The Vocal Stylings of Morrissey

Is that some sort of expression of pleasure?  “Morrissey” by Charlie Llewellin from Austin, USA – morrissey interview. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I can’t expect everyone who stumbles upon this post to know who this guy is. Morrissey, born Steven Patrick Morrissey, was the frontman for the highly influential 1980s Manchester, England band, The Smiths. The Smiths are usually classified as alternative rock or indie pop with a 1960’s pop/post-punk fusion style and are known for their witty but depressing lyrics and Morrissey’s distinct warbling vocals. After their breakup in 1987, Morrissey has since pursued his solo career but also kept himself in the public eye with his activism.

For a good chunk of Americans around my age, The Smiths represented a cool, alternative band who spoke to our adolescent miseries and personal angsts with some catchy tunes. And Morrissey became cool as a by-product of being a Smith and with some of his solo work. But the music was not played on the Top 40 stations. It was like a well-kept secret.

However, let’s put The Smiths into context in their country in the 1980s. They were mainstream and were expressing their views on being an individual living in Thatcherite Britain. So they were part of the zeitgeist. The Smiths were also ubiquitous media-wise. That did not mean everyone was a fan though. The Boffin was watching the societal divisions on the telly as far as the miners’ strikes, the poll tax protests, economic inequalities, and other turmoil.  Let me put it this way.  The Boffin is a problem solver and spends his whole life trying to make things better for those around him.  Even as a child, he didn’t want to listen to a bunch of Dirge Weasels telling him how miserable they were when he already knew things were shite.  And he was far from the only one who thought that way.

Which bring me to Morrissey’s life after The Smiths and how he has become more known for what he does outside of the studio and off the stage. Morrissey’s main cause is animal rights, and he walks the walk with his veganism to the point of trying to make sure no meat is served at his concerts. However, instead of being measured in his activism, he is extreme and still loves to point out how crap everything is when things don’t go his way. He also loves to take down the Royal Family by verbally proclaiming about how horrible they are (even though their power really is limited). Google him, and you can see just how outspoken he is. Voicing his opinion issues matter more to him than people’s feelings, and he is still essentially carrying the same image that he had in his 20s. Even while maintaining a fiercely loyal fan base, a fair number of people in his native country have grown tired of his pontificating and complaining. Taking pot shots at him has become a British national pastime with that crowd.

Meanwhile, the Americans who learned to enjoy The Smiths and Morrissey without the baggage of the British social context and the decades of his whinging on the British media have become puzzled when people like the Boffin react to “Girlfriend in a Coma” deep sighs and eye rolls. Either that or the Americans understand the animosity but can overlook his obnoxiousness because they love his music so much.

So, if you know Morrissey, he is just one of those love him or hate him sort of guys.  If you don’t, you may be better off staying out of the whole thing.

Addendum: I just talked to the Boffin about this post. He said that at least Billy Bragg has a purpose. He would have rather have him round for dinner.

21 thoughts on “The Vocal Stylings of Morrissey

    1. I don’t blame you, Mark.

      I would say The Smiths were OK in small doses. I like some of their songs, but don’t expect me to listen to a whole album at a clip. Bear in mind, when I went to the U.K., it was 1992. The band had broken up, and they were passé. Morrissey was doing fine with his solo career, but I never got into him. I was far more excited over bands like Blur, Oasis, and Supergrass. So, while my friends in college in the States had The Smiths and their ilk, I was on a completely different musical track and never became a fan.

      To be honest, when I want to go retro and British, I will go for Squeeze. There is a band that should have been more known over here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I was 100 percent into The Squeeze. I saw them in, oh, 1983, at Nassau Coliseum with my sisters. “Black Coffee in Bed” and “Pulling Mussels from the Shell” were songs that made my mixtapes, Karen, and I do mean tapes. 🙂

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        1. I had plenty of cassettes too and pencils to keep them taut. Squeeze had a huge following in the Tri-State area. I heard them so much on the NY stations I was able to pick up, and they got a lot of airplay on MTV in its early days. I’m envious that you saw them live, but I was 10, so there was no way I could have gone. Sigh.

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  1. I loved The Smiths as a kid. They are still one of my favorite bands ever. I grew up in an area of social deprivation and even as a wee person (I was 8 when I first heard The Smiths) I felt like they were singing about my life in a way most musicians were not. I think they were extremely talented and, yes, probably pretty zeitgeist. However, that fandom is not to say that I don’t agree with you: as a person, Morrissey is an arse. An absolute arse. I just find I can like his music (though not anything from the past two decades) while not liking him.

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    1. And that is true for a lot of Smiths/Morrissey fans. They feel that emotional connection through the music. “Hey, you are describing my life and my feelings.” The Boffin doesn’t discount those feelings and the value of having someone being able to relate to someone else, but he wanted to hear someone tell him how it could get better. There was no one doing that. Where was the musician for him?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s probably very true. That said, listening to Bronski Beat’s ‘Small Town Boy’ at age 8 inspired me to compose an action plan for getting out of and staying out of my home town. So there was inspiration for improvement there I suppose. I think generally music of the 80s in the UK was about escapism rather than holding a mirror up. Perhaps that why there was nothing conveying the message that life could get better.

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  2. Love, love, looooooove The Smiths. They are one of my favorite bands. I regret that I will never be able to see them perform live on account of being born too late. That being said, Laura’s description of Moz as an arse is how I would sum him up too.

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  3. Yes I saw this “Charming Man” in the 80s – not nervous about waving a bunch of flowers around proclaiming that he would like to go out tonight by hadn’t “Got a stitch to wear”. He was the first of the “New Man” category. Original – unique – lovely tunes – words you could hear that you could sing yourself. Great article.

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