Ten acts that clearly worship the Smiths
Few bands in history have cast a longer shadow than the Smiths. They've inspired countless imitators and spiritual successors since calling it quits in 1987. While skinny indie kids moaning about the hardships of life are a dime a dozen, tracking down the successful artists influenced by Morrissey and Marr's legacy takes a bit more effort. You're welcome.
In many ways, Blur led the cavalcade of bands that rode the wake of the Smiths' departure in the early '90s. Their derisive take on modern life in London drew directly from Morrissey's catalogue of misguided characters. Any one of the lost souls inhabiting 1995's The Great Escape could have felt at home in a Smiths song, and "Charmless Man" made several clear references: The title is a parody of "This Charming Man," the lyrics describe a similar encounter with a posh gentleman of questionable intent and the line, "I think he'd like to have been Ronnie Kray" alludes to Morrissey's obsession with well-dressed bisexual schizophrenic gangsters. With a dating pool that small to choose from, is it any wonder the Mozzer went celibate?
Overshadowed by the Smiths' success during the '80s, Pulp finally found their audience in the '90s, taking a distinct cue from the Smiths' school of sarcastic social realism. Frontman Jarvis Cocker has stated publicly that he was jealous of Morrissey for many years, and also that he now feels bad about it. When Pulp wrote the hit "Common People" -- a tale of doomed love attempting to cross the boundaries of economic class -- the band was channeling Morrissey to no small degree. The juxtaposition of wealth and privilege with emotional and financial destitution was a common thread running through the Smiths' records. However, the real question is: What does it feel like to channel Morrissey? Well, it feels a bit sticky. There's no clever joke there. That's just how it feels.
8. The National
More so than any other contemporary singer, Matt Berninger of the National could be called the American Morrissey. He's spent the last decade or so valiantly trying to do for New York City what Moz did for London -- populating it with imagined men and women leading desolate lives in a faded empire. He once told the redoubtable Jesse Thorn in an interview about his days as a "violent young weirdo" listening to "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side" on repeat as he drove a wire-screened golf cart through the driving range of the country club where he worked, getting pelted with golf balls hit by rich men and women purposely trying to nail him. "They'd cut corners when they built the cage," he said. "So I'd occasionally actually get hit with a golf ball, but whatever. I had Johnny Marr on my side." Class warfare in the flesh.
7. The Eastern Sea
Austin's the Eastern Sea captures a good deal of Smiths-style breezy melancholy on the album Plague. Case in point is the song "Central Cemetery," an icy ode to a chilly afternoon spent in a hillside boneyard. Advance copies of the band's EP misspelled the title "Central Cemetary," which recalled The Queen Is Dead's "Cemetry Gates" intentionally or otherwise. On an unrelated note, the song contains the line "Kyrie, eleison" (Latin for "Lord, have mercy"), also found in the Mr. Mister song of the same name. Am I the only one who assumed for years that Mr. Mister was singing "Carry a laser on the road that I must travel"? Assuming that road runs through a Mad Max-style wasteland, it sounds like wise counsel.
6. Belle & Sebastian
At this point, it's safe to say that Glasgow's Belle & Sebastian are legends in their own right. The hazy days of the late '90s now seem like something you'd see on Game of Thrones. However, there was a time when B&S were new kids on the block, wearing their love of the Smiths on the sleeves of their cable-knit sweaters. "Seymour Stein" -- a scathing ode to the VP of Warner Bros. and the music industry as a whole -- features the lines, "I heard dinner went well/You liked Chris' jacket/It reminded you of Johnny/Before he went Electronic," referring to Johnny Marr's early-'90s collaboration with members of New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. Talk about damning with faint praise.
Low -- sad indie bastards from Minnesota -- took their admiration for the Smiths from the aural into the visual realm. In 2001, they recorded a cover of "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" and released it as a single packaged in a sleeve that mimicked Morrissey's trademark style: Take a still from an old, sad movie you like, put the band or song name in one corner and sit alone in your small apartment. The track list on the back cover even used the font from the Smiths' self-titled debut. It's Copperplate Gothic, if you must know.
Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien has been very public about his admiration for the Smiths, saying in interviews that he listened exclusively to their records for a period of time in his younger days. In recent shows, he's been playing the Fender Jaguar given to him personally by Johnny Marr. The song "Knives Out" from Amnesiac is said to be a tribute to Marr's guitar style, and the band played a cover of "The Headmaster Ritual" in a 2007 webcast that featured a frighteningly accurate Morrissey impression by one Mr. Thom Yorke. The following formula could be put forth without too much opposition: The Smiths minus sense of humor equals Radiohead.
3. The Killers
Brandon Flowers of the Killers may have named his band after a fictional band in a New Order video, but it's crystal clear which '80s pop-star he really wants to be. Lines like "You know, you know/No, you don't, you don't!" capture Morrissey's petulant, self-effacing wit almost perfectly. Others such as "Boy, one day you'll be a man/Girl, he'll help you understand" echo the third-person narrative of songs like "Girl Afraid" and "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side." The flowers in Brandon's name might as well be sticking out of Moz' back pocket.
2. Ryan Adams
One of the best songwriters of his generation, Ryan Adams has taken cues from all manner of legendary predecessors. However, his love for the Smiths goes deeper than most. He can be heard in the first track of Heartbreaker arguing with David Rawlings over which Morrissey solo album "Suedehead" appears on. He also recorded the Smiths tribute "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home" that brilliantly apes the Mozzer's self-aware miserablism as well as Johnny Marr's epic guitar arpeggios. The version on Rock n Roll even closes with a fakeout fadeout that mirrors the one at the end of "That Joke isn't Funny Anymore." You win this round, Adams.
Who worships the Smiths more than Morrissey himself? Famous for wearing Smiths shirts in press photos, he's a well-known acolyte of Oscar Wilde, who said, "To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance." Some would say that after Morrissey and Marr split in a public firestorm, Moz spent the rest of his career trying to recapture the glory of those rain-soaked Manchester days. He certainly turned himself into a cottage industry of tongue-in-cheek egotism -- so much so that it became impossible to tell when he was joking. Self-love may ultimately be Morrissey's downfall, but which of us clever swine can say we haven't jumped onboard his gloom-train at some point in our lives? "Why d'you think I let you get away/With all the things you say to me?/Could it be/I like you?/It's so shameful of me/I like you."
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