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The Smiths
Complete [compilation] - RHINO
FILTER Grade: 96%

By Ken Scrudato on November 10, 2011

 

The Smiths

At the record company meeting… / Oh, the plans they weave / And oh, the sickening greed. —“Paint a Vulgar Picture”

Complete. It’s a masterstroke because it collects only the Smiths material that you need to own…which is everything, of course. One missing song, and you’d have been cheated. Of this release, there’s a digital version for philistines, CDs for fans and vinyl for those who read poetry in “cemetries.”

Why?

Period. No other musical entity has ever come close to representing such a literal design for living. The Smiths did more than make era-defining music. They devised l’art de vivre for a worldwide army of the persecuted and otherwise faithless, veritably defining how an entire generation would stand against the hideous masses of brutalizing conformists who would readily beat them up for their haircuts, their tattered Camus paperbacks and the gladioli peeking out from the back pockets of their meticulously cuffed jeans.

The Smiths. Mistaken as misery-peddlers by clueless pontificators, they actually made heroic, vaingloriously empowering music. “Meat Is Murder” literally tilted animal rights into a cultural phenomenon. “The Queen Is Dead” imagined Her Royal Highness with her head in a sling (“It sounds like a wonderful thing!”). And “Shoplifters of the World Unite” finally gave petty crime its rightful encomium.

Morrissey. He may have been a master of knitting together millions of alienated souls (“I am human and I need to be loved…”), but if you don’t get the vicious, lacerating humor, you don’t get it at all. “Sweet and Tender Hooligan,” “Vicar in a Tutu,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again”… Oscar Wilde’