Artists Of The Year

CMU Artists Of The Year 2012: The Smiths

By | Published on Friday 21 December 2012

The Smiths

Right, now you might be thinking that making The Smiths one of our Artists Of The Year makes a mockery of the whole system. But, firstly, I think you need to stop and have a think about how seriously you take end of year lists, and secondly, it doesn’t, so be quiet.

The Smiths hold their position as a CMU Artist Of The Year 2012 precisely because they have done absolutely nothing. Well, except one thing: deny rumours that they are reuniting. And that is the one thing I hope they will continue to do for many years to come.

Band reunions are nothing new of course, but in 2012 they just turned silly. As the internet helps to make bands’ back catalogues ever more important, and to keep their legacy alive long after they split, many of those bands assume it would be great if they got back together and played to fans old and new. And many of those fans think the same. But they’re all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Band reunions are bad for everyone.

The big reunions of the year were The Beach Boys (with Brian Wilson) and The Stone Roses, while Blur continued their campaign to bring songs about 20 year olds going on holiday to the masses. Black Sabbath, meanwhile, attempted a 30th anniversary original line up reunion, but stumbled over drummer Bill Ward’s contract. Add to that Girls Aloud, At The Drive-In, Ben Folds Five, the original Sugababes, The Happy Mondays, East 17, S Club 7 (sort of), Ugly Kid Joe, Run-DMC, Atomic Kitten and more. Even Refused, a band whose most famous song is in many ways an explanation of why bands shouldn’t reform, returned to the live stage.

Along with the internet making it easier to identify aging fans who are still hanging around out there, another motivation for old-timers to return to the stage is the bloated festivals sector, where events keep booking the comeback kids for their headline slots. Festival bosses would probably tell you there aren’t enough new headliners to meet demand. Though you could argue back that there are, but festival promoters are just looking in the wrong place. Yes, there aren’t as many big rock bands coming through, but that’s because the world has moved on and rock is now a heritage genre. And if you dwell on a heritage genre, then it’s heritage acts who will top your bills.

Morrissey recently revealed that Coachella, an event that’s made getting bands back together part of its business model, had offered to make the entire festival completely vegetarian if he and Johnny Marr – that’s just 50% of The Smiths – would play together again. They said “no”, and rightly so.

The latest rumour, of course, is that the band is getting back together for next year’s Glastonbury, which has subsequently been denied by Morrissey, Johnny Marr and Marr’s manager Joe Moss. Of course we know that denials of reunions are usually meaningless, but the stubbornness of Morrissey alone gives you hope that in the case of The Smiths, they really mean it.

The big money routinely put on the table for acts of this prestige is clearly always going to be a difficult thing to turn down, and when an old band bites, you can understand the allure for older fans desperate to relive their youth, or younger fans jealous that they were born too late to see their new favourite artist live first time round.

But what do reunions really give bands and their fans? Would seeing The Smiths in 2013 be the same as seeing The Smiths in 1986? No, it wouldn’t even be close. Since the band split a year after that, a lot has changed. Johnny Marr has worked on numerous other projects, and Morrissey has become a caricature of himself. I’ve seen Morrissey play Smiths songs at his solo shows, and I think even he knows they’re only in his set as singalongs. Seeing him do them is no different to seeing an unknown band do them in your local pub – except maybe for the size of the venue.

And what of the spectre of new material. Count the reunion albums you own that match or surpass the releases by the same band or bands in their heyday. OK, Take That, maybe. Though that is still very debatable. And go and listen to the new Beach Boys album. Go on, dare you. Actually, don’t, cos if you do it on Spotify, they’ll see that stats and might record another one.

Between the years 1984 and 1987, while never achieving a 100% hit rate (as no band properly experimenting with their sound should), The Smiths released some very good music indeed. And they almost certainly played some legendary live shows. Live shows I didn’t see, being far too young at the time. I will never see those shows or shows like them. And I’m happy about that. Because, you know, I’ll never get to see or enjoy, in context, a lot of stuff from the past, because it’s back there in the past. Where it belongs. I’m going to enjoy what’s here and relevant right now, thank you very much.

So, Morrissey, Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, I salute you in your stubbornness (well, actually I think Mike Joyce would quite like to do it). Long may it continue. Because as long as it does, the good stuff you did stays as good as it ever was.

See all of CMU’s Artists Of The Year for 2012 here.