If you were fooled by the critics’ irrational love affair with R.E.M.’s last record, be warned: Morrissey’s Years of Refusal isn’t actually the “return to form” or “career highlight” they’re saying it is, either. If anything, Years returns to the same territory covered five years ago on the decent-enough You Are the Quarry—the Mozzer’s original big comeback record. The common element is producer Jerry Finn (Blink 182, Green Day), whose penchant for glistening guitar slickness has drained more than its fair share of soul out of punk music in the past.
In any case, it’s hard to imagine an old school Morrissey fan finding this collection more passionate, intimate, or jarring than Your Arsenal (1992) or Vauxhall and I (1994), let alone anything out of the hallowed Smiths canon. Always a crooner more than a belter, Morrissey just sounds too damn strong—suspiciously strong—on lead cut “Something Is Squeezing My Skull.” First single “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” is a catchy, deserving choice, and the mariachi vibe on “When I Last Spoke to Carol” is amusing enough. But match this record track for track with 1997’s critically panned Maladjusted and be honest—are we really dealing with apples and oranges here?