The post-punk Manchester rock of The Smiths, one of the most classic and enduring alternative bands to come out of the 1980s, set up bandleaders Morrissey and Johnny Marr as triumphant heroes and spokespeople for the disenchanted youth of a generation. Morrissey’s disaffected vocals, everyman lyrics and asexual appeal played off of Marr’s jangling guitar, often hypnotic guitar riffs, creating soundscapes that rejected the synth-pop and dance influenced music of their era, instead putting together an amalgam of rockabilly, punk, Velvet Underground drones, Byrds-ian folk and post-Joy Division goth.
Their debut album, the eponymous The Smiths kicked off their musical statement with the brilliantly understated paean to angst and underachievement, “Reel Around the Fountain” (“Oh, people see no worth in you/Oh, but I do”) or the sexually frustrated “Pretty Girls Make Graves” (“Then, on the sand Another man, he takes her hand/A smile lights up her stupid face”). The latter theme is explored less clearly in the street ruffian saga “I Want the One I can’t Have” (I want the one I can’t have/and it’s driving me mad/it’s written all over my face”). These common themes, love, despair, poverty, the downtrodden, heartbreak, working class woe, crime and tongue-in-cheek social commentaries would define their songs thematically for the run of the band’s short stay.
Now, fans of the band who want to hear their favorite Smiths classics remastered in high-resolution gathered together in one collection can, with one caveat. The “complete” in this downloadable edition from HDtracks is not exactly complete. Unlike the CD and vinyl box set counterparts of Complete, this set does not contain Rank, Hatful of Hollow, The World Won’t Listen, and Louder than Bombs. What you get here are the basics and only the basics – The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead, and Strangeways, Here We Come. That also means no classic tracks like “How Soon is Now?”, “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” or “Sheila Take a Bow”.
Complete is offered in lossless and uncompressed high-res formats at 96kHz/24-bit, with the exception being the album The Queen is Dead, which is only provided at 44.1khz/24-bit resolution. The latter also happens to be the least pleasant sounding material in the entire collection, which, truthfully speaking, is a bit of a retelling of history, if you will, aurally speaking anyway. The Smiths recordings never seemed to have as much low end as they do here in Complete. From the opening drums of “Reel Around the Fountain” there’s a lot more kick in that kick drum than I ever recall being there, although, admittedly, this collection is nowhere near as beefed up as the recent remasters of The Cure catalogue. The levels are also raised pretty high, though I can’t say that they have been maximized or limited in anyway, but loud they are. Some peaks come pretty close to being at 0db. The Queen is Dead seems to be the loudest and most tweaked of the bunch, especially in the high end and, if one is sitting down for a listening session as I did often with this set, and tries to listen all the way through, when you hit The Queen is Dead, it becomes pretty fatiguing. That’s not to say this set is the worst I’ve heard – not even close – it just could have been a bit smoother, a little more relaxed, and definitely lighter on the high end. The Smiths seems to sound the best of the bunch, with the airiest high end and best dynamic range, followed by Meat is Murder.
Only a PDF of the high-res cover art is included.
The Definitive Word
An incomplete “Complete” set at the relatively high price of $65.98 and uneven sounds quality make this Smiths set a little difficult to recommend wholeheartedly. While the sound is hardly atrocious, it’s not the best we have heard from HDtracks. Certainly The Smiths and Meat is Murder sound sparkling in this set, but the latter two albums suffer a bit from the disease of modern tweaking.