The following items all concern the release of the 2011 boxed set 'Complete'
Jake Kennedy reviews 'Complete' in Record Collector.
If you have five seconds to spare…
Smiths acolytes have never been short of product to spend their hard-earned cash on. With frequent posthumous best-ofs on both sides of the Atlantic, and a rash of excellent non-album singles in the group’s heyday, dedicated fans’ shelves have always heaved with discs; but it’s often felt a bit scrappy.
It didn’t help that there was inter-band feuding and label battles, and that the group disbanded just as the CD era was kicking into gear; but still, it felt you could only ever really luxuriate inside The Smiths when listening to the four albums.
So while the prospect of yet another "new" release from them was initially a bit of a yawn (with no demos, session tracks or other hitherto unreleased gems promised) Complete’s – well – completeness, was intriguing at least. Interest levels peaked when Johnny Marr was confirmed as the man behind remastering each and every one of the band’s records for the set (you get all the studio albums, plus the compilations Louder Than Bombs, Hatful of Hollow, The World Won’t Listen and live offering Rank).
To these ears, Strangeways Here We Come and The Queen Is Dead didn’t need tampering with in the first place (though, in its original guise, the title track of the latter was dark and muddled). On Meat Is Murder, however, the occasionally shrouded sound is given room to breathe. Nowhere Fast zings from the speakers: you could almost be at the fairground alongside old Moz, watching the skirts flick up on the waltzers as Marr crunches that stop-start riff from his guitar. Barbarism Begins At Home, which never quite earned its clearly-longed-for place on the dancefloors, is now brazen in comparison to its original take.
On the 1984 debut, too, things become more obvious. Piano and organ lines emerge from I Don’t Owe You Anything and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, revealing how hard The Smiths worked to build their sound – and how you might just have missed it before. Maybe it wasn’t effortless after all?
Contrary to popular belief, Marr’s the one who soars on these records – now more so than ever – but he’s been generous with the space afforded the other three Smiths across his remastering. Morrissey sounds sensual – check him out on Stretch Out And Wait – and altogether adult. Too often he’s portrayed as some sort of withering geek, but Complete puts forward evidence that he was headstrong, dedicated and more than familiar with pleasures of the flesh. How could the man who penned the line "What I do know is we’re here and it’s now" not be?
As is often the case with iconic bands, you can wear them thin. There’s no shame in that; it often takes a fresh perspective to reawaken what inspired you the first time around. Complete allows you to get back into The Smiths, then. Certainly, the £250 deluxe version – boasting the albums on vinyl, alongside a further 25 7" singles – will test the hardcore, but if you’re after a thrillingly good time (again), this set’s for you. *****
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Read the Uncut review here
In this interview with The Sun, Johnny Marr reminisces about his days with The Smiths and talks about his remastering of the group's recordings for the 'Complete' box set.
‘I have nothing but fondness for The Smiths...
but I’m glad I left’
IT'S 24 years since Johnny Marr left The Smiths, splitting up one of the most iconic bands in British music history.
But in that time their legacy continues and their music is still as adored as ever.
Sitting in Manchester's Night & Day Café, where his band The Healers played a surprise gig the previous night, is a sprightly Marr.
Behind him sit a gang of teens, too young to have witnessed the band's heyday but all of them gawp at the legendary guitarist as Smiths songs play out of the venue's stereo.
"I think people still love The Smiths because we never spoiled it by sticking around too long," says Marr, 47.
"We never messed it up and so, as time's gone on, people have appreciated that more than wondering why we stopped. We just seemed to strike the right note."
Marr and singer Morrissey have been lauded as the most important songwriting duo since Lennon and McCartney.
Together with bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, they enthralled fans from the moment they released debut single Hand In Glove in May 1983.
Now a deluxe collector's box set, The Smiths Complete has just been released which sees their eight albums lovingly reworked by Marr.
It includes all four of the band's studio albums — The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), Strangeways, Here We Come (1987) — live album Rank (1988) and compilations Hatful Of Hollow (1984), The World Won't Listen (1987) and Louder Than Bombs (1987).
"It was more of a restoration job than any re-doing," explains Marr.
"Remastering is puzzling for some people as it gives the idea that you're going to tart something up but what I actually did was take off all the unnecessary stuff that had been added when they'd been made into CDs in the late Eighties.
"It was surprising going back and I was much more involved than I thought I was going to be. Once I got into it, I had to really do it properly. These records mean a lot to a lot of people and if I didn't get it right my head would be on the chopping block.
"But the reviews have been fantastic and so I'm happy. I've been fighting to do this since 2004 and have had to go through lawyer after lawyer. It was a real battle."
Marr quit the Manchester four-piece in August 1987 at the peak of their popularity and creativity.
While third studio album The Queen Is Dead is considered The Smiths greatest work by many, Marr believes final album Strangeways Here We Come — released after the group's split — was their best.
