Why Morrissey still matters – meet the brilliant Years of Refusal

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“Everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase… except Morrissey”. That’s what comedian Sean Hughes once said, but I’m afraid I don’t agree with him. I’m 34 and I’m still in love with the Pope of Mope – perhaps more now than when I was, err, “16, clumsy and shy”.

Yes – I’m throwing my arms around Morrissey. Why? Because he’s one of the only truly English pop eccentrics and great performers left – and he’s still making music that matters, courting controversy and dishing out pithy quotes like Manchester’s answer to Dorothy Parker. My favourite recent one is: “It will be worth being dead, just to get away from Victoria Beckham.” I think we can all agree with those sentiments. Apart from say, Noel Gallagher, what other pop stars are still giving hilarious interviews and dishing out wicked put-downs and killer quotes?

The last thing Chris Martin got het up about was probably the fact that he couldn’t get organic vegetables on the band’s rider. Whereas fellow vege Mozzer is still proclaiming meat is murder: “Where would we be without it? The scent of dead animals. Death into your body. Hamburgers, yuk!” Ah, it’s the way he tells ’em.

Seriously, in these dark times of retro-electro nonsense and lumpen indie-by-numbers, we need Mozzer more than ever. And quite frankly (Mr Shankly), his new album, Years of Refusal, is one of his finest ever – the best thing he’s done since 1994’s Vauxhall and I – his solo masterpiece. Unlike his last effort, the patchy Ringleader of the Tormentors, it’s more focused, urgent and direct – and, err, it doesn’t feature any choirs of school kids. It does, however, on the cover artwork, feature a creepy looking baby boy being held by a surly Mozzer, who appears to be wearing some kind of, god forbid, hip-hop style markings on his arm. You wouldn’t get that on a Snow Patrol album, would you? Exactly.

So, what about the music? Well, Mozzer, who, by the way is 50 this year, (will he have an Unhappy Birthday?) sounds revitalised and rejuvenated. On Ringleader, he sang of having “explosive kegs between my legs” – and this time around it sounds as if they’ve gone off. US alt.rock producer, Jerry Finn (Blink 182) who also worked on You Are The Quarry, gives the record plenty of balls. It starts as it means to go on, with Something Is Squeezing My Skull – a thrusting, turbo-charged rocker that could have come from Your Arsenal – his other solo career highlight.

“I’m doing very well,” proclaims Mozzer, over cranked-up guitars, on this ode to anti-depression drugs. Next up, we’re plunged straight into another full-on piledriver, Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed, albeit with a thundering drum tattoo that sounds like an army marching into battle. “Bailiffs with bad breath, I will slit their throats for you,” promises Mozzer. Like a gentleman ganglord out to settle some old scores, he’s back in
business and he’s taking no prisoners.

And so it goes on, with more and more cracking, no-nonsense pop tunes that never overstay their welcome. It almost sounds like it could be a Mozzer Greatest Hits collection, as most of the tracks would be great as singles. When was the last time you heard anyone say that about a Morrissey studio album? Well, it was me, actually – in a pub in Camden in 1994, probably. There’s lovelorn melancholy (‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris‘), Spaghetti Western-meets-’60s-death-disc (‘When Last I Spoke To Carol’), epic balladry (‘It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore‘), creepy psych-rock (‘Black Cloud’) and a rampant rockabilly blowout as a fitting finale – ‘I’m OK By Myself‘. Who are we to argue?

OK, to some, Mozzer is a past his sell-by date pantomime act, who’s retreading his former glories (And let’s face it, if you’ve never liked him, you’re not going to start now, are you?). Well, I don’t believe that he’s now purely ‘end of the pier’ – (although, in a stroke of genius, he is playing a gig on the end of Great Yarmouth Pier – that’s our PopJunkie summer outing sorted then. And you think we’re joking!) Mozzer is still a vital force in British pop music and one of our Greatest Living Englishmen.

He hinted in a recent interview that this album could be his last. Let’s hope not. “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone,” he growls on the wonderfully arrogant new song All You Need Is Me.

Too bloody right we are.

Image from the amazing Morrissey-solo site

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