A Smiths reunion couldn’t happen, because the band’s legacy has been destroyed
It’s 2014, and The Smiths are still never going to reform. Despite the fact Smiths fans have been crying out for a reunion for so long. Things started off so well. Fronted by the Mancunian Steven Patrick Morrissey (singer) and Johnny Marr (guitarist), the band rewrote pop music for an 80′s Britain that was fed up with disco pants and chart music. They were, if you like, the first hipsters. But the truth is, when we bring the former members of The Smiths to mind, in light of their recent musical and political antics, it now paints a very vulgar picture indeed.
Morrissey, a man once deemed a poet of his generation, has now degenerated into fodder for media vitriol. It’s like he’s been living in a cave for the past 30 years, not luxury accommodation in Hollywood, Paris or Rome. No longer famous for his witticisms, the man has a reputation for attacking everyone, from the Chinese, to meat-eaters, and now, Geoff Travis- the guy who released all of their studio albums on his record label, Rough Trade, and gave The Smiths a leg up into fame. In a nutshell, it’s hard to see who or what could fit into Morrissey’s ideal conception of the world. Even more embarrassingly, critic A A Gill has just won the Hatchet Job of the Year award for his cutting review of Morrissey’s book, describing it as, “A sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose”, amongst other things. Brutal.
Morrissey is easy pickings. Apart from perhaps a small clique of devoted young men, that more resemble skinheads than the fey literate youths that comprised the group’s first fans, he hasn’t had much in the way of support. So what about Marr, the Smiths’ former guitarist? Marr had the chance to fade gracefully from the public eye- he joined The The for a short spell after leaving the Smiths, and helped to write Dashboard in 2007 for American indie band, Modest Mouse, securing them a number five position on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. Though in the advent of his latest album, The Messenger, Marr gave up being the world’s most wanted session musician. He decided that he could be both a singer and songwriter, without a collaborative figure like Morrissey to provide the words. Releasing a solo album, especially one with him singing, was never going to be the best decision. As far as the songmanship goes, it’s unquestionably bland. The album art isn’t great either, consisting of a badly photo-shopped image of Marr, on a less than scenic Mancunian backdrop. At one point, when The Smiths were at their peak of cool, Marr could pull it off, but not anymore. And now, perhaps the worst thing of all, he’s started to call himself Johnny ‘Fucking’ Marr. You should have taken note Johnny – if it’s not going to work for Amanda Palmer, it’s not going to work for you.
So what about Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, drummer and bassist of the group? Rourke joined a bassist super group with ex-members of the Stone Roses and New Order, whilst Joyce is now reportedly living a quiet existence, working as an occasional DJ for BBC 6 Music. In 1996 The Smiths’ rhythm duo managed to bag a sizeable sum of money from a court case, which involved suing both Morrissey and Marr for equal royalties. Up until this point, both Rourke and Joyce were only entitled to 10% of their band’s royalties. You wouldn’t blame them for suing, especially Rourke, who Morrissey kicked out of the band via a rather short and sweet note left on his windscreen. As Joyce’s barrister put it, they were treated as ‘mere session musicians, as readily replaceable as parts of a lawnmower’.
Even without this ongoing feud, a reunion would seem like the final nail in the coffin for The Smiths’ legacy. Central to the original ethos of the band was their ability to be original and daring while, through Morrissey’s lyrics, expressing the inner thoughts and personal lives of ordinary people. Now though, Morrissey and Marr have absolutely nothing new to say or to create musically. Unlike Morrissey and Marr, Joyce and Rourke aren’t so preoccupied with clinging to their former success – these two have managed to move on with other projects, while living low key lives.
Morrissey, on the other hand, has managed the tragic feat of going from a sad young man, to a bitter old one. Marr also finds himself full circle, reusing the original chiming guitar sound of The Smiths on his new album. So, it would take a lot to make a Smiths reunion seem like a good idea, and less like the biggest PR failure in music history. This is for the group are no longer distant, cool and inaccessible – Morrissey and Marr have become caricatures of who the public think they are. That is, the fronts of a band for cynical teenagers. Their lack of inspiration and refusal to move with the times, culturally or musically, means their reunion would only look like a shallow publicity stunt. In recent years, their public personas have been under scrutiny by the press and even their fans in the light of Morrissey’s recent racist remarks. Rightfully so, as their contributions to music are time and time again overshadowed by their bloated egos. The Smiths only work when you feel like you’re the only person in the world who knows who they are – yours exclusively. Now everyone owns them.
Featured image: Wikipedia
Inset image: NIC via Flickr