The Smiths: Return of the charming men?

For you old lecturer croneys out there (naming no names Ian and Richard) :)...

The Smiths have a lot to answer for in music. If not just for Stephen Patrick Morrissey's (or Morrissey as he is better known) hair, vulgar nylon shirts, dubious dancing and discordant vocal, but their ability to stand out from the crowd upon their inception.

Manchester did not know what had hit it in 1982 when six modest lads joined together to create the original indie music, when indie meant independent record label and not skinny jeans, nasal naffness and drearily repetitive tunes.

This is not to say singer/songwriter Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce did not help to create an intriguingly successful but questionably talented legacy thereafter.  

Although despite the rock group's five year stay near the top of British music betwen 1982 and 1987, which included a lot of arty disputes and pop videos which involved Morrissey reading literative manifestos whilst dithering past dirty Manchester tower blocks, the glory days may return amidst rumours on the grapevine of a comeback.

Grim realities have always been Morrissey's thing. You only need to listen to his deadpan vocals and despairing lyrics on tracks including Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now and Panic to be drawn to that conclusion. So whether The Smiths will be reaffirmed as cult favourites amongst a current quilt of which its patchwork is filled with the very evil Morrissey waxed lyrical about - electronic pop groups with pretentious names and ethics nonetheless - will be very interesting to see. That is, if they are to reform.

Rumours have circulated in music magazines including Q and NME that the group will reform, particularly after The Sun reported last month that the jangly guitar-based band would reform for the Coachella Festival in 2009. But with the techy relationship between Morrissey and Marr (which lead to the dissolution of The Smiths in the first place), it is very difficult to see how the two intellectual egos would settle their differences and return to pop stardom.

But a reunion would certainly be welcomed by the majority of alternative and indie music followers and those who are longstanding supporters. Originally opposed to the New Wave, New Romantic and Synthpop numpties like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Duran Duran and Simple Minds (although ironically guitarist Marr conistently collaborated with Synthpop figures including New Order's Bernard Sumner and Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant after The Smiths dissolved), The Smiths despised their commercialisation catchyness and inane familiarity. But if you were born amidst an era of Mancunian punk, you always had half a chance of following the anti-establishment and anti-pop crowd.

With the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Fall and The Buzzcocks as their inspiration amidst tough times in the north, with more people at the dole queue than securing multi-million pound record deals, The Smiths had plenty of inspiration to reflect upon.

Responsible in part for the Britpop explosion which hence followed in the 90s, of which Oasis, Pulp, Blur, The Verve and Suede could lay claim to garnering their musical influences, Morrissey and company delivered a string of top 40 hit singles, including This Charming Man, How Soon Is Now and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Often a mixture of melancholy misery and toe-tapping melodies, the group fused the catchy ethic of popular music with hard-hitting realistic lyricism. Never ones to succumb to the synthesizer route, they even turned down a record deal from former ITV1 presenter and the late Factory Records owner, Tony Wilson (who was responsible for fellow Manchester bands New Order and The Happy Mondays amidst the Madchester scene) in turn for remaining independent and rejecting the sell-out route to fame.

But what many marvel at is The Smiths' astonishingly quick tenure. Whilst Margaret Thatcher's reign as Prime Minister and incessant closure of northern staple industries seemed a lifetime during the 80s, The Smiths' life faded pretty much soon after it started.

Although perhaps their failure for making it in to the mainstream and remaining together longer as a band was not only down to their internal politics, but their inability to conform to a niche market. Whilst one half of Manchester was the angst-ridden punk side which helped evolve its Synthpop sons, the other delved in  bopping to rave music in the dance halls of the Hacienda club in Manchester, on E's and gun crime. Neither category could ever fit perfectly with Morrissey and Marr, which perhaps ensured they were destined to become a cult musical taste.

Now though, who knows. Their jangly complexed melodies melded with laughable Morrissey vocals have always endeared them to the public. One #1 album and three #2 albums later, the future may resound brighter for the estranged figureheads of Morrissey and Marr, whilst Rourke and Joyce will continue to observe from the background.

Whilst Morrissey has become successful since the band's split in his solo career, Marr's fame came and went in the guitar-enhanced dance music supergroup, Electronic in the 90s with Sumner and Tennant.

So perhaps Marr needs this more than Morrissey does? Well, no Smiths fan would ever tell you that. Morrissey needs Marr's guitar, as much as Marr needs Morrissey's lyrics and that is what made the group successful as a whole. But rumours have ricocheted and have subsequently been quashed by both figurehead egos on previously numerous occasions, so who is to say this isn't just pure media fantasy?

What is for sure is that even if The Smiths do not reform, their influence and impact on the rock groups of today remains a seminal one, of which the majority of the new "indie" bands can be thankful for.

Comments

to be honest i think if the smiths were to reform it would be a huge mistake. i believe they served their purpose, for their time. they have a cult status that they will only lose if they refrom. its fashionable to like the smiths in a lot of circles (i personally cant stand them) like all these ramones t-shirts going around... half the people that wear those t-shirts probably cant list 5 songs by them, maybe bring out a greatest hits and do a tour thats it i think.

By robhayes

but then I realised that people only wore it because it looked cool, as opposed to actually liking them. So, I chucked the t-shirt away.

I'd like to say that I saw The Smiths live in many years to come. 

By Rebecca Hughes

Rob, it is fashionable to like The Smiths in this day and age I agree and I think it's because they were different and these days bands and indie idots take the similar attitude. The difference is, the idiots of today all end up sounding the same. Not that The Smiths sounded fantastic, but admittedly I like 6/7 of their songs, more through the music rather than Morrissey's dreaful vocals haha.

But I suppose we have to give credit to them for influencing all that Britpop in the 90s...well they weren't the only influence obviously. I like you, can think of much better groups and I prefer the dance which came from "Madchester" rather than the indie/punk stuff. Although some rock from Manchester was good, the dance was much more elegant and effective.

By stuartwilson

James (of Manchester) and The Lightning Seeds (of Liverpool).

By stuartwilson

Now, I like The Smiths but I love James.

By Rebecca Hughes

Well, I don't love James, but I like Sit Down and She's A Star. I recommend The Lightning Seeds Becci, I think they would be your sort of thing :).

By stuartwilson

but I'm not sure who they are. I'll check them out.

Tomorrow by James is a tune. Go have a listen!

By Rebecca Hughes

Well, actually like The Smiths, they're my Dad's - he's just played them to me throughout my childhood, like most of the old music I ramble on about on here haha. Cheers though, I'll have a listen.

Lightning Seeds you'd like some of I think.

By stuartwilson

I agree, good band, very easy to listen to. First song I heard of theres was "Lucky You" I cant remember the album title but it has a strawberry on the front.

By robhayes

Yes, that album is called Jollification I think. The previous album was Cloudcookooland - my Dad has both in his CD collection. Indeed very easy to listen to, that's why if you like them, I suggest you listen to Electronic. I prefer Marr in that than The Smiths.

As for Lightning Seeds, they did a few good songs, including the football song!

By stuartwilson

They did Three Lions... best football song eveeeeeeeeeeer!

By robhayes

Though only just better than New Order - World In Motion - class band and class song.

By stuartwilson

It is a great chart topping song... not so much a terrace song though

By robhayes

Any students posting in a less than effusive way about The Smiths will be expelled forthwith from the course. And forced to listen to me reminiscing about a gig at Birmingham Alexandra Theatre.

By Ian Reeves --

Ian Reeves is deputy head of the Centre for Journalism