On the opening track to Morrissey’s newest solo album, the Pope of Mope assures his listeners that, after all these decades, he’s still sticking his nose in the air while his heart continues to break: “I’m doing very well/ I can block out the present and the past now/ I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out/ Thank you, drop dead.”
Morrissey was the vocal and lyrical brain behind The Smiths and his commanding presence both on stage and on his records attests to why he’s been more financially and critically successful than his old Smiths band mates. Morrissey’s last two solo albums, “You are the Quarry” and “Ringleader of the Tormentors,” both had a few jarringly great songs. However, neither record came together as a cohesive whole.
These stand in stark contrast to Morrissey’s newest album, “Years of Refusal.” Nearly every song on this album is worthy of multiple listens. The songs here are usually fast paced with thrashing guitar and Morrissey’s typically intelligent and snotty lyrics. Little flourishes on the album tracks complement instead of take away from the meat of the songs: the somber church organ on “Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed,” the tinge of Blue Oyster Cult’s influence on “Black Cloud,” the Pixies-like opening to “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” and even the strings on “You Were Good In Your Time” that sound like they were lifted from a 1980s James Bond soundtrack.
Morrissey’s impressive skill on this album is his ability to build up a rising action in his songs, release a musical and lyrical climax to the listeners and then let the falling action slip from his fingers. Even more impressive is that Morrissey can subtly put this kind of structure into his songs while also retaining his wit about whatever dreary subject, internal or external, he sings about. Morrissey has been feeling blue for quite some time now, but albums like this confirm how bright and talented the guy is after all these years.
After the last two poor-quality albums by the Black Keys, the new solo album by their guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach is evidence that the Black Keys may have lost the promising potential they brought to their masterpiece “Rubber Factory” five years ago. On “Rubber Factory” and their covers EP “Chulahoma,” the Black Keys proved that their sparse blues model sounded more passionate and pleasing to the ears than more commercially popular blues-rock bands like the White Stripes. Their last two albums, “Magic Potion” and “Attack and Release” were disappointing, and this new solo album “Keep It Hid” is not much of an improvement.
The raw, fuzzy distorted guitar and lament-filled vocals from previous Black Keys records are still present on “Keep It Hid,” but Auerbach doesn’t seem to have progressed much, even with branching out with a solo album. That’s not to say that Auerbach isn’t a talented musician, and a handful of the songs on the album show off his impressive guitar skills.
The song “Whispered Words” has moody compositional elements in it that channel the great Issac Hayes and Burt Bacharach song “Walk On By.” On the track “Real Desire,” Auerbach cleverly uses pedal effects to make a guitar sound like a tuba. Auerbach’s lyrics on “When I Left the Room” are typical of his style and also appear as cookie cutter emoting. His raspy voice on the song barely gives the lyrics an air of blues authenticity: “She left a year ago/ With my record collection/ Now all I have/ Is my own reflection.”
None of the songs on “Keep It Hid” are terrible, but songs like the title track and the acoustic guitar closer “Goin’ Home” show that after more than five full length albums, Auerbach continues to make the same kind of music with increasingly mediocre quality.