Years of Refusal finds ol’ Mozzy Bear reteaming with the recently deceased producer Jerry Finn, who provided the similarly slick power behind Morrissey’s 2004 comeback album, You are the Quarry (other credits include Green Day’s Dookie, Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves, and Jawbreaker’s Dear You!). As one of Finn’s final projects, it’s a great album to go out on. As for Morrissey, it feels like the real comeback album fans have been waiting for. Quarry had a handful of fast/pounding/biting numbers like “Irish Blood, English Heart.” Well, imagine if every song on Quarry was that catchy and kick-ass. Years of Refusal is that album, aside from the string-laden “You Were Good in Your Time.” It’s like a glam rock Smiths love-in, and it’s awesome.
The record opens with the previously mentioned “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” and it’s clear right away the Morrissey really is “doing very well” with his gang of youngsters, drummer Matt Walker, bassist Solomon Walker, and guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias. Boorer and Tobias share co-songwriting credits with Morrissey on several tracks, and thanks is due to them for keeping everything from getting too maudlin or syrupy. Morrissey is famously a New York Dolls fan; this album confirms that fandom. The guitars are constantly thrashing, and Matt Walker infects everything with a nervous energy. Solomon, meanwhile, has an endlessly deep, grungy bass to lay down for any situation, as is revealed time and again on Years of Refusal.
“Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed” briefly recalls The Smiths, if only for that Strangeways, Here We Come-style piano. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. It’s still just as riveting, as are “All You Need is Me,” “I’m OK By Myself,” and “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore.” That last one might just be the highlight of the record. It starts out subdued, with the drum beat slowly fading in, until Morrissey hits the chorus, at which point Matt lets loose a build-up barrage on his kit. Moz takes an unspoken party to task for trying to bask a little too long in the limelight (“There’s no need to be kind to you / And the will to see you smile and belong has now gone”). Besides, “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.” It all careens towards a final exhalation of that old pop-punk standard, the “whoa.” Morrissey really belts it out over cut time drums and a meandering keyboard line by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. This is what scientists and lovers call “the good part.” And Years of Refusal has plenty of other ones: The punter “hey”s of “Something is Squeezing My Skull” the distorted freak-out of “I’m OK By Myself,” pretty much any time Solomon gets to hold down the rhythm. Maybe it’s best to let the Marr years be what they are; Morrissey’s doing A-OK with Years of Refusal.