Morrissey, “Years of Refusal” (Lost Highway) [3.5 STARS]

SHARE Morrissey, “Years of Refusal” (Lost Highway) [3.5 STARS]

Though it’s sad to think of the personal turmoil endured by his troubled soul, there’s no denying that Manchester-to-Los Angeles transplant Steven Patrick Morrissey is at his best musically when he’s at his most miserable personally. Happiness just doesn’t suit the man, as evidenced by his last proper studio release, the uncharacteristically sunny “Ringleader of the Tormentors” (2006), a decidedly lackluster affair that found Moz boasting, “There are explosive kegs between my legs.”

Well, the kegs are gone on his ninth solo album, but the fire certainly is back, with Morrissey striking out as only Morrissey can at anyone and everything that’s annoying him: pigs in grey suit, uncivil servants, bailiffs with bad breath, etc., etc.

“Oh, something is squeezing my skull/Something I just cannot describe/There is no love in modern life,” Moz sings in the opening track. Of course, he likes it that way–he’d just as soon skip the anti-depressants and rely on his favorite drug sarcasm, thank you very much. “Diazepam, Valium, Temazepam, Lithium, ECT, HRT/How long must I stay on this stuff?”

As he prepares to celebrate his 50th birthday, Morrissey has rarely sounded stronger as a vocalist, and producer Jerry Finn, last heard behind the mixing board on “You Are the Quarry” (2004), draws the best from regular Moz sideman such as guitarist Boz Boorer and drummer Matt Walker, adding a welcome punch sadly lacking last time around with Tony Visconti. (Tragically, Finn died from a massive cerebral hemorrhage at age 39 about a month after this disc was completed.)

As his devoted superfans argue whether this is the best Morrissey album since the Smiths or simply the strongest since the solo effort “Vauxhall and I” in 1994, the point needs to be made that this disc is not without its missteps, including the soggy and sullen “You Were Good in Your Time” and the pseudo-mariachi moves on “When I Last Spoke to Carol,” which sounds like a leftover from the sessions with Visconti and Ennio Morricone. For most of the rest of this pithy, barely 45-minute set, however, Morrissey is at his most warped, wicked and wonderful.

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