Luckily, no one ever said pop stars had to be likeable: Steve Harley spends his four minutes of real stardom on an extended, bitter, glorious great sneer: whether he’s lashing out at ex bandmates, an ex lover, a current lover, the world, himself doesn’t really matter. The song’s built on pauses – between verses, between words – which coat its very real prettiness with a grease of spite, making the dancers stop dancing, the karaoke singers catch a breath, making sure Harley stays in perfect obsessive control of the record. But because “Make Me Smile” is such a great tune it has a jaunty use-value anyway – which extends Harley’s sneer onto the dum-dums who think this is romantic. (My sympathy, as usual, is with the dum-dums, even though for once their misreading doesn’t improve the song).
“Make Me Smile” could overheat – stuffed as it is with different hooks and topped with a smothering organ line – but it still has a slicing force and clarity, thanks to Harley’s outstanding performance. Two highlights, almost at random: his epically curdled “Mother – EEUUURTH”, and the contrasting wistful vulnerability on the chorus’ “I’ll do what you want” – somewhere inside, maybe he still wishes that was true.