❚ HOW IS EX-SMITHS GUITARIST Johnny Marr taking criticism of his efforts to “remaster” eight albums by The Smiths, knocked out by the greatest British rock group of the 80s in four refreshing and prolific years? (Marr’s favourite Smiths album is Strangeways, Here We Come from 1987, the year they split amid rancour.) On October 3 Rhino Records UK releases The Smiths Complete, in a variety of formats priced from £35 to £250. One of the two credible Morrissey fansites, True-to-You, claims that the charismatic Smiths singer has had no input into the Complete project, “which has taken place without any approach to Morrissey from either Warner, Rhino, or Johnny Marr”. If so, how sad is that?
Let it be noted that the majority of fans seem thrilled with the new box set. Nevertheless, at The Smiths Facebook page this week a noticeable number of diehards are reacting angrily that Rhino’s marketing ploy swims in the face of the band’s ethos in the 80s, when they were “the antithesis of all this turgid corporate repackaging”. One fan calls the Complete package “another great rock ’n’ roll swindle”. Another asks “Is Johnny Marr skint or something?” Online at the Amazon store another quibbles over the omission of some Smiths tracks: “Why call it Complete when in reality some songs are missing?”
Yesterday Johnny Marr answered his critics — if only indirectly. On their 6Music radio show, Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie had clearly been put on red alert to mention neither the name of Johnny’s former songwriting partner Morrissey, not once, nor the all-too-public fan criticism. With them on their anodyne best behaviour, Johnny was geniality itself in conversation, as you’ll hear on the 16-minute clip at BBC iPlayer (available till Oct 5).
We hear a brisk clip of Moz’s vocals on Nowhere Fast from the Meat is Murder album, “remastered” by Johnny and the respected engineer Frank Arkwright who painstakingly located all the original half-inch tapes. Johnny prefers to say: “Restored is probably more appropriate. I didn’t add anything. Remastering sounds mysterious, but actually I was taking all the ‘nonsense’ off the original records. I knew we sounded better than that.”
What did the nonsense amount to? “When the greatest hits came out in the late 80s as CDs they were jacked up with loads of top end and hardly any bass. I made it really, really natural. I didn’t fall into that trap that a lot of modern bands have fallen into recently — it’s got to sound louder than the new Green Day record. I’m very very happy.”
Johnny talks first of the current live dates by his new band The Healers, both in Manchester tonight at the Night & Day Cafe, and at the Deaf Institute on Oct 4 and 6, New York City on Oct 13 and “wherever we want to go”.
➢ So far only Uncut magazine offers a “review” of Smiths Complete. — Curiously, it does not amount to a review. Instead David Cavanagh actually writes an excellent discussion of The Smiths’ recording landmarks, 1984–88, while offering only one lukewarm sentence appraising the newly remastered set. Is he damning with faint praise?
➢ Johnny Marr’s fab new website has a huge gallery called Guitar Orchestra plus a ripping biography that rattles through his career’s twists and turns (including our hero as visiting Professor of Music at Salford University)
❏ Smiths to reform? “If this government stepped down then I’ll do it. It’s a fair trade isn’t it?”
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