I only discovered the album had leaked at around midnight last night. I had to make the conscious descision of going against my morals and downloading - i will buy the album in February anyway - that makes it OK, right? No? Well, i've established my lack of morals - but was disregarding what I stand for worth it?
Upon first impressions, yes. Upon hearing 'Something is Squeezing My Skull' as the opening track, I started to make comparisons to the traditional Morrissey album opening tracks - this song is a very different way to start the album for Morrissey. A jaunty, two and a half minute long stomper, in the vain of both glam and post punk - with Morrissey spitting 'you swore you would not give me more!'? An original idea for opening the album, I thought, and one that could potentially pave the way for his most original album of the decade, but ultimatley not a particularly original Morrissey song.
The second track, 'Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed'. My favourite track from the live showcasing of YoR songs, I feel it is the most musically interesting song the boys have written in a long time. The drums are intimidating, the lyrics delicate, and the guitars stomping. However, I was dissapointed with Finn's descision to remove the weird, flamboyant and wonderful synth sounds that made the song so intreguing when played live.
And three songs in, we have a new song. 'Black Cloud'. The short stringed introduction the track was magnificent upon first listen, with the use of sampling that I love Morrissey so much for. Not a fan of the echo effect on the guitars at the beginning, but when the song kicks in with that squelchy synth and stomping drums - yes, this is a brilliant song. Never a single, but a brilliant album track that will be a wonder live. 'I can change you, and I can catch you, but there is nothing I can do to make you mine..' - typical Morrissey, but I'm starting to sense a massive change in musical direction with YoR - the compositions are much more dynamic, melodic and powerful than we've heard from Morrissey since, indeed, Vauxhall & I.
'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' - the perfect lead single (it is technically the lead single!!). Short, very sweet and very romantic. Musically nostalgic, I find, and reminiscent of, dare I say it, The Smiths. Morrissey's Myspace described the song as 'a cosmopolitan hymn to architecture' - this sums up the track perfectly, starting with the nostalgic motorcycle - this song is cinematic both lyrically and melodically. Surely a top five hit, at least?
'All You Need Is Me'. This is where my opinion of the record starts to change slightly. I knew the song would feature on the record, but within the context of the album - it is, I feel, completely out of place. The song is quite frankly boring now, and somewhat of an anti-climax to the anticipation of YoR. Why on earth 'My Dearest Love' isn't track 5 of YoR is completely beyond me. But, I thought, I will see where the album takes me now - maybe this is a ploy in Morrissey's plans to steer the direction of the album?
'When Last I Spoke To Carol' - latin, sexy, cinematic, and lyrically devine. The song I was most excited for upon reading the lyrics a few months back. I again feel that the band have undergone a radical creative surge within this album, this is musically fantastic. The subtle horns give the track an intensity and power that lends itself to the sheer force of the overall instrumentation, with Morrissey's lyrics acting as an interesting contrast - delicate and poetic - amongst the best lyrics of Morrissey's entire career.
'That's How People Grow Up' - hated it then, hate it now. The song clomps along with, to be fair, mildly interesting lyrics - and that cowbell! Christ, it is quite awful. Completely unnecessary, again. Although none of us have heard it, this could have been an ideal place for 'Shame is the Name'? The second flaw of the album so far, I feel, and responsible for the album not realising it's full potential - I don't know whether Morrissey genuinely thinks this is a good song, or included a familiar single on ill-judgement, but it doesn't work - and the inclusion of the two GH singles taints the album.
'One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell' - not a fan. Heard the song live and deemed it to be completely average - a Moz paint by numbers. The melody is predictable, and the lyrics fail to engage, with the one thing that oringally intreguied me - the horns - being removed? It is opon hearing ODGWBF that I begin to doubt the structure of the album, and further question certain songs featured.
'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore' - with that drum beat. Love it or loathe it? Love it. Musically epic, once again, this is definatley a potential single, if the length was slightly shortened. Morrissey's melody sounds honest, he sounds as if he has full belief in the band and the music - his voice is once again stunning, and the lyrics are painfully honest. Musically, it was a breath of fresh air within the album, with a beautiful arrangement, exploiting dynamics to it's full potential. It is at this point I feel moved to tears, the power of this song is undeniable, and in my 'first listen to new album' haze I boldly declare it one of the best songs of Morrissey's entire career. I still maintain.
'You Were Good In Your Time' - cinematic and poetic in the vain of 'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore', I begin to hope the album has swerved into an area of lyrical and musical poetics. Musically the song reminds me, initially of Nancy's 'Shoot You Down', before the chorus reveals a beautiful torch song. Again, the band have undergone a radically new creative process, and it has yielded beautiful results. Especially with the sudden drop of the song, after Morrissey's informs 'you have just died..'. A minute and a half of samples and sounds that, for once, I feel Morrissey completely identifies with - they add mystique and power to the closing lyric, and the presence of the section is a daring and, I feel, creatively vital move that pays off. The romance and resonance of the last two songs has overwhelmed me.
'Sorry Doesn't Help' - initially sounds like a YATQ B-Side. Oh no, no, no, no. The romance and beauty of the last two songs has gone, the album has swerved and completely changed direction. This song isn't bad, as such, but poorly placed within the album. Ending the album on 'You Were Good In Your Time' would have been perfect. 'Sorry won't bring my teen years back to me any time soon..' - this is a clompy and fails to engage me, which is a complete contrast to the power of the previous two songs. The chorus is lazy and predictable, and the song is musically incompetent when compared to the brilliance of other tracks on the record.
'I'm OK By Myself' - the final track. I am confused as to what has happened - why are these two tracks here within the album? Any resonance and beauty conjured with INYBA and YWGIYT are, ultimately, discarded. This song is, however, not that bad - but it is definately a track two/three song - why Morrissey chose to end the album on this song is beyond me. The lyrics in the song are OK, not a patch on lyrics throughout the album, but OK. The music is OK, mildly pacey but predictable. The track ends with a Morrissey yodel through a distorted microphone over the bands raunchy cruscendo.
So there it is, Years of Refusal. After three years of waiting, it's here. Although a flawed album in a few aspects, the album does contain some of the best songs of Morrissey's career. The lyrical brilliance of When Last I Spoke To Carol, the power of Mama Lay Softly, the romance of Paris, and the unquestionable beauty of It's Not Your Birthday Anymore.
It was almost perfect, so very close to perfect. The musical excellence of the band is unquestionable, with the sheer creativity bringing the record into realms untouched by YATQ, and only slightly touched upon with ROTT.
However the record is let down by the inclusion of the GH singles, and the sometimes ill-judged record architecture.
But, quite easily, one of Morrissey's best albums. It is an exciting time to be a Morrissey fan.