"I loved making that album. Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before and Unhappy Birthday are both favourite songs of mine and it was a really good laugh making that record. But nothing's ever happened since the band split that made me think it was the wrong move to finish it."
Reworking the albums, Marr says memories of The Smiths came flooding back.
He says: "It's amazing how your senses are hit by memories. I was listening to four very young men with nothing but ideas and talent.
"All four members are represented on that album too. Every song I was turning up the volume, saying to my engineer, 'What an amazing bassline'.
"We were a gang on a mission. We were very brave as our first record The Smiths sounded like no one else. I just wanted to be in a band my friends were going to like."
The Smiths were one of the greatest British bands since The Beatles. Singles like This Charming Man, Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and What Difference Does It Make? are played today as often as they were two decades ago.
Marr says: "We wanted to be like bands from the Sixties who'd make single after single. Our albums were made to accommodate them. Even though we only made four studio albums, I feel like it was six or seven because of all the singles.
"When we started, my ambition was to make a seven-inch record with a navy blue label on it with my name in brackets as the songwriter. I couldn't imagine anything beyond that. I never expected anything like the charts — because our first record sleeve (The Smiths) had a naked man on the cover. We weren't Wet Wet Wet or Spandau Ballet — we wrote about unusual subject matter, so that sort of success came as a surprise."
Marr says he and Morrissey were different but shared many influences — Sixties girl groups, Motown and Little Richard — and this was the reason they wrote so many brilliant songs together.
He says: "I felt there was no one else on the planet who was listening to The Marvelettes, The Shirelles, Shangri-Las and Dusty Springfield.
"That's why I had the nerve to go and approach Morrissey when I was putting the group together, because he was the only other person I knew who liked the music I liked.
"And when there was any controversy with tracks like Handsome Devil and Suffer Little Children, I'd back him up. I thought my friend was great and I thought everything my friend did was great. It was a great friendship and I learned a lot from being in that band so young.
"I believed in band unity. The other two thought I was the greatest guitar player and producer and I thought they were the greatest at what they did, bar none. There was no better singer, bass player or drummer out there and collectively we were the greatest. If there was any controversy then I would think, 'Great, bring it on'."
Manchester was a huge influence in his songwriting says Marr.
He recalls: "When things took off we'd be touring a lot and in London a lot but I came back here to write Meat Is Murder, Strangeways in the same way. I'm still here now with The Healers. I wanted to be around my friends because they listened to the best music which gave me the best ideas. The city and the north is the right atmosphere to inspire writing great pop songs.
"The best songs are the ones that just jump out in three minutes. And the music for This Charming Man just came out about three minutes after I got out of bed and I kind of agitatedly finished my homework."
Marr remembers The Smiths' early days fondly. "Top Of The Pops was special moments. I'd seen David Bowie do it so that was all right for me. We were from the generation where this was an important show to be on. And getting us naughty boys on the telly was exciting.
"I had no problem with us miming either as Marc Bolan of T.Rex had. And on the show we met people like singer Marilyn who I thought was fantastic. An exotic fabulous creature. I didn't care that he hadn't played one note on his record or seemed to even know the words. The teens loved him and I loved that.
"And going to America was incredible. I'd grown up seeing the country through record sleeves and Kojak and so, when we got there, I was walking round on the lookout for The Ramones and hoping someone didn't mug me. Of course there was more chance of that happening in England!
"But in LA, everyone was glammed up and there we were in our second-hand clothes. It was like landing on Mars. We were the aliens. They are great memories and there was plenty of fun."
He laughs on recalling an incident when the band were in dispute with record label Rough Trade while making The Queen Is Dead. He decided to drive to Surrey with his roadie to kidnap the album tapes.
Marr explains: "It was snowing. There was five inches but I wasn't having anyone owning my music so we still drove down. It took us about six hours and I broke in through the kitchen window. But I'd do it again. Though the next day I thought it would be a good idea to have taken my driving test."
Of course there were troubled times for the band, but Marr sees these in a positive light.
Andy Rourke was briefly kicked out of the band as his heroin habit became a problem.
Marr says: "People don't acknowledge that he was only out of the band for two weeks. We got him back which is the opposite of what other bands would do. He needed to be with us.
"And people think that I quit because there was some tensions, some fighting, but it wasn't like that. I've never hung around for long. Even after The Smiths when I've played with The The, Modest Mouse or The Cribs it's been the same. The idea of staying in the same place year in year out, it just doesn't work for me and never has."
Marr refuses to talk about the 1996 court case which saw Joyce take Morrissey and Marr to court over royalties (Morrissey and Marr took most of The Smiths' recording and performance royalties and allowed ten per cent each to Joyce and Rourke.) He confesses: "I don't like getting too serious. And I don't want to be disrespectful because they were my mates. I have nothing but great fondness for The Smiths. When I left I felt relieved but did it at the right time.
