CD Review of The Sound of the Smiths by The Smiths
Recommended if you like
T. Rex, R.E.M., Billy Bragg
Label
Sire/Rhino
The Smiths:
The Sound of the Smiths

Reviewed by David Medsker

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O
n Strangeways Here We Come, the final album by the Smiths, Morrissey launched a disdainful assault on an imaginary record label for getting excited about the recent death of one of its artists. “Best of, most of, satiate the need / Slip them into different sleeves / Buy both, and feel deceived,” Moz cracked. The most famous part of that song, though, is “reissue, repackage, repackage,” a refrain that several members of the BE staff roll out when a label is hurting for some back catalog cash.

The joke, of course, is that few catalogs have been repackaged as often as the Smiths’ has. The band released four albums of original material before disbanding in late 1987, and those four albums, along with a few Peel sessions and B-sides, have been spun into seven different compilations, three of which were released while the band was still together. With The Sound of the Smiths, Rhino’s first foray into the reissue, repackage, repackaging of the Smiths, the band now officially has twice as many compilations as they have albums. That is equal parts galling and awesome, much like Johnny Marr’s tendency to steal T. Rex songs in their entirety and get off scot-free. Seriously, listen to “Panic” and “Metal Guru” back to back, and tell us how Marc Bolan’s estate has overlooked the similarities.

Of the seven previously released compilations, The Sound of the Smiths is closest in spirit to Singles, the 1995 set that, yep, contained nothing but the band’s A-sides, in chronological order. Disc One of The Sound of the Smiths assembles those same songs in the same order, but not all of the same versions – “What Difference Does It Make?” is represented by the (vastly superior, in this writer’s mind) Peel Sessions version, and “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” is the 7” edit – and fleshes it out with a few uncharted singles and album tracks. Disc Two contains the B-sides to those A-sides, which vary from album tracks to live performances to the band’s lone foray into remix culture (Francois Kevorkian’s 12” mix of “This Charming Man”) and one infamous instrumental that makes its U.S. debut here: “Money Changes Everything,” which Johnny Marr later gave to Bryan Ferry, who rechristened it “The Right Stuff” for his Bete Noire album.

The Smiths

Disc Two, in other words, is the part that will make Smiths fans crazy; there are just enough rarities (“Jeane,” “Wonderful Woman,” live versions of “Handsome Devil” and “Meat Is Murder”) to tempt them to plunk down the cash for yet another copy of the A-sides that they’ve likely bought three or four times at this point. Rhino surely knows that they’re pushing their luck here, and with this issue coming hot on the heels of New Order’s first five albums getting the expanded issue treatment (which is also being handled by Rhino), one wonders why they didn’t go the same route with the Smiths catalog.

And yet, for as cynical as The Sound of the Smiths is, the quality of the music contained within it cannot be denied. The song selection is damn near bulletproof, though that will happen with a band that recorded 99% killer to 1% filler. Hell, their B-sides were better than most bands’ best A-sides, and for that, we have to give The Sound of the Smiths its due. This is indie-minded guitar pop at its absolute best, and the fact that they broke up at the height of their popularity was devastating at the time, but a genius move in retrospect. Just be thankful for what little time you had together, and think of them fondly. Reissue, repackage, repackaging or not, it’s what they deserve.

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