Okay, let’s get this straight to begin with: The Smiths were a great rock band. Label them ‘Indie’ or even ‘pop’ if you like but they could certainly rock.
A lot of rock and metal fans will probably stop reading here but give me a minute to explain. Johnny Marr is a god amongst men when it comes to playing guitar and he’s also a clever, funny and generous guy with a social conscience too. When David Cameron declared his love for The Smiths back in 2010, Marr responded via Twitter, “..no you don’t, I forbid you to like it.”
It didn’t end there though. Marr recently used the stage at a Manchester gig to ask the Prime Minister difficult questions about the consequences of austerity-based cuts and specifically how young people in the city were affected. Good man, Mr Marr.
Back in the 80s Marr and frontman Morrissey were a force to be reckoned with, both musically and lyrically too as Mozza’s ascerbic wit and an ability to relate make the mundane read like poetry saw them recognised as one of the finest bands of their generation, if not one of the finest to ever come out of this country. Their reputation has been cemented by never reforming since they split in ’87 following a brief but spectacular 5 year career.
The song ‘London’ never made it onto a studio album, instead it was released as a b-side (to the ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ single) and on a couple of compilations but for me it is up there with the best of their tunes. It’s lyrically as compact and straightforward as Morrissey gets and also finds the band similarly direct.
When I caught Marr’s gig at Exeter Phoenix in support of his album ‘The Messenger’ in 2013, the song sounded as vital and urgent as it did back in ’87. Bearing in mind the songs he can call on from his solo career, as well as work with Electronic and The Smiths, it takes a special tune to stand out but for me ‘London’ is that tune.
And so to Anthrax then. Despite a recording career full of inspired cover versions it’s still a surprise to hear Anthrax, or any metal in fact covering The Smiths. This version of ‘London’ turned up as a B-side recorded as part of the sessions for the album ‘Sound of White Noise’ in 1993 and it’s far better than one would expect, either as a metalhead or a die-hard Smiths fan.
Anthrax in ’93 had recently replaced singer Joey Tempest with the quite formidable lungs of John Bush of Armored Saint. Bush had of course turned down the chance of singing for Metallica, an offer that was made to him by James Hetfield. The ‘Sound of White Noise’ is a massive album and still sounds fresh today but the covers are well worth a listen. The band don’t really speed up their take on ‘London,’ they don’t really change much at all in fact. It’s a little beefier and the guitar riff is thickened up of course but this is the sound of a band playing a tune that they know well and enjoy.
Am I right?
For anyone reading this and drawn in from a Smiths background then maybe you won’t approve but I’d be interested to hear.
If you’re into metal and haven’t heard this before then I hope you dig it and more so I hope you investigate The Smiths a little further too.