Adam Brent Houghtaling, author of This Will End In Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music, unveils the world’s best Mozzelgängers.
With Morrissey’s recent U.S. tour announcement and revelation that he wants to retire in two years, but no new album news in the offing, here’s a list of some bands with more than enough of Mozzer’s spirit in their DNA to tide you over.
1. Smoking Popes
“Did you ever hear Born To Quit? It’s by the Smoking Popes. I thought that album was extraordinary, the most loveable thing I’d heard in years.” That was a quote from Morrissey when he chose the Popes’s 1995 album as one one of his 13 favorite albums of all time for NME in 2010—and the singer invited the Chicago group to tour with him in 1997. The most coulda-shoulda-woulda band on the list, the Smoking Popes had everything they needed to make it the Weezer/Green Day ‘90s: Tight melodies, ridiculously wry lovelorn lyrics, and a singer that sounded like a young Moz who grew up listening to the Ramones instead of the New York Dolls.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Gene’s slavish devotion to the guitar pop majesty of the Smiths the group managed to find reasonable success during the brit-pop wave of the mid-nineties, with singles breaking into the UK top 50 multiple times through the second half of the decade. Though the group generally became more raucous by their second album in an attempt to shed the Smiths comparisons that dogged them after their gentle debut, 1995’s Olympian, singer Martin Rossiter never varied his take on Morrissey’s melodramatic style. The group eventually called it quits in 2004, not long after Morrissey invited them to perform at the Meltdown Festival he curated earlier in the year. Rossiter is currently playing bass in the group Call Me Jolene and writing and recording material (he’s released the song “Drop Anchor” in 2011) for a solo album for release… sometime.
3. The Dears
At some point, somewhere, someone described the Dears singer Murray Lightburn as the “Black Morrissey”—and according to the ever-reliable Internet even some of his friends refer to him as “Suedehead” (after Morrissey’s 1998 debut solo single)—so it’s not hard to understand why he would qualify here, even if he is “absolutely fucking bored to death” with comparisons to both the Mozfather and Damon Albarn. The Dears made a hell of a racket with their 2004 album No Cities Left and have been relatively quiet if consistent since then, right on up to 2011’s Degeneration Street, which has both moments of brilliance and more than a few instances of anachronistic Britpop exuberance.
4. Twin Shadow
George Lewis Jr. (A.K.A. Twin Shadow) seems to echo any number of singers in his work though Morrissey is perhaps the most readily apparent both on his 2010 debut, Forget, and his 2012 release,Confession—other artists from the ‘80s he seems to draw vocal inspiration from include Edwyn Collins (“Get What You Want”), Midge Ure (“Golden Light”), and Peter Gabriel (“Beg for the Night”). But when you absorb his work as a whole you can’t help but take it for the kitchen-sink pastiche that it is, as Lewis seemingly pulls from a half-dozen directions for any given song. Mind you, none of this really matters, as his work to date has been nothing if not stellar.
5. The Organ
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Organ’s raison d’etre was to usher into the world a female Smiths as Singer Katie Sketch seems to have learned more than a thing or two from Morrissey while the group knocks about some reliable Smithery to back her up. They first appeared in 2002 with the Sinking Hearts EP and record their lone album, Grab That Gun, two years later. It received a fair number of positive reviews when it was released—their best known track, “Brother,” got the single treatment twice in 2006 (once from Too Pure and once from Mint Records) to capitalize on its appearance in the second season of The L Word—but before they could complete a follow up the band dissolved. They reconvened later to finish up the odds and ends they had started before disbanding, releasing the newly finished tracks as the Thieves EP in 2008 and Sketch eventually formed another group, Mermaids.
6. The Dossier
Singer Peter Riley first appeared to be enthralled with David Gahan’s deep croon in electro-pop act Joy Machine—a Depeche Mode bootleg even mistakenly included their song “Separate Ways” as an Exciter demo track called “Turning Away”—but adopted a Mozzy warble for his next group Saintface. His current group, The Dossier, marries the sounds of his two previous projects into something altogether more interesting.
7. The Social
Something like the Smiths fronted by Ian Curtis—though singer Laurence Hussey really walks the line between Curtis’s deep-water baritone with Morrissey’s dramatic trill—North London group the Social seems to have been relatively short-lived, releasing a single and one rather good EP, A Call to Arms, in 2009 before disappearing completely.
8. The Music Lovers
A group of pop classicists who take their cues from songwriter’s like Serge Gainsboug and Burt Bacharach, and Matthew “Teddy” Edwards—thee Music Lover—fronts it all with a delicate Mozzer delivery. The band released one EP and three LP’s between 2003 and 2008—their best being the 2006 album The Music Lovers’ Guide for Young People—and Edwards has since gone on to head up Matthew Edwards and the Unfortunates, who are scheduled to released their debut, The Fates, any day now.
9. Bell Hollow
All the singer’s on this list borrow generously from Morrissey’s style, but Nick Niles, from the defunct Brooklyn band Bell Hollow—the Smiths filtered through a delicate web of dream pop—may borrow the most. The group released one full-length, 2008’s Foxgloves, and called it quits later that same year when Niles left the band.