Steven Patrick Morrissey has been called a lot of things: miserable, bleak, depressing, you name it. But as any dedicated Morrissey fan will tell you, his talents have never relied solely on the doom and gloom. As a matter of fact, the former Smiths frontman has proven that he’s perfectly capable of penning songs that brim with wit, positivity and, yes, even downright happiness. We’ve sifted through all his solo albums and his Smiths material to present the finest moments of Morrissey’s optimism—though we admit that it did take a while.
Though Southpaw Grammar typically ranks as one of Morrissey’s least memorable albums, it does offer up one of his rare but patented pep talks. This line sounds like it could’ve been plagiarized from a motivational poster: “You won’t win with your standards so high / and your spirits so low / at least remember this is you on a bad day / you on a pale day.” Just imagine what a great life coach Moz could be if he wasn’t so miserable all the time.
Bolstered by a retooled studio band, Morrissey’s 1992 return to form Your Arsenal kicks off with a drastic shift toward testosterone-filled guitar riffs loaded with rockabilly. In this opener, Morrissey urges an unappreciative friend not to attempt to confront a cold and cynical world alone. Perhaps sensing that his advice is falling on deaf ears, he quips, “Well you don’t need to look so pleased!” You can almost see Morrissey smirk the moment his companion looks at his helping hand with indifference.
While it’s definitely not one of Morrissey’s most memorable tracks, it does highlight the satisfaction he gets when he writes callous lyrics. His ability to profess his love to somebody while simultaneously mocking their appearance is a perfect example of how his uncharacteristically bright and cheery songs are often tinged with dark humor.
A snarky ‘up-yours’ delivered to a former boss, this track sees Moz desperately hoping to break free from the shackles of his day job. The dreariness of nine-to-five work is a recurring theme in Morrissey’s music, one which he typically drowns in self-pity (“Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” “You’ve Got Everything Now,” “Billy Budd”). But this time around, he sounds truly captivated by the chance to seek out spontaneity, fame, money and, if he’s lucky, a venereal disease.
Kill Uncle was quickly dismissed by even his most diehard fans for coming off as wayward, distracted and too flighty. While “Sing Your Life” could easily be described as any of those, the message within is one of the most sympathetic songs in his catalogue. No Morrissey song would be complete, however, if he didn’t preface his words of wisdom with an introductory downer: “Your pointless life will end,” he tells the listener before advising them to shelve their misery and just live in the moment.
“I’m in love for the first time and I don’t feel bad,” Morrissey delivers with such deadpan honesty and so clear in the mix; he really does sound unapologetically and unconditionally happy for once. There are even signs of extroversion in the otherwise strained relationship between Morrissey and his fickle friend Nightlife. How rare it is to hear Moz sing “I want to see all my friends tonight,” with enough conviction to make one think that he actually means it. Going out to see friends is fine, Morrissey, but what about that bucktoothed girl in Luxembourg?
Another Kill Uncle track that finds Morrissey daydreaming, this one happens to be inundated with bad pun after bad pun right down to the title’s purposeful misspelling of ‘Lear.’ Morrissey’s sense of superiority over a former lover just oozes wry reflection, though not without an added dose of jealousy as well. “Your boyfriend, he went down on one knee / Or could it be he’s only got one knee?” to open the song has to go down as one of the laziest, most poorly written lines he’s ever written. It’s such a shock to hear a Morrissey lyric that is so horribly written, until “It’s not your style / To Dial” reveals that roping the listener along through tongue-in-check satire had been his intention from the start.
Morrissey always made his affection for ’50s greaser culture obvious, from his James Dean idolatry to the Smiths cover art (The World Won’t Listen, “Shoplifters of the World Unite”). “Rusholme Ruffians” is especially evocative of the archetype, producing the backdrop of a seedy county fairground littered with leather-jacketed rebels. “And though I walk home alone … my faith in love is still devout”—a startling revelation in the world of Morrissey.
Taking a stroll through a cemetery reading graves really could only be a pleasant afternoon for one man. Also featured in this track is a bit of Morrissey finger-waving toward his date for the afternoon, who tried to pass off a couple Richard III lines as their own. “Cemetry Gates” isn’t without a sense of irony in the end, since plenty of Morrissey’s own songs have taken entire passages from his favorite works.
You know how your teachers would always tell you to vocalize questions in class, because for every person that asked a question there were bound to be three or four shy students wondering the same thing? This is what Morrissey is arriving at here, though his concern is that if you’ll never get the chance to ask your spouse the questions that eat away at your insides once the nuclear apocalypse rolls around. In the end, nothing Morrissey writes will ever leave you feeling completely warm and fuzzy inside, though “Ask” might be as close as we’ll ever get.