’80s Music Week: Five Great British Mopers

Smiths T-shirt for 'Meat Is Murder'

You’d imagine creating a career in which people fawn at your feet, and your every thought can recorded and polished and translated into actual vinyl (or CD, depending which end of the decade we’re talking about), would be something of a giddy thrill. Not for this lot.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the ’80s pop icons who – glorious music aside – managed to make being a pop star look like an unpleasant task, on a par with cleaning the toilet.

Robert Smith (The Cure)

Oh sure, he wrote the skippy pop song about the cats (“The Lovecats”), and he wrote the twinkletoes tune where he was trapped in a wardrobe in the video (“Close To Me”), but he also wrote the song that begins “it doesn’t matter if we all die” (“One Hundred Years”) and the song about being lost in a forest (“The Forest”). There are two people wrestling for creative control of Robert Smith, Pop Bob and Gothycke Robyrt, and both of them look like a crow bursting out of a black pillow. Even when he’s happy he’s sad.

Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen)

In the full flight of performance, Ian and his Bunnyfellows were a life-affirming force, albeit a life-affirming force carried on a gleaming midnight wind, trailing doomed romance and anguish in its wake. In real life, he was even worse. A persistant slagger-offer of anyone who wasn’t the lead singer in Echo and the Bunnymen, a mocker of modernity and a terrible mirror-kisser. To this day he tends to exist behind a wall of classic shades and a fug of cigarette smoke and will proclaim his wondrousness (on a par with Sinatra, apparently) before you’re even halfway done with the hellos. Happy-go-lucky he is not.

The Sisters of Mercy

As this video clip, from the BBC’s Whistle Test in 1985, amply demonstrates, there’s an ideal way to capture the visual experience of the Sisters of Mercy for television. First make sure they appear in front of spotlights that shine directly into the camera lens, then add dry ice, then some dry ice, and more dry ice, and finally, garnish with dry ice. Then turn all the other lights off. Nothing visually embodies their Davros Sings The Byrds aesthetic like four solid minutes of televised black cloud, with some shadows moving around in the background – one in a hat – looking a bit bored. Thankfully, by the time they had a proper Top 2o hit with the remade “Temple of Love” in 1992, Andrew Eldritch had become a bit more confident about appearing on camera, and the Byrds had become Led Zeppelin (or Meat Loaf, depending on your point of view). Davros remained, however.

The Jesus and Mary Chain

For all that their early gigs were the very stuff of riot and discord, the Reid brothers were clearly not the kind of people who could muster the energy to smash the state. Look at them, they can’t even stand up straight. And those riots only occurred because those concerts were 20 minutes long. Naturally their appeal became more selective as soon as they got a bit of stamina and a drummer with a proper kit.

Morrissey (The Smiths)

Ironically, the dark sardonic wit of Mr Moz is the one clue that he was having an absolute whale of a time during the heyday of the Smiths. He might’ve been irking daytime radio with his mournful songs of kicking people in the eye and hanging the DJ, and he might have delivered every punchline through a sour poker face hidden by flowers, but was he actually miserable then? Heavens, no.

Who should we add to this gallery of ungarrulousness? Tell us here:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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