Good news for Smiths fans: these long-overdue remasters are a genuine improvement over the "brickwalled" disaster of 2008's "The Sound Of The Smiths" compilation. Perhaps inevitably, they are louder than the previous WEA editions, but they are also richer and tighter, with considerably more bottom end.
The BBC session tracks on "Hatful Of Hollow" are particularly powerful. As trite as it sounds, listening to the newly-polished "What Difference Does It Make" or "Reel Around The Fountain" really is the nearest you will get to being in the same room as The Smiths. Yet perhaps the most revelatory of all the albums is "Strangeways Here We Come". The anaemic mastering of the previous CD issue is replaced by a beautifully open and solid soundstage which allows the final "rockier" incarnation of the band to shine through. "Death Of A Disco Dancer", "I Started Something..." and "Last Night I Dreamt..." are especially authoritative.
But it's not all bombast. A myriad of subtler details emerge time and again across these albums. Marr's fingerpicking on the achingly beautiful acoustic version of "Back To The Old House" has never sounded so crystalline. The synthesized strings throughout "The Queen Is Dead" now have considerably more depth. It's thrilling to hear tracks you've listened to for so many years suddenly offer up a wealth of secrets.
The slight downside, to these ears, is a certain over-emphasis on the high frequencies. I found this particularly noticeable on the eponymous debut, where Mike Joyce's hi-hats occasionally sound quite shrill. This is also evident on other "bright" tracks such as "I Want The One I Can't Have" and "Cemetry Gates". These CDs are not "brickwalled" but could have been allowed a little more room to breathe. Ultimately, though, the aforementioned improvements will likely be enough of a trade-off for most listeners.
The mini-vinyl CD replicas restore the original album artwork for the first time, including the inner slip-cases, original front cover stickers and the free poster issued with "Rank". They are not quite as well rendered as similar Japanese mini vinyls. Typically with these scaled-down editions, text size can be comically small, leaving many of the lyrics indecipherable. Those minor caveats aside, these are a vast improvement over the nasty old plastic CD cases with the cropped artwork. "Hatful Of Hollow", "The Queen Is Dead", "Louder Than Bombs" and "Rank" are all gatefolds. The discs themselves replicate the original vinyl labels.
It's well worth investing in this wonderfully-priced box, with each album costing considerably lower than the average individual re-release. Don't let the lack of a couple of 12" tracks or rarities put you off. This is still indispensible. If you've never fully delved into the world of The Smiths, or are considering getting reacquainted, this fantastic box set is all you'll really need.Read more ›
When I revisit these songs, nothing has changed; I still get shivers at the beauty of `There Is A Light', can't help grooving in my lazy boy chair when I hear the rubbery bass line of `Barbarism Begins At Home', feel nostalgic before my time listening to `Rubber Ring' and uncomfortable yet fixated when sitting through `Suffer Little Children'. I've spun all the studio albums this morning for the first time in years, and the good news is they all hold up remarkably well. `The Smiths' is a debut that's lyrical and musical beauty is only enhanced by its minimalist, despairing feel. `Meat Is Murder' still rocks out physically and moves you emotionally in equal measure. `The Queen Is Dead' is still a masterpiece. `Strangeways' is still a jangly and underrated, full of hooks and great guitar work. Of course, The Smiths were just as much about the B-Sides and singles that didn't make it to the album, and they're all here in their various permutations, spruced up and sounding great.
So the music is still wonderful, that should surprise nobody. The boxset itself? Well, let's just say I wished I could afford the £250 deluxe set, with all the vinyl and notes and extras. There's nothing wrong with this box, but it feels painfully low budget compared to the sprawling, deluxe package, which I guess is the point. All the vinyl sleeves are repeated here in miniature, and you even get the poster with Rank, so it's still nicely put together. One disappointment is the lack of sleeve notes, with just a small booklet with a short piece. Still, not sure you can complain about the price.
The remastering is a mixed bag. If this doesn't sound better than the old vinyl, where the warmth and depth of the music still shines through the most, there's a worthwhile improvement on the original CD releases. The bass lines seem more rubbery, the drums have more power, and everything has a more modern sheen to it. They've even managed to clean up the first album a bit, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your opinion on the particularly divisive production job that adorned it at the time. The mixes aren't perfect; sometimes there's too much top, and the vocals are occasionally buried too low with the drums too high. I won't go into individual tracks, but essentially it's a cleaner sound, not improving the depth or separation significantly but sounding very much like a more modern production of the individual records, without being the radical improvement you saw on The Beatles' remastered set. Given the low budgets for these albums, this is probably the best you'll get them to sound in the digital age.
For the price, you can't really go wrong here. For a newcomer to the band, this is a godsend, a way to discover their catalogue concisely and thoroughly, and the inclusion of three separate compilations that often overlap may seem a little overwhelming, I can wholeheartedly recommend this box as the best way to hear this band on CD or MP3. Lyrically, there's never been anyone better than Morrissey, and the songs manage to be catchy, moving, emotional, groovy, euphoric and sad in equal measure. And you have pretty much everything they ever released here, save for the odd couple of songs.
To people who already own the albums, you might be better served getting the expensive package if you can afford it, as while this is a nice set, the improvements, especially if you already own the vinyl, aren't so dramatic to make this essential.Read more ›
The Smiths soundtracked my mid 1980s. At the time, I lived with a Smiths fanatic who discovered them having seen them support The Fall at the Rock Garden, London in 1983. He corresponded with Morrissey during their early years, and diligently recorded each radio Session, therefore my indoctrination into the wonderful world of The Smiths was complete before they'd even released a record. The Smiths were, of course, completely wonderful. At the time they were a breath of fresh air and, in common with an extremely short list of artists, didn't put a foot wrong during their far-too-short lifespan. Needless to say, I bought every album and every single on the day of release, and saw them live on many occasions. So, as you'll realise, I am very familiar with these songs, love each and every one of them, and regard them as old friends.
That said, until yesterday - when my copy of this box set arrived - I only ever owned these recordings on vinyl. Each album has been remastered by Johnny Marr. I am not much of an audiophile, but the sound is great. The original production on the first album was a let down - and the new mix is the revelation here. It has been transformed. The bass and drums are now to the fore and it's a much more satisfying listen and a big improvement. Hatful Of Hollow, the collection of BBC radio sessions, also sounds better - more vital and slightly beefier. I cannot discern any great difference on the other albums - suffice it to say, and you probably won't need me to tell you this, they all still sound splendid. A wonderful, wonderful pop group the like of which only comes once in a generation.
The packaging was always important to the band and was another of the many factors that contributed to their excellence. I'm delighted to say that the each of the albums looks great - presented in a cardboard reproduction of the original release. The inner sleeves of the vinyl releases have been reproduced too which adds to the loveliness of the package. The free poster that came with Rank is even included.
This is the best £30.47 I've spent all year. That's £3.81 per album. Whether you consider that good value may depend on whether you've already bought these albums on CD, but for this long-time fan it's the bargain of the year. Come back to the old house. You'll thank me.Read more ›