Twenty years ago I discovered Morrissey; he gave expression to the deep isolation and longing for connection that I felt as a suburban misfit. As I grew older it became less about the Pope of Mope, however, and more about the well-dressed man singing operatic odes to skinheads and small-time criminals.
But forget about that. My two decade Moz obsession has come to an end. Why? I realized that Morrissey is little more than a cheap knockoff of Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry. For the uninitiated, Roxy Music were glam/art rock pioneers from the early '70s who rivaled even Bowie with hits like “Virginia Plain” and “Street Life,” both of which presaged the coming punk revolution. While watching Roxy Music perform “Really Good Time” on a YouTube clip, it all came into focus — the affected poshness, the self-consciously ironic “Britishness,” the two-note vocal moan, all of it appropriated by Moz.
Early in Moz's career, Ferry seemed little more than an influence. As the years went on, however, it's fair to say that the charming man became a parody — not of himself, but of Roxy Music-era Ferry.
Indeed, in Morrissey's post-Vauxhall and I career, gone are the paeans to self-pity. In their place are dark, brooding tales of lovable losers, perhaps too clever by half. Struggling to find his voice, Moz went through Smithsesque jangle pop (Viva Hate and Bona Drag), light, jazzy pop (Kill Uncle) and an ill-conceived foray into hard rock (Your Arsenal). After Arsenal, he seemed to find his voice — it's too bad that voice is little more than the schmaltzier elements of Roxy Music.
Compare Moz and Bryan Ferry side by side. As the pair age, their similarities become increasingly striking: Handsome aging men who wear their gray hair arrogantly like battle scars, donning high-end suits with all the subtlety of a hooker in church. The last defenders of British values, the High Tory ne plus ultra who make flirtatious overtures toward fascist movements both home grown and international.
But here's the problem for Morrissey: Ferry did it first, and with a lot more style. And Ferry is managing to age a little more gracefully; you don't see him parading around shirtless or recording songs with titles like “All You Need Is Me” and “I Have Forgiven Jesus.” No, Ferry has opted for more subdued affairs, old pop standards, Bob Dylan covers and the like. It's the difference between buying a BMW and buying a Lamborghini when the mid-life crisis hits. One shows a touch of taste and refinement. The other has all the class of a punk rocker in a derby hat.
Of course none of this will matter much to Moz aficionados. The taste for him has always had more to do with habit than actual appreciation. A love of Morrissey is a bit like herpes. You get it when you're young and don't know any better and it occasionally crops up from time to time. I for one am investing in some Valtrex.