The Emperor's New Clothes (03/03/13)

The Smiths used to be great. But, says John Rentoul, that doesn't mean they merit quite the reverence they currently receive
  • @johnrentoul

I like The Smiths as much as the next person, which is to say that they had some good tunes, which captured the mood of a part of a generation in the mid-1980s. "How Soon Is Now?": that is worth upgrading to MP3. Lovely clangy guitar by Johnny Marr. Furthermore, some of Morrissey's lyrics are unforgettable. "And if a 10-ton truck kills the both of us/To die by your side, well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine."

But it was – how can we put this? – some time before "now". They are the favourite band of the Prime Minister, for goodness' sake. The Queen Is Dead was once David Cameron's favourite album – not the sentiment, he hastened to add, but they have gone to that great Radio 2 in the sky for music liked by people who were the future once.

There is something of a drunken squaring-up of middle-aged men, not sure whether to take it seriously or not, about the running dispute between Morrissey, Marr and Cameron over whether the Prime Minister is "forbidden" to listen to The Smiths or not.

The Smiths do not need to be worshipped any more. I know the NME, which presented Marr with an award for "god-like genius" last week, was indulging in postmodern exaggeration, but it has been a while since Marr really was a deity of the angry young men and women of the Thatcher era. It is 26 years since he did his great stuff.

Which brings us to last week's High Public Controversy over the latest pronouncement from the cathedral of Steven Morrissey's self-regard: "Wars and armies and nuclear weapons are essentially heterosexual hobbies." So, there would be less death and destruction if more men were gay? Gay men don't fight wars, he told Rookie, an American online magazine for teenage girls – apart from Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Lawrence of Arabia, Field Marshal Montgomery and Hermann Goering.

Well, Steven, it is a theory, isn't it?

Let us take The Smiths off their pedestal. Yes, a lot of people thought they were really exceptional once but, apart from the vegetarianism and animal rights, Morrissey's public opinions have long been an embarrassment and the music, well, it's not Pink Floyd, is it?