Most celebrities of Morrissey's stature become comfortably lazy. They might occasionally tour, idly tossing out the hits as musical bones for those who still believe. But they wouldn't do anything as vulgar as still crave cultural relevancy and expect to actually grow their fan base! But we're talking Morrissey — a man who still never seems satisfied that he's gotten the full credit he deserves.
Using that logic, Years of Refusal can be viewed as a power grab. This isn't a half-baked effort for the already loyal — this is a declaration to today's youth: Forget all those eyeliner-wearing emo bands I've inspired, kid. Here's the real thing.
Packed with more intense, rock 'n' roll delivery than on any Moz record since 1992's Your Arsenal, Morrissey sounds fresh, biting and relevant — his voice still strong and unmistakable. He's also done cloying for your affection. "After all these years I find I'm OK by myself/ and I don't need you /or your homespun philosophy" he sings on the album's blistering closer, "I'm OK By Myself." Considering his past pleas, it's hard to imagine Morrissey singing these words, but that's the main message Years of Refusal is delivering — one from a man who has decided to go it alone and is perfectly fine with this. But will Morrissey's chase for youth's fickle affection alienate the long-faithful? Certainly not. Regardless of how many of today's angst-y and forlorn youth flock to Morrissey's dedicated herd, he has not compromised his talents to win them over. Rather than coming across as a clumsy attempt to appeal to a new audience in spite of his past (a la Liz Phair), Years of Refusal simply offers Morrissey's strongest and catchiest material in years. The youngsters can then take or leave it on its own merits. For a man who started as "a small fat child in a welfare house," this is an enviable position to be in. —Laura Witkowski
Morrissey plays Tuesday, March 31, at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-9731. With the Pool.
Laura Witkowski reviews music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.