All the heavy lifting of his comeback finished, Morrissey settles into a robust middle age on Years of Refusal, an evocation of his thick Your Arsenal sound that doesn't feel like a conscious re-creation -- rather, this just is who Moz is, an old brawler who refuses to hang up his gloves or settle a grudge. The sound remains the same but the songs don't quite: although this is also produced by Jerry Finn, this isn't the deliberate revival of You Are the Quarry, all sharp edges and metallic sheen, the better to rope in the young emo kids who came of age after Maladjusted, nor is it the gentle prog pretensions of the Tony Visconti-produced Ringleader of the Tormentors. Years of Refusal is comfortable in its settled nature, in its roaring guitars and swaying melodies, sometimes ratcheting up the aggression -- especially so on the tight, compacted opener, "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" -- but often just riding along, assured in its might and wit, never feeling the need to change for change's sake. Such conservatism has long been part of Morrissey's makeup -- when everybody pined for a synthesized future in the Thatcher/Reagan years, he sought refuge in the past -- and now that he has people paying attention again, he's fine with not changing the sound and writing songs about his happy middle-aged miserablism, a miserablism that increasingly feels like a device to fuel Morrissey's satire. Morrissey has never been reluctant to turn his wit upon himself but he relishes sending up his moping persona and advancing age here, resulting in some excellent quips and asides, along with some nicely honed ballads like "You Were Good in Your Time." Along with "That's How People Grow Up," where the perennially broken-hearted Moz acknowledges that there are worse things in life than never being someone's sweetie, this song is the best example of how Morrissey is feeling his years -- contrary to the implications within the album's title, he's not fretting about his age but throwing his arms around it, giving Years of Refusal a nicely comfortable feel that's welcome after the slightly strident overtones of its predecessors. Nothing here is surprising, of course, but Years of Refusal is a full-bodied, full-blooded album that also happens to be fully realized -- even if it is on a rather modest scale.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine