But an offshoot of that debate, a sub-debate, is the comparison between the bands-- as bands, musicians, creative talents, etc. And as I said above regarding producers, Morrissey's real collaborators have been the guys behind the desk (Ronson, in the case of "Your Arsenal"). Now, Alain, Boz and the guys played superbly on "Your Arsenal", but in my view, when we compliment the music on "Your Arsenal", we're complimenting Mick Ronson, not the band. Whereas with The Smiths we're complimenting the producing and the playing of Johnny Marr, and to a lesser extent Andy and Mike. In my opinion this tips the scales decidedly in favor of The Smiths as musicians.
I'm not knowledgeable enough to know where Marr the producer ends and Marr the guitarist picks up, but in my head I can playback so many beautiful riffs in his songs, and I know they are Johnny's. He's even recognizable on other people's records. His sound is like a fingerprint. I can pick him out on Talking Heads, Billy Bragg, The The, Electronic, and The Cribs. On the other hand, while I can think of a great many musical flourishes on Morrissey's solo records, I can't tell if any of them are thanks to Boz/Alain or to Ronson, Street, Visconti, etc. If you asked me to describe Boz Boorer's style, I couldn't answer. I'd probably mumble "rockabilly" or something. Try the same experiment and see if you can even distinguish Morrissey's backing bands as musicians-- don't they all pretty much sound like session players answering the creative direction of Morrissey and his producer?
As I've said in the past, I think you can narrow the argument to exclude The Smiths, since emotions run so high about them. Even if you leave Marr out of the picture and just compare Vini Reilly to everyone else on the solo records, you'd still get the same argument from me.
Musically speaking, from top to bottom-- not just the cream-- The Smiths' back catalog is much more consistently impressive than Morrissey's solo work. In other words, if you take this person you're talking about, who knows nothing of either band, and forced her to listen to the entire back catalogs of each, I have no doubt this person would conclude The Smiths were superior.
Morrissey's bands have been superb. Nobody's saying they suck. They're just not as good as The Smiths. There are many, many Morrissey solo tracks that are musically just as great as The Smiths were. There are loads in fact. But there's also a middle segment of so-so tracks...and a bottom segment of half-assed crap that would barely pass as Matchbox 20 demo material. That just isn't true of The Smiths. The Smiths' worst tracks are still pretty good, musically-- or at least interesting. And then you throw in the fact that Morrissey's backing bands have been all over the place as live performers, with in-concert renditions ranging from stellar to unlistenable shit, while The Smiths were consistently incredible.