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.