The Smiths – Complete (Deluxe Boxset)

“These things take time,” crooned Morrissey on the Smiths tune of the same name, the B-side to 1984’s “What Difference Does It Make.” How right he was. After more than a decade of pleas from fans eager to clutch the group’s drama as close to their hearts as possible, the Smiths—the iconic, 80s jangly indie-rock group that reigned supreme as the spotty, angst-ridden, back-bedroom touchstone of a generation—are finally the subject of a magnificent, career-spanning retrospective box set that’s among the most-sought after collector pieces of the year.

Contained in a 20” x 13” x 2” box replete with a hinged opening and magnetically sealed lid, Complete (Deluxe Boxset) documents every professionally recorded note of the band’s tenure via eight vinyl LPs, eight CDs, and 25 7” singles. The CDs and the vinyl duplicate the content—four studio albums (The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)), the live Rank (1988), plus the compilations Hatful Of Hollow (1984), The World Won’t Listen (1987), and Louder Than Bombs (1987).

Visually, a bonus DVD presents all of the band’s official videos. Large poster of the box cover art, a 12”-square booklet detailing the albums, and batch of eight, 12”-square art prints of each album’s sleeve art round out this mammoth beauty that, for those lucky enough to find a copy, will probably tip the scales as the heaviest box set they’ll ever own. More importantly, the sonics justify the expense.

Compared to the original LP pressings, improvements abound. “Reel Around The Fountain,” from the band’s debut, shows enhancements in more expansive soundstaging. Bass is stronger and more forceful, giving the track added presence; upper mids are also more focused, giving the vocals extra impact.

Comparing the box set’s vinyl with Rhino’s 2009 LP reissues proves the most intriguing study. In 2009, the vinyl was remastered from the original master tapes with the help of guitarist and co-writer Johnny Marr and London’s Metropolis Studios mastering engineer, Frank Awkright. Reportedly, duplicate vinyl is included here. However, audiophiles should be aware that this is not the case. The pressings are wholly different in terms of both aesthetics (the center labels are changed) and sonics. They sound much more confident and transparent.

Hence, “The Headmaster Ritual,” from Meat Is Murder, exhibits stronger bass levels and an appreciable reduction in midrange compression, reducing distortion and making Morrissey’s lyrics easier to discern. In addition, the superior soundstage gives each instrument more room to manoeuvre.

The CDs are somewhat disappointing. “Girlfriend In A Coma,” from Strangeways, Here We Come, is mastered too loudly, with compression hardening the upper mids. Digital fans would do well to seek out the original mid-80s CD issues, mastered to lower volume levels that give the ear more clarity and transparency. No matter.

(Complete) Deluxe Boxset is about collectablity and the vinyl. It’s not only to be desired, but is an absolutely essential purchase. Grab one now: Limited to 4,000 worldwide copies, it’s already out of print in several territories. —Paul Rigby

Rhino UK, 180g 8LP, 25 x 7”, 8CD, DVD Box Set