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Morrissey: Mope with a melody

Before there was emo, there was The Smiths.

Before there was "Screaming Infidelities" or "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," there was "Girlfriend in a Coma" and "Everyday is Like Sunday."

And before there were pretty boys with broken hearts everywhere, there was Morrissey.

The English solo singer and former Smiths frontman is the antihero of misunderstood lonely hearts everywhere. Part poet, part misanthrope, part heartthrob, the 47-year-old crooner has been a favorite of lovers of literate pop and sensitive souls for 25 years.

So lovably mopey, so miserably handsome, Morrissey's signature brand of sensitivity has been admired and imitated by everyone from today's crop of angsty emo-pop bands, like Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy and Death Cab For Cutie.

Morrissey will open his 47-date U.S. tour at Stockton's Bob Hope Theatre on April 27.

Since his days with the influential indie outfit The Smiths ended in 1987, Morrissey has gone the lonely, longing road of solo stardom. The New York Times once derisively labeled his solo music "mope rock," but today, Morrissey has been adoringly labeled "The Bard of Mopery" by the online magazine Slate.

But the mope of old has been replaced recently with a reinvigorated, dare we say happier, Morrissey with the release of two more upbeat albums, 2004's "You Are the Quarry" and 2006's "Ringleader of the Tormentors."

As the singer told England's The Sun in a rare interview last year:

"A long time has passed. If I was still the same, if I was still locked in the same mentality then, I would be in terrible trouble, but time has passed and these are much better days for me."

Growing up in Manchester, England, Steven Patrick Morrissey was drawn to the sound of '60s girl groups and female singers from Sandie Shaw to Marianne Faithfull. As a teenager, he wrote for fanzines and wrote letters to magazines about his love for the New York Dolls and James Dean.

In the late '70s, Morrissey briefly bounced around in a few punk bands. Then in 1982, he met guitarist Johnny Marr. The two began writing songs together, and The Smiths' debut single, "Hand in Glove," was released in 1983.

Singer/songwriter Morrissey carved a niche for himself with his dark, humorous, self-loathing lyrics. The singer also was outspoken about his political views, his vegetarianism and his avowed asexuality and celibacy.

The band's 1884 self-titled debut was a hit in England. Interest continued to grow, both in the U.K. and U.S., with the release of a string of follow-ups: "Meat is Murder" in 1985, "The Queen is Dead" in 1986 and "Strangeways, Here We Come" in 1987.

Then, at the height of the group's popularity, growing tensions between Marr and Morrissey broke up the band.

Morrissey came back in 1988 with this solo debut, "Viva Hate." It spawned the successful singles "Suedehead," "Everyday Is Like Sunday" and "The Last of the International Playboys."

His 1991 sophomore effort, "Kill Uncle," was a critical disappointment that he followed up with the widely acclaimed "Your Arsenal" in 1992.

Through the mid-'90s, Morrissey continued to churn out studio albums and compilations until 1997's "Maladjusted."

Then came a seven-year gap between studio albums, only to see Morrissey re-emerge, guns blazing, with 2004's "You Are the Quarry." The album went to No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 11 in the States.

Morrissey also returned to the concert stage, selling out shows internationally and wooing longtime fans and new devotees.

Last year saw the release of his most recent effort, "Ringleader of the Tormentors." With the album, Morrissey's potent mix of the political and personal is given a more overtly sexual, and even at times contented, edge.

But that doesn't mean the great malcontent has left the building. When asked by The Sun if this meant his gloomy days were behind him, Morrissey's response was vehement.

"Of course it doesn't. What do you think I am? I am only human!"

WHAT: Morrissey

WHEN: 8 p.m. April 27

WHERE: Bob Hope Theatre, 242 E. Main St., Stockton

TICKETS: $39.50-$59.50

CALL: 337-4673