad and true tale that is followed by Morrissey taking temporary sanctuary in a notion of love as signified by Paris. A place made only of "stone and steel" and no substitute for "the warmth of human touch". The joyful vibrancy of I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris is an obvious choice for a single which, despite the depth of the clever lyric, you can sing along with as easily as any of the nauseating bone-headed nursery rhymes that routinely receive awards at the "Brits".
In a rare whiff of confidence Morrissey launches into the defiant All You Need Is Me, but he quickly confides in Carol who seems equally desperate to find some good in life. After reminding us of the pointlessness searching for love in the hard hitting That’s How People Grow up Morrissey warns in One Day Goodbye Will Mean Farewell, and that, if you find love, Morrissey asks, "grab me while we still have the time".
In a return to 1987, when Morrissey wrote the cutting line "I have come to wish you an unhappy birthday" the subject is tackled again, but, this time, I confess, I am a bit lost. It will come to me one day, I am sure, but then again, it might not. That's the thing about Morrissey you don’t always know exactly what he means, unlike, say, the college campus inspired Coldplay, or Radiohead. Morrissey’s lyricism is more akin to a Martin Scorsese script than it is to any other musician. You listen to Morrissey half a dozen times, play it again ten years later and something new jumps out and hits you.
The urgency of life is revisited in You Were Good In Your Time which both distresses and arouses intensity about loss that hit me like a steam train. What a lovely way to say "give up," "Let your heart rest and lay back your head" which reminded me of the eerie epic The Pupils Hate The Teachers from Southpaw Grammar in 1995; "to be finished would be a relief". The image of a person reduced to nothing on earth as they slip away holding Morrissey’s hand is cathartic and moving. Morrissey appears to be counselling that death can be both a wonderful and terrible thing. "Then you grip with your hand, now so small in mine, are you aware, wherever you are, that you have just died." Listen carefully and you can hear something approaching your own death, a feat almost achieved in Lifeguard Sleeping Girl Drowning in Vauxhall And I 1993. "And another day passes like a dream."
The message in the penultimate track Sorry Doesn’t Help seems obvious enough, but rarely said. The idea that saying sorry is nearly always false "like a QC full of fake humility," or maybe the pigs in grey suits Morrissey refers to in Mama Lays Softly On The Riverbed are the very same failed bankers that Morrissey warned us about in Interesting Drug from Bona Drag 1989. "There are some bad bad people on the right," "Saving their own skins by ruining people’s lives?"
As if to alleviate the distress caused by the words ripping into us, Morrissey ends as he began by telling us he is absolutely fine. For me, Morrissey leaves the best until last with the raucously defiant I’m Ok By Myself and he really must be.
The Years of Refusal is a story in song, poetry turned to music provided by a talented group of musicians loyal to the cause that is Morrissey. But, it is the words and the passion that are important here and it always has been. When you’re a Morrissey fan you are not reading reviews to help you decided whether to buy the album, because that was decided in 1983. So, ignore the snivelling assassins crayoning their sickening opinions into the pages of the British music press, be safely alone for an hour, close your eyes and breathe in the might of Morrissey’s most powerful album yet.
Years Of Refusal, track listing (standard edition):
"Something Is Squeezing My Skull"
"Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed"
"I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris"
"All You Need Is Me"
"When Last I Spoke To Carol"
"That's How People Grow Up"
"One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell"
"It's Not Your Birthday Anymore"
"You Were Good In Your Time"
"Sorry Doesn't Help"
"I'm OK By Myself"