The Smiths
Complete


5.0
classic

Review

by LudditeStereo USER (26 Reviews)
November 8th, 2011 | 29 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sounding brighter, fuller, and still brilliant.

Smith’s legends abound: Johnny Marr being unable to reproduce the exact steps that went into crafting the oscillating, vibrato-flooded guitar line in “How Soon Is Now” (prompting Oasis’ Noel Gallagher to later gush “You can’t play what he plays….Even he’s not as good as he is”); Morrissey delivering a scathing two-fingered salute (“you are a flatulent pain in the ass”) to record label boss Geoff Travis on “Frankly Mr. Shankly,”; Marr challenging himself to write the best song he possibly could in one sitting and coming up with the near-perfect “Cemetry Gates”…which wasn’t even released as a single. There’s plenty more gems like this --- “Nowhere Fast,” “Still Ill,” “Rusholme Ruffians,” “Half A Person” and “Girl Afraid” --- songs that another band would kill to have in their canon, but the Smiths left as B-sides or deep album tracks.

If you’ve got one of their many greatest hits collections, odds are you’ve constructed your own slightly jumbled, incomplete timeline of the Manchester foursome’s glorious past. It’s worth it then to purchase The Smiths – Complete, the remastered CD-box set of all the band’s eight albums, to set the record straight. As a full body of work, it confirms the Smiths as one of the most critically acclaimed and influential British indie bands in history --- certainly the most important of the 1980’s. At a time when much of England’s pop music threatened to become synthesizer-driven, the Smiths kept guitar-centered rock alive and well in the UK, providing an essential bridge from 60’s jangle pop and 70’s post-punk to 90’s Brit pop and indie music beyond.

As a songwriting duo, Morrissey and Marr were as close a reenactment of Lennon and McCartney as England could have hoped for. Morrissey was cerebral, sardonic, and among the most literate pop lyricists of the 20th century. His effusive, larger-than-life personality and wavy-limbed, cavorting stage presence (so overtly appealing to both sexes that only Morrissey would have the gall to proclaim himself “asexual”) would come to serve as an archetype for the charismatic rock front man.

His counterpart, Johnny Marr, was widely regarded as one of the era’s greatest (yet somehow perpetually underrated) guitarists and a studio technician of fearsome prowess. From “William, It Was Really Nothing” to “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” to “Ask” Marr had a way of coming up with guitar riffs whose elemental beauty was so obvious that, once you heard them, you’d swear they had always been transcribed in the universe’s celestial tablature, simply waiting to be found by some lucky musician. Somehow, it was Marr who uncovered them all in a legendary 4-year recording span.

Morrissey and Johnny Marr are at the front of the remastered recording mix on nearly every song, so it’s easy to forget how superb bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce were as well. On tracks like “Girl Afraid,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and “Girlfriend in a Coma,” the duo supplied one of rock’s most fluid yet forceful rhythm sections. “This Charming Man,” for all its fantastic guitar work, will forever be known for having one of rock music’s most instantly recognizable bass lines.

The Smiths were not the first band to blend sunny melodies with macabre, depressing lyrics, but they were one of the best. Death, whether it happened in a bus crash, at the rocky bottom of a cliff, or at the county fair, was a subject with which lead singer Morrissey seemed constantly enamored. When not fixated on mortality, he wrote about his countless other obsessions, including loneliness, love and, of course, himself. Strikingly good-looking, effeminate, and scathingly humorous, Morrissey implored fans to “scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen,” and by God, a handful actually did it. When he plainly admitted “I don’t dream about anyone, except myself,” critics adored his delicious juxtaposition of honesty and English irony.

Take “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” a B-side Morrissey once called “the quintessential Smiths’ song.” Under most circumstances, a twenty five-year old pleading “For once in my life, let me get what I want/Lord knows, it would be the first time” would be an exercise in spoiled, pretentious self-pity. Yet Morrissey’s earnest delivery sold his missive completely. He’s the poet laureate of every insecure narcissist who wallowed in melancholy, who went out to clubs but always went home alone, who cried and wanted to die, who nonetheless insisted that “my faith in love was still devout” --- in a phrase, a typical teenager.

Besides their superb musical gifts, the Smiths remain essential because their message continues to resonate with each new generation of young adults, all of whom experience the same carnal urges, acute self-awareness, and soul-crushing ennui that Morrissey so eloquently articulated as being “sixteen, clumsy, and shy.” On “Sheila Take a Bow,” when Morrissey asked “How can one so young sing words so sad?” he already knew the answer. He had lived it. And by sharing it, Morrissey made life a little more bearable for the rest of us. After all, in perhaps the band’s greatest song, Morrissey would insist that in spite of our unending confusion and gloom, there is a light (above us, beyond us, and mostly within us), and it never goes out.

