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They might as well make it an annual holiday. Morrissey Day, perhaps. A designated midwinter morning when the iconic, mercurial British crooner steps out of his house, sees the long shadow the legacy of the Smiths continues to cast over him, sighs, and announces once again his old band will never, ever reunite.
The war against nostalgia is a tough one to wage, and kudos to Morrissey the artist for sticking to his guns and defying the wishes of so many of his followers, no matter how triumphant the victory lap or how lucrative the payday would be. Still, with a two-decade solo career that has lasted five times longer than his time with the Smiths, until now he has rivaled but a fraction of that group's enduring, unforgettable material.
Yes, that first post-Smiths offering, 1988's Viva Hate, is tremendous. But Morrissey quickly slipped into a rut of mediocrity — interrupted only by 1992's potent Your Arsenal and maybe a couple of good singles popping up sporadically — which pushed well into the '00s. His cult of personality swelled in that span, but he seemed more concerned with distancing himself from past glories rather than penning first-rate material. Ironically, each disappointing foray into rockabilly or quasi-prog rock only made that past appear even more glorious.
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But Moz's outlook seemed to change after You Are the Quarry, his 2004 so-called comeback album following seven years of studio silence. In its wake, he began playing more Smiths songs in his live set than ever before. And he actually appeared to enjoy them, rather than simply go through the motions to appease his fans. Those moments seemed to signal he was reconciling the past and revisiting it fully on his own terms.
Perhaps this is what makes Morrissey's new, interestingly titled Years of Refusal so fantastic, and arguably the best album of his solo career. Something has made him sound freer, more inspired, more energetic, rejuvenated, and as vital a songwriter as he has ever been. He is able again to concoct tremendous melodies and sincere emotional heft, seemingly without effort and certainly without falling into self-parody.
His inimitable voice — which never abandoned him even when his creativity sometimes did — sounds especially strong and resolute here, whether he's venomously crooning "I'm doing very well" against the big guitar crunch of "Something Is Squeezing My Skull," or warbling about faded icons and mortality on the show-stopping "You Were Good in Your Time." These are vintage-level Morrissey songs, and ones you'll actually look forward to hearing, rather than merely enduring until he kicks into "How Soon Is Now."
"You're gonna miss me when I'm gone," he sings in the hard-charging "All You Need Is Me." But there's no point in anyone worrying about the future, or dwelling on the past, when Moz in the present is so damn gratifying.