on 4 October 2011
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.
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.
on 29 September 2011
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.
on 2 September 2011
I was interested in finding out how "complete" this collection was when I first found out about its release, and when I compared the full track list to the more expensive version containing all the vinyl singles, it turns out this one is only 1 or 2 studio-recorded tracks short. I'm not talking about live versions or remixes or demos (I can't remember if I counted those as well), but then those songs don't particularly interest me. The 2x compilations included contain all the B-sides barring a couple of tracks, so as someone who is not interested in the vinyl editions, I will happily purchase this and then simply buy the 1 or 2 missing tracks elsewhere via digital download. I'm not a Smiths completist, but was a little surprised at reading the other negative reviews on here as I still think this is a fantastic package. I suppose if you already own all the albums, then this package may not appeal, but as someone who does not, and is interested in acquiring virtually all their official releases, then this set is surely hard to beat.
This remastered set is quite as stunning as most other reviewers have found it. The sound quality is great, the packaging superb - who stuck all the very tiny replica mini stickers on the facsimile sleeves in just the right places, I wonder? All that was missing for me was the individual small detail no one would want to replicate - the rather warped record that was the first album for me after I placed it too close to a heat source, the oily thumbprints on the sleeve of 'The Queen Is Dead', my personal favourite still after all this time. For years, with the vinyl predecessors of these pop classics mouldering away in my loft, I was resistant to lashing out more money on the same old sounds even if I had nothing to play 'em on and was starting to get withdrawal symptoms. This set is sure to appeal to those, like me, of a middle aged and impecunious disposition. It is incredible value. Why bother just buying two or three of these classic albums when you could have the lot for so little? I am only glad my will of iron held out and I never bought any Smiths' product on CD until now because this is the set of my dreams! These tunes still sound fresh and original. Who knows, this could be the set that finally has Morrissey recognised in his own green and pleasant as the Colossus of popular culture he truly is. Well, maybe not. Reassuringly, some things never change. One and a dog to Salford Lads' Club, please.
on 18 September 2012
This looks beautiful, nicely boxed, mini LPs (although imitation vinyl CDs would have been nice). It's a perfect collection too, and I know there are a few B-side tracks missed but people who have not heard The Smiths before will certainly get the gist. Or will they? I've been listening to The Smiths before remastering, at least every month of every year for 26 years and I've grown up with the pre-digitalised versions. Hatful of Hollow in particular sounds too smooth for 1980's BBC sessions, the whole box set sounds too produced. Older listeners may perhaps/will probably enjoy their Rough Trade vinyl and CDs more - I do. I urge people finding The Smiths or people who have enjoyed this box set to seek out the pre-digital versions. I can't give The Smiths anything lower than 4 stars, enjoy this; but get the real thing. Sorry Jonny Marr (Repackage.. etc)
on 4 January 2012
If The Smiths are news to you then don't hesitate to buy this remasters box set as its probably the best £30 you will spend on something to keep and enjoy(especially when you see how much you are getting compared to a round of drinks or half a tank of petrol!). Beautiful sound quality , crisp, clean- revealing details slightly muffled in previous versions but without overdoing it.And very nicely presented/packaged with the detail in Album sleeves and box.
If, however, you are knocking on 50 years old and have all the other vinyl,12" singles, collections and CD versions ..........then still buy it as it is probably the most enjoyable £30 you will spend and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
on 23 November 2013
I have been aware of the Smiths for many years of course, but they were never really a band that I would rush out and add to my collection. However, I have always been impressed by their melodies and by the voice of Morrissey. So when I saw this on Amazon in connection with another purchase, I thought "why not?". I have now listened to all of it; and re-played most of it. I am now an avid fan and regretting not having been more involved in their music at an earlier stage. It is an absolutely wonderful collection that I would recommend to fans of music of all genres - I personally have rock music at the core of my taste, which this isn't. So for me to write such praise is indeed a tribute to what I now realise was a great band.
on 15 June 2013
Was so looking forward to hearing all the remastered tracks that other people were raving about but to be perfectly honest I couldn't tell any difference from the originals!
Great buy if you've not got any of The Smith's albums, but if you have then I don't recommend buying this.
on 26 September 2011
'On their hands a dead star' People tend to forget that bit...
But maybe they should've called it remastered as oppossed to complete... But If you've not got anything by the Smiths buy this - it's great value. Also the first album was in dire need of remastering.