Morrissey: Years of Refusal
There’s so much mystery about this cover that perhaps it’s better to start with what we do know. The image was taken by London-based Jake Walters, a commercial photographer with an impressive portfolio across fashion, celebrity and editorial portraiture.
The adorable baby, with its cheeky little expression so at odds with Morrissey’s stern gaze, is the son of Charlie Brown, Morrissey’s assistant tour manager.
Design practice No Allegiances is responsible for the design and packaging. Having noticed the subtle Mexican sounds in the music, they took their cue from Mexican folk art and vintage California. The typography was inspired by the work of legendary illustrator and printmaker José Guadalupe Posada.
The packaging also features a still life, Bodegon Con Jarra de Vino (1914), by A. Fuentes.
Noting the chiaroscuro of both the cover photography and painting, No Allegiances ran the LP and special CD version on fabric-textured stock to “makes the record feel like an oil painting hanging in the Louvre that you shouldn’t have just touched.”
But what does it all mean? The arresting image on the cover of Morrissey’s ninth studio album caused an instant deluge of speculation when it was first surfaced late last year.
Widely reported as celibate, the image of an awkwardly paternal Morrissey seemed unlikely. It also followed two other popular covers where the indie icon held a gun and a violin.
The consensus opinion seemed to be that the title referred to his years of refusing sex and that the baby on the cover symbolically represented an absence born of this choice.
Complicating matters further are the symbols – one of which appears on the baby’s forehead and the other on his arm. When the image first appeared online the file size was too small to fully make these out. Was that a W on the baby’s forehead? Did it represent the outgoing president of the Unites States?
Um, no – the baby has a butterfly on his forehead, while Morrissey’s arm seems to feature a caterpillar. For me, this awkward symbolism is the cover’s one misstep and adds little to what appears to be an instantly iconic image.
If it’s meaning is opaque, it’s no accident. This is after all this is Morrissey – a cultural figure that has always defied easy categorisation. An artist that has referred to himself as being “a fourth sex”; that famously campaign for animal rights and vegetarianism. A man who has flirted with the nationalistic far right and in the nineties developed what Encyclopedia Brittanica described as “a growing homoerotic obsession with criminals, skinheads, and boxers”.
Anticipating speculation about his latest cover, he had already drafted a response on the sleeve notes to The Years of Refusal:
“If you ask why the new album has the title it has (‘Years of Refusal’) and why on the cover he is holding the baby, after holding on previous covers the violin and the gun, because after all people will want to know, or more rumours will spill into the world and its voracious, agitated internet shadow, the sigh will almost crack into real annoyance. If you sail close to the gale force wind and bring up the sticky situations he finds himself in when he talks of his mythical old England, its disappearance and/or cultural and commercial conversion, and heretically flirts with the flag, and faces expulsion from the entertainment scene, then the sigh and the awkwardness will know no bounds.”