However, after a few more listens, I have found a lot to like here. This is not Morrissey's best, and certainly not even his best in the past decade. This album lacks a “Life Is A Pigsty” or “First of the Gang To Die”, and doesn't have the overall punch of Ringleader of the Tormentors. This is not a good introduction to Morrissey's talents, and new listeners would be better served by visiting Vauxhall and I or Tormentors. What we have with Years of Refusal is an album pulled in different directions by three different songwriters, sometimes to good effect and other times not so much.
A large portion of the songs on Refusal were debuted on Morrissey's 2007-2008 Greatest Hits Tour. In fact, dedicated fans will have heard half of the album already. Morrissey has done well live in the past couple of years, filling his band with more energetic performers who seem to have brought a more rocking edge to the music, both new and old. This carries onto Refusal, which opens up with the absolutely excellent “Something Is Squeezing My Skull.” Alain Whyte is in his best songwriting form here, and Moz delivers with some excellent strained vocals that sound far more urgent than we're used to from him. Sadly, the immediacy rarely returns for the rest of the album, but it's fantastic while it lasts.
“Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed” is a military march with some more traditional crooning laid on top of it, with some great lyrics. Sadly this song brings a trend that will continue for the rest of the album when it can't end quickly enough. “Black Cloud” is entirely forgettable, despite having some pretty good guitar work. I blame the boring ass refrain, which feels almost shoe-horned into place. “I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris” is nothing new, but it's solid. “All You Need Is Me” has been one of my favorites since I heard it live, with a great bass intro and classic Moz lyrics. “When Last I Spoke To Carol” is all right, I guess. “That's How People Grow Up” is another live favorite, though Kristeen Young's warbling in the beginning is something I could certainly do without.
“One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell” is fun, but becomes quickly overshadowed by the excellent “It's Not Your Birthday Anymore” , which almost brings back the strained brilliance of the opening track with a more mellow pace. I have skipped “You Were Good In Your Time” every time I have listened to this album for fun, and I don't regret it. “Sorry Doesn't Help” has another forced-sounding chorus, but the album closes with “I'm OK By Myself”, one of the best tracks here, again characterized by the vocal delivery, lyrical excellence, and a better pairing of the music and vocals.
Years of Refusal has a lot going on, and definitely too much for it's own good at times. I really enjoy it the more I listen to it, however, and I'm certain that it will be generally well-received by a majority of his fans. If you've enjoyed anything he's done in the past few years, Refusal will have at least a few tunes for you to enjoy. Refusal is hard to quantify for those of you who for whatever reasons haven't been paying attention to Morrissey, but I'd sooner direct you to other items from his catalog than sit you down with this. Refusal is good if not earth-shattering, and there are moments of greatness to be found here if you give it a chance.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (When I die, I want to go to hell)