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This Disarming Man: Morrissey’s Smiths Solo

When ageing Smiths fans like me sing along to ‘This Charming Man’, their second, breakthrough 1983 single – and the song that ruined our lives – we fondly imagine ourselves achieving some kind of crude approximation of his famous vocals, after all these years of study and devotion. Trying to live up to the lyrical command of that soliciting single.

But as this stunning, eerie, isolated – desolate, even – vocal track from the single recording, stripped back of all the bright, jangly cheeriness, proves, none of us, or his professional imitators, came even slightly close. Ever.

There is no one who sings like Morrissey. No one. Many might say – actually, most, back in the day – that no one in their right mind would want to sing like Morrissey. And that, anyway, he couldn’t sing. This was the mainstream, grown up moan about… “moaning” Moz.

The haunting acapella track of Moz sans Marr (which I’ve only just happened across) proves them all hideously wrong. Again. It’s like hearing the song for the first time – and a reverberating reminder of why he had a solo career at least as successful as the one he had in The Smiths. Not only can Stephen Patrick sing, albeit as if by sheer force of will – he does so entirely in his own voice, and his own powerfully precise autodidactic phrasing. The librarian libertine. The working class dandy.

But that is what was so off-putting and indecent for so many. It was just so incredibly, unnecessarily personal. He slips every wet syllable and consonant (‘hillside desolaTe’, ‘will nature make a man of me yeT’) into your ear. Making ruddy sure you don’t miss a single breath of his bloody poetry, or dare to even think about substituting your own misheard lyrics, the way we do with other pop songs.

But this, even in its original form, isn’t a pop song. This is telepathy. Or a seance – 24-year-old Moz, having broken out of his room-tomb where his crippling shyness imprisoned him, is singing somehow from beyond the grave, but confidently, urgently full of strange sexual promise, and channelling it all straight into your head and your heart, simultaneously.

We never stood a chance.

Mark Simpson’s “psycho-bio” Saint Morrissey:

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