Release Date: Oct 18, 2011
Record label: Rhino
Genre(s): Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop, College Rock
First off, no, this box set doesn’t contain the Complete Smiths, not even in its super-deluxe edition containing vinyl replicas of the group’s singles and LPs. Stray B-sides don’t appear here, nor do the scrapped sessions for the first album and a few other heavily bootlegged numbers, but what is here are sterling remasters -- allegedly supervised by Johnny Marr -- of the band’s four albums, three compilations, and lone live album, all released during the band’s exceedingly brief lifespan. What matters is that the remastering is exceptional, the best comparison being the Beatles 2009 remasters, where layers of grime seemed to be removed from familiar recordings, so the songs sounded vibrant and alive, yet didn’t sound tweaked, buttressed, or burnished for a new millennium.
At the record company meeting… / Oh, the plans they weave / And oh, the sickening greed. —“Paint a Vulgar Picture”Complete. It’s a masterstroke because it collects only the Smiths material that you need to own…which is everything, of course. One missing song, and you’d have been cheated.
There have been better bands than the Smiths, but there has never been a more perfect band, in the sense of having a distinct, deliberate, powerful aesthetic shaped by the tensions of collaboration, combined with the ability to articulate that aesthetic. This box of newly remastered editions of their albums-- four studio records, three compilations of the singles and one-offs that were their greater strength, one live obligation-- would cement their reputation for brilliance and perversity, if it needed cementing. From the Smiths' first single, "Hand in Glove", in the spring of 1983, to their breakup barely four years later, everything about them seemed like a considered and ingenious decision: their name's undertones of both facelesness and creativity, the way each of their records began with a different sort of guitar tone, the tinted monochrome photos on their sleeves, their proudly ashamed fascination with their home town of Manchester, the three-song EPs they released every few months as bulletins of their evolution, their shoplifting excursions through the used-singles bins of British popular music.
It’s hard being a fan of the Smiths. On one hand, you are treated to a band that completely shifted the UK rock paradigm in the ‘80s, highlighting the “alternative” part of “alternative rock” by providing an escape from the soulless, hollow synth-pop sounds that dominated the charts at the time. They gave a whole generation of listeners and outsiders a sense of commonality, with a sound that was soaked in honest-to-goodness guitar pop, but married to a deft lyricism that was as intensely romantic as it was literate and self-obsessed.
"They go upstairs to Morrissey's room. There's an Elvis poster stuck on the wall, a life-size cardboard cut out of James Dean from the 1956 film Giant." And thus, according to Complete, Johnny Marr starts the Smiths, another English Fab Four spun off of the King, Sun Records, haircuts, and leather jackets. Four studio albums, three compilations, and a live recording add up to an 8-CD vinyl replica box set of no additional material.