“Best of... most of... satiate the need...” sang Morrissey in 1987’s ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’, a savage sweep at the regurgitating lactation of the record industry, which was in full swing even 24 years ago. That alone says as much as needs to be said on the subject, but only last week a tired story was wheeled out once more as a lazy journalist leapt on a tenuous, throwaway comment from guitarist Johnny Marr, and suddenly The Smiths reunion was back on again.
Johnny, responding to questions about the acrimonious three-year court case with ex-drummer Mike Joyce, had told The Sun that he was going to be hanging out and "maybe playing" with ex-Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, and added that he's also on “good terms” with Morrissey. Now clearly this is taking artistic licence to its’ very extreme, and even the most ardent Smithsonian can see the transparency of that story, if indeed it can be classed a story.
Being on good terms with Morrissey means very little to anyone who understands the depths of the bitterness and hurt that surrounded the Smiths break-up in 1987. It also means very little when considering how difficult it is to penetrate the inner sanctum of the famously complex and demanding singer. Being on “good terms” could be the first stage of twenty in terms of moving mountains and finding the head-space to actually consider making music together, particularly given the considerable coals of the past that need raking over, even, or perhaps more so, if your name is Johnny Marr.
Maybe the journalist in question was responding to what they assume is a public clamour for a Smiths reunion? But I’m not entirely sure there is one. In my mind, it is not something I want to happen and I am pretty sure there are ex-bedroom revolutionaries like me the world over who think the same. We have spent a couple of decades blinking our eyes in the light, getting accustomed to the outside world. We discovered it, we devoured it, we are still devoted to it, but now we are over it.
The Smiths back catalogue is a pure and precious thing. It remains a legacy of undiluted splendour, a fascinating odyssey of working class fortitude, cultural commentary, stoic non-conformity and achingly desolate romanticism; classic tunes that resonate throughout all fashions, genres and lost years of love and musical indulgence. In a mere four years of recorded output there is breathtaking testimony to an evolution in sound and ambition, that lesser bands elevated to the same status would take twenty years to construct within the dithering muddle of a hit and miss career.
The Smiths back catalogue is a pure and precious thing. It remains a legacy of undiluted splendour, a fascinating odyssey of working class fortitude.
What has happened - post-Smiths - has only served to add value to that peerless body of work. Morrissey’s solo career has had some majestic highs, but it has also suffered from the absence of a truly great song writing partner. Morrissey himself would admit to being a difficult fish to manage and it is clear he has taken some ill-advised routes since 1987 (including the sometimes less-than-perfect representations of Smiths tracks in concert). Johnny Marr has involved himself in a plethora of side-projects over the last 24 years, most of which have been designed to keep him quite contentedly in the background. Stints with The The and The Cribs in particular, plus last years Oscar-nominated ‘Inception’ soundtrack, showed that his star still shines brightly. All good solid output, and unfair to judge against the serendipitous beauty of what came before, but still, inevitably, we do.
For me there is nothing to be gained from a Smiths reunion. The songs are there, they stand alone and should remain untouched. It is also clear that Morrissey and Marr have far too much pride in their gift to the world to sully it with an ill-considered reunion, and this is the crux of what slothful hacks on a slow-news day fail to understand. Morrissey and Marr don’t need the money and they don’t need the professional recognition. They have it already. How can what they have and where The Smiths stand be bettered?
It is perhaps understandable that certain bands, however credible, have taken the “Steps” route to instant mortgage relief, such as Echo & the Bunnymen, Happy Mondays, Suede, The Alarm, Shed Seven, Killing Joke. The list is endless without even considering the car-crash kudos suicide of the new romantics and 1980’s synth pop reunions. The Sex Pistols reunion was actually in ironic consistency with their original beliefs, so they achieved some credit, as did Pixies and Led Zeppelin. But the tawdry exploitation of an ‘Anniversary’ tour or playing a celebrated album live that was originally considered great because it was... erm… an album, not a gig, is something The Smiths have no need to consider. Where would they start?
I do hold nagging gripes about pockets of The Smiths back catalogue, little things I would change and maybe they would too. I would go easy on the Twinkle and Cilla Black covers. I would call a halt to the endless “Best of…” compilations that continue to appear (although I accept some of them have been a necessary evil, a contractually-obliged after thought). I would add another few bars to the end of ‘I Won’t Share You’ or ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’. Certainly I would add another verse and chorus to ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’. There is irony in that title indeed, but that must be a universal wish for any Smiths devotee. Yes, it is an arresting and almost flawless morsel of bewitching simplicity, but how good would it be if the 1 minute 51 seconds was a mere 30 seconds longer? How more enriched would our sorry lives become? More a case of Please, Please, Please rock that mandolin a little longer Johnny.
Morrissey and Marr were the song writers, they were, by Johnny’s admission during the infamous court case, The Smiths
So maybe one day we can stop dragging this non-story up and accept the fact that the book is closed, for the good of all. We can accept the fact that the legal battle brought by Mike Joyce in 1996 against Morrissey and Marr, caused irreparable damage and ensured the four original members would never enter the same room again. Andy Rourke had accepted a smaller slice of the cake many years earlier, hence his continuing friendship with Marr, and hence the frenzied and foolhardy re-emergence of collaboration and reunion talk last week.
In my quieter moments I have sometimes considered a “Morrissey and Marr” collaboration to be something that could be viewed in isolation to “The Smiths”. Could they work together and make an album under their own names as a partnership, and leave The Smiths legacy unblemished? A bit like Lou Reed and John Cale’s ‘Songs For Drella’ but obviously, infinitely better. Morrissey and Marr were the song writers, they were, by Johnny’s admission during the infamous court case, The Smiths. Could they put 24 years of bickering, mis-information and untidy public laundry to one side and re-discover the majesty they once had? It would be fascinating to hear something, but no, my curiosity does not stretch far enough to overtake my desire to hold onto what is sacred.
The Smiths is Dead and ‘my faith in love is still devout’.
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