While their individual albums were by no means flawless (save perhaps masterwork The Queen is Dead), the Smiths’ complete body of work* represents pop music in one of its most perfected forms. Their unwillingness to record or tour again only stresses their catalog’s finality and further enhances the band’s already considerable mystique. While the lack of unreleased material in this box set may frustrate some fans, it confirms one of the most impressive facts about the Smiths --- they held nothing back, essentially releasing everything they ever recorded. Only a couple of artists (the Beatles and Led Zeppelin immediately come to mind) have released as much music of such exceptional quality in such a brief period of time as the Smiths, and similar to those bands, a best of collection doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Unless you own all of their albums already, be prepared to fork over the sixty bucks** for The Smiths – Complete. It’s a bargain.


*Ironicallly, even The Smiths – Complete is not complete. It’s missing b-sides “Wonderful Woman” and “What’s the World.” Go figure.

**The Smiths – Complete comes in two different versions: a $60 CD-only box set containing remastered versions of the band’s eight albums or a $400 limited-edition “super deluxe collectors’ box set” (only 3,000 made) that features the remastered versions of the eight albums on both CD and vinyl, all of the group’s 25 singles on individual 7-inches, a DVD of music videos and a hodge-podge of prints and posters (a perfect Christmas gift for the obsessive-compulsive Smith’s fan in your life.)



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user ratings (34)
Chart.
4.8
classic

Comments:Add a Comment 
Jeffort23
November 8th 2011


31 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah, its a long review, and I don't give a rat's ass. It's a goddamned box set.



taxidermist
November 8th 2011


7212 Comments


Seeing as it's a complete discog I expected it to be longer :-p

Digging: Whirr/Nothing - Split

dimsim3478
November 8th 2011


5327 Comments


^It is not actually complete. B-sides, miscellaneous, other stuff...there's stuff that's not on here. But this is still pretty awesome.

Digging: Owen - Other People's Songs

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
November 8th 2011


31493 Comments


Added the artwork for you. Was contemplating putting the full tracklist in but figured it would probably stretch your review out by miles

Digging: Hyperdub - Hyperdub 10.4

iFghtffyrdmns
November 8th 2011


7047 Comments


holy shit that first sentence/paragraph.


hey these are those sad dudes who sing songs about like being sad and unloved and stuff cool i like that

Tom93M
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2011


1106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Downloaded this last night. I only had Sound of The Smiths and their first album so i'm looking forward to delving into the rest, especially when it's remastered as well as it is.

STOP SHOUTING!
November 8th 2011


638 Comments


there's also a b-side called jeanne that isn't on any of these.

Tom93M
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2011


1106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Think it's available on Sound of The Smiths - on 2nd disc of the deluxe edition.

Tom93M
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2011


1106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Just read this whole thing through and i have to say i enjoyed it. Great review; pos.

Jeffort23
November 8th 2011


31 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Stop Shouting, I believe the super deluxe version includes "Jeanne" as a B-side on "This Charming Man" 7 inch vinyl (plus you get the 320 kpbs versions too), which apparently makes Jeanne a $340 song.

Capablanca
November 8th 2011


210 Comments


This might be the best long review I've read, good job man.

clercqie
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2011


6506 Comments


Great review, man.
I only have The Queen Is Dead, have to discover the rest.

Jeffort23
November 8th 2011


31 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks guys.

clercqie, I'm jealous. You get to do what I cannot --- discover the rest of their catalog for the first time.

TheVoiceAndTheSnake
November 8th 2011


3663 Comments


That first paragraph is golden

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
November 8th 2011


7404 Comments


I have everything on here, but I'm still tempted by the set for some reason :/ Awesome review.

morrissey
Moderator
February 11th 2013


1688 Comments


This is so well-written, great review.

Marr had a way of coming up with guitar riffs whose elemental beauty was so obvious that, once you heard them, you’d swear they had always been transcribed in the universe’s celestial tablature, simply waiting to be found by some lucky musician.

Like, be serious. Pursue this writing thing.

morrissey
Moderator
February 11th 2013


1688 Comments


also the smiths are good and stuff

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
February 11th 2013


50872 Comments


Almost all of their songs are gold

Digging: Bobby Barnett - Little Wounds

grish
June 29th 2013


999 Comments


damn i hadn't read this review until now, about as good as i'd hope a 'smiths complete' review would
be. nice job

SsPpAaMm
August 5th 2014


16 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

They left out a few songs? Too funny. Maybe they plan on adding the few missing songs later and releasing it again as a "deluxe" edition.



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