Morrissey’s current comeback began with 2004’s You Are The Quarry—it found him sounding more engaged than he had in years, and it reminded longtime fans why their old obsession mattered in the first place. But Morrissey’s latest, Years Of Refusal, makes it sound like he’s only been meeting fans halfway. Not since 1992’s Your Arsenal has he combined barbed wit and fast-moving, backward-glancing guitar rock so piercingly.
Morrissey infamously included a promise to cut the throat of an enemy (most likely his former drummer in The Smiths, Mike Joyce) on his worst album, 1997’s Maladjusted. Since then, he’s rediscovered how to take his satisfaction with words. He gained fame spinning laments about the prospect of never finding love, but his songs now sound informed by an anger-stirring heartbreak. Songs like “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore,” “Sorry Doesn’t Help,” and “Black Cloud” turn the pain of rejection and disappointment into a damaging crackle.
But if there’s an underlying theme to Years Of Refusal, it’s the need to age gracefully, or at least move away from the places that hurt. It’s evident in titles like “I’m Okay By Myself,” but really felt in the passion Morrissey brings to songs like “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” (“…because only stone and steel accept my love”) and “That’s How People Grow Up.” His words get fine showcases from veteran collaborators Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, newer-to-the-fold Jesse Tobias, and producer Jerry Finn, whose death shortly after Refusal’s completion casts an additional pall over an album already deeply concerned with death. “Time grips you, sliming, in its spell,” Morrissey sings elsewhere, but for now, he sounds vital, alive, and like he’s finding mid-life as rich in purposeful misery as any other age.