10 Bands That Owe the Smiths a Round
The Smiths: You either love them to the point of wanting to die by their side after getting hit by a double-decker bus, or you hate them and want to throw razor-sharpened LPs in their general direction, hoping one saws singer Morrissey’s head off at the neck. But both lovers and haters would agree that the Smiths have been an extremely influential band for modern indie and alternative rockers. They have that je ne se sais quoi that has been passed down to countless disciples, 10 of which appear on this list of Bands That Owe the Smiths a Round. (If not of beer, maybe tea with a spot of whiskey.)
You really can’t leave Modest Mouse off of this list, because Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr, known for his side-projectability, joined the band circa 2007 and appears on the bestselling album ‘We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.’ (We can imagine he had something to do with its chart position, too.) We picture Marr, a fan of MM, hearing shades of his younger self in Isaac Brock and company, phoning them up and asking, ‘Oh, hey, mate, can I join your band?’ Sure thing, Johnny. Sure thing.
Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds
Noel Gallagher is largely responsible for Oasis’ retro-rock sound, but the Solo Noel Sound (‘Masterplan,’ ‘Talk Tonight,’ ‘Little By Little’) only came out about 5 percent of the time, mostly on B-sides, obscurities and less-cared-about records. That’s the stuff, we’d argue, that has the most Smiths influence. It’s marked by a fuller, more orchestral sound and deeper, more poetic lyrics — sonic hallmarks that make Morrissey and the Smiths a more intelligent listen than most of the one-hit-wonder crapola that hit boomboxes in the ‘80s. So we’re putting his one true solo record with the High Flying Birds on the list. Listen to tracks like ‘AKA … What A Life!’ and ‘Stop the Clocks’ to hear what we’re talking about.
Tune into the xx’s ‘Intro’ or ‘VCR,’ both from their first record, and you’ll hear the Johnny Marr guitar influence. The sound is repeated staccato guitar figures drenched in reverb and delay — call it Johnny’s bread and butter. Musically, this is something that exists throughout the xx’s canon, though you could make a strong case for both the Cure and Portishead being the key influences. Feeling super analytical? You might also argue that the female-male twin-vocal attack of the xx embodies the gender ambiguity found in Morrissey’s crooning.
Ask your average American if they know who Blur is, they’ll probably look at you blankly, eyes watering. Follow that up with “Wooo-hooo!” — that famous exclamation from the band’s ‘Song 2′ — and that same American will clap his hands together and say, “Hells yeah, bro!” Just about every great Blur song but ‘Song 2’ reveals the influence of the Smiths, and we’d suggest starting with the 1994 smash (U.K.) album ‘Parklife.’
We got into this a bit on our list of sexually ambiguous lead singers, but we’re big fans of singers that straddle the line between masculine and feminine, and when it comes to indie rock androgyny, all roads lead back to Morrissey. His voice sounds like a cross between a coked-out opera singer, Snuffaluffagus and a British sailor cruising a London port for … well, you get the picture. Sure, one could argue that David Bowie was doing this ages before him, but Moz was serving a different type and class of fan altogether.
We’re a big fan of U.K. bands that sing in their native tongue. We know, we know — they’re singing in English just like us Americans. But a band like Glasvegas actually sounds Scottish. Lead singer James Allan makes no bones about it, putting his sexy Scotch brogue on display. Allan’s emotive voice reminds us of the Emoter in Chief, Morrissey, had he been from Hibernia.
We can imagine Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer Scott Hutchison with earphones on over his shaggy, wind-tossed locks, listening to the Smiths whilst staring out a window at the gathering storm clouds tumbling over the green Scottish countryside. Listen to pretty much any of FR’s stuff from ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ and onward, and you’ll hear where that depresso Smiths vibe seeps in.
Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who may have one of the best names in rock history, writes epically tongue-in-cheek tunes about apathy and severe boredom, much like Morrissey did back in the day. In fact, Moz pretty much invented that style of songwriting, and the influence can be heard in songs like ‘Common People,’ one of the all-time best commentaries on the British class system (See also: Blur’s ‘Parklife,’ the song, not the album.)
As Morrissey belts out in the Smiths’ classic ‘Cemetery Gates,’ “If you must write prose and poems / the words you use should be your own.” While no one can accuse the Killers’ Brandon Flowers of copying others’ words in his hit songs, one could make the argument that the band boosts quite a bit, sound- and emotion-wise, from the Smiths. In particular, the Vegas neo-New Wave crew cribs delay- and chorus-pedaled guitar sounds made famous by Johnny Marr made famous, and songs like ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘When You Were Young’ evoke the sexual ambiguity so prevalent tin Moz’s work.
The Bravery come from the same era as list-mates the Killers — the one where synth-pop made a major comeback. And the Bravery is what happens when a band listens, re-listens and then listens some more to the Smiths. You start to really, really sound like them — and write some really, really depressing songs. The Smith infatuation is most evident on the Bravery’s debut album, but you can hear it all over the records they’ve put out since. It doesn’t hurt that lead singer Sam Endicott kinda looks like Morrissey, too — and that drummer Anthony Burulcich left the band to drum for Moz himself.