"I last saw Morrissey a couple of years ago and we hung out for an afternoon and it was pretty funny.
"I'm going to be hanging out with and maybe playing with Andy soon and then getting an email now and then off Mozza is nice. People think The Smiths are bad news, especially when we split, but it's not.
"The Smiths were bloody brilliant and I'm eternally proud of that."
Jacqui Swift, October 7, 2011
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Johnny Marr talks about the Smiths remasters at the Rolling Stone website, April 11, 2012.
Johnny Marr on Breaking Up the Smiths, Remastering Their Catalog
'I had the foresight to see disaster looming,' says guitarist
The Smiths were only a band from 1982 to 1987, but during that time they produced a cache of British indie-rock classics that remain highly influential. During their abbreviated lifespan, the band released just four proper studio albums, augmented by a few non-LP track compilations and a live recording – eight full-lengths in all. Guitarist Johnny Marr was never really happy with how the CDs sounded compared with their vinyl counterparts. So, 25 years after the band's final studio release, Marr went back into the studio with the original master tapes and made things right again.
"It was more of a restoration rather than remastering, as such," Marr tells Rolling Stone, explaining that he didn't add anything that didn't already exist – he just brought it all out. "I knew there was a lot of music hiding in there," says Marr. All eight remastered Smiths CDs have just been released by Rhino Records, including the first U.S. CD release of the band's 1987 U.K. compilation, The World Won't Listen.
Marr accepts responsibility for disbanding the Smiths, but – perhaps surprisingly – it appears he's not entirely opposed to reuniting with his former bandmates, including lead singer Morrissey. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the guitarist looks back fondly on the Smiths' celebrated career.
Before working on the remasters, how long had it been since you actually listened to these albums?
I never actually sit down and play a record myself. That goes for everything. Once a record is released, I kind of just feel like it belongs to everybody else who wants it, and it takes on a life of its own and a different kind of story.
I kind of went out of my way not to [hear them] until, I guess, around 1995 or 1996 – so that would've been 10 years later – when I came in from a session one night and I'd been talking about one of the Smiths records, and I put on Strangeways, Here We Come. That was the first and only time that I played a record in its entirety and just kicked back and listened to it. And what happened was, a split second before every note or every cymbal crash or every word – I knew it was coming. Every bit of information. It was like muscle memory or instinct. It was kind of cool.
And then I didn't need to do that again, of course. You hear stuff when you're in stores, or at a show and it comes on the PA, or if you're in a club, and usually it's a surprise. I'm usually like, "Wow! How cool is that bass line?"
As you listened to the catalog for this project, did any new favorite songs emerge? Did any particular album surprise you in any way?
Since I've worked in the United States, in the last six or seven years, I've picked up on the fact that Meat is Murder was the record that was the introduction to the Smiths for a lot of people. Living in Portland meant that I would meet people who heard that record first. I know now that that record is more important to a lot of people than I realized. So I guess I kind of listened to it differently because a lot of my friends know that record best. I always have really liked "The Headmaster Ritual" off that record, and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore."
I think that overall, during the mastering of it, I kind of connected with the songs that were the most emotional rather than necessarily the ones that are the most well known. So "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me" and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" and those things – "I Know It's Over" – yeah, they sounded quite powerful. When you hear anything in passing, you tend to hear just the radio ones, of course. So maybe there's that aspect to it, too.
Did working so closely with the recordings after all these years bring back strong memories of being in the Smiths?
Well, sure, yeah. But I've got a really good memory, so nothing really came to me as too much of a surprise. The strongest thing that caught me off guard was the realization of just how young we all were. That came as something of a surprise, perhaps – the memory of what it felt like to be that young and on such a mission. That, I think, was the thing that came across that wouldn't have happened had I not been in those sessions. We really, really were young and we were filled with a very powerful kind of drive and passion. It was good to be reminded of that.
I'm sure that not one interview has gone by in 25 years where you haven't been asked the inevitable reunion question. But your answer has changed slightly over time. So...is there any possibility of a Smiths' reunion, in any way, shape or form?
I don't know about the possibility, but what I do know is that I understand how great it would be to make so many people happy. And the other thing I know is that Morrissey and I are so very different. Those are the only things I know.
Morrissey has said in interviews that he actually wanted the Smiths to continue and that you were the one – and the only one – to break up the band. Is that a fair assessment?
Yes, but...I was the lookout saying, "Rocks ahead! Rocks ahead!" I had the foresight to see disaster looming – both for the individuals, personally, and the band, professionally. I had a lot of insight and wisdom for a 23-year-old.
At the time of the breakup, you blamed it on a lack of good management and a number of business problems. Do you still stand by those reasons?
Yeah, that's really it. I've said it before, but anybody that thinks that it was a good idea for the 23-year-old guitar player of a really big rock band to go back to being a manager of that band...
It was reported that you and Morrissey declined a $75 million offer to reunite for a 50-date world tour in 2008, as the Smiths. Is that true?
I have heard that – a few times. No official offer was ever made to me...But I did hear that, yeah. Nothing really gets off the ground just purely because of money. Certainly, as I see it, so many other things would have to be fixed and we're just too different to get them fixed, it appears.
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This interview taken from SPIN, April 10, 2012.
Johnny Marr Remembers the Smiths' Studio Albums
The guitar icon breaks down the band's four classic LPs
"I haven't talked about the Smiths today yet," says Johnny Marr upon answering our phone call to do just that, "which is unusual." Such is life when you played guitar and wrote songs for one of the most iconic bands of the last 30 years. Since parting ways with frontman Morrissey, drummer Mike Joyce, and bassist Andy Rourke in 1987, Marr has resisted riding on his reputation, lending his distinctive silvery guitar sound to a murderer's row of musicians that includes The The, Modest Mouse, the Cribs, and others as well as his work with his band the Healers.
On the day we called Marr, though, talking about the Smiths was no burden. Rhino Records has recently released remastered versions of the Manchester quartet's entire catalog and Marr himself oversaw the remastering. To commemorate the occasion, we asked the eternally boyish-looking guitarist to reflect on the band's four studio albums.
The Smiths (1984)
"Before I joined the Smiths, I was frustrated because I couldn't find anyone else in Manchester who was as serious as I was. But when I met Morrissey, it was clear he felt just like I did. So off we went. On the first day of actually being together as writers, we talked about our dreams and what we were gonna do and how we were gonna do it. And amazingly, nearly all of it came true — things as specific as being on Rough Trade Records and touring America. But as far as songwriting, when we started out Lieber and Stoller were my main inspiration.
"In terms of the music, I think the first record is kinda like a time capsule. I don't want to describe the music too much, because then I just sound like a journalist, but I like it because of what it meant and how people heard it as something new when it came out. But it really doesn’t represent how the group sounded at the time. I think a first record should be a document of what the band sounds like live, and we had some aborted recording sessions that sounded more like that than the finished album did. But I don’t not like it. We wanted to be a modern band and impress our friends who had good taste and I think we did that."
Meat Is Murder (1985)
"People say this album is more political than the first one, but Morrissey's lyrics didn't surprise me, not in the slightest. Some of the very, very early songs we did were actually more radical. So the title track, "Meat is Murder," for example, I thought, 'Do I have an album's worth of music to match that kind of title?' But you know, you think about it for 40 seconds, and then you move on to thinking, 'Wow, this is gonna be really interesting!' That song, in fact, is one of the things that I’m most proud of. From that moment on I was vegetarian. People have told me over the last 25 years that they became vegetarians because of that album title. So who says pop music can't change lives?
"I can only speak for myself and not the other members of the band, but I think it had a certain sense of daring about it. I was kind of designated the production duties for it and by the time we got to recording the second or third song I thought I was really on my mettle. As a 19-year-old, it was a very cool thing to be doing. And being cool was forefront on my mind. That and still impressing my mates! I think we did okay on that count."
The Queen Is Dead (1986)
"When it came to do the third record, the penny dropped for me. I realized that we were being talked about in terms of the greats. And I distinctly remember thinking that the way to be great isn't to try and copy what the greats have already done, but to try your best to do your own thing. But I had this moment also, you know, before we made the album, where I was standing in my kitchen, walking towards the sink or something and thought, 'Holy shit. You're gonna have to dig deep now.' It was both a little scary and humbling, but it was something to strive for.
"I think the reason that people point to The Queen Is Dead as being the best Smiths album is because it housed all the facets of the band. There's an overloading 'Smiths-ness' to it, really. It gives everybody what they want. And that was just a very fruitful time for me and Morrissey. When he was in the lyrical mindset to do 'The Queen Is Dead', I was in the right mindset to do music that fit with it perfectly. It was just a good time for our partnership. The Queen Is Dead is not my favorite Smiths album, but I'm willing to bow to the conventional wisdom that it's the band's best."
Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
"Now this is my favorite Smiths record. Just look at a song like 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.' It sounds like no other rock group before or since. It managed to be beautiful and heavy without having the elements that people usually associate with heavy music. It's not a macho song. And Morrissey's singing on it is really great. 'Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before' is another fantastic one. 'Unhappy Birthday' is a nice acoustic moment. The whole thing just has a spirit to it that I love.
"Eventually of course, we got to the point after making the record where it wasn't fun to be in a band together anymore. But right up through making Strangeways, being in the Smiths was loads of fun. It was magical. I'm so proud of what we did. I'm happy to be looking back on it all."
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