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The Smiths The Sound Of The Smiths Review

Compilation. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

The last word on a band that will always be one of this nation's greatest treasures.

Chris Jones 2008

And they said it would never happen. Surely if there's one thing that the mounting tide of pop history has taught us, it's that no matter how big the split, how irreconcilable the musical differences, there's ALWAYS gonna be a reunion. But Morrisssey and Marr? Surely not... Well, it may not be the Smiths back in the studio, but the very fact that the mancunian miserabilists have decided to down sharp objects and collaborate in compiling this lovely compilation (well, Morrissey titled it, while Johnny Marr oversaw the remastering) is miraculous enough. Let's not discount that world tour yet, eh?

Available in two editions (one or two discs), the Sound... is , like Neil Young's Decade, that rare beast - a compilation that can appeal to newcomers and hardcore fans alike. Disc One packs in the usual suspects, from the underproduced first step of Hand In Glove to the last gasp of self-pitying despair, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me. The deluxe version spoils us with rare b-sides, live treats (they were a band that were equally incredible on stage) and even demos (Pretty Girls Make Graves).

For the Smiths, in the early 80s, 12 was the magic number. The album re-acquaints us with the format that shook the world - the 12 inch mix. For anyone who wasn't there in the true heyday of independent rock music, this album includes the full glory of the extended mix of How Soon Is Now?. And on the second disc it's Francis Kevorkian's extended mix of This Charming Man which demonstrates exactly how important Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke were: locking tight beneath Marr's 12-string Rickenbacker.

On paper it was always an odd concept: grey Northern kitchen sink drama wedded to West Coast jangle. But, like Led Zeppelin, that's the greatness of The Smiths. They were a band that were always more than the sum of their parts, and perfectly of their time. At an age when London no longer ruled our airwaves and post industrial Britain was in the iron grip of Thatcherism they were a special place for the more sensitive among us to hide.

The joys are too many to list, though in newly minted guise it's the oddities that make these gems shine again. The gulls crying at the end of Ask, the squawking harmonica on Hand In Glove. And it also becomes clear how, faced with a splintering band and the pressures of fame, Morrissey retreated into the blackest of humour. Girlfriend in a Coma still being the grimmest of self-parodic jokes.

The Sound Of The Smiths may come in the wake of a heap of compilations, but it's probably the last word on a band that will always be one of this nation's greatest treasures. Now, can we have that tour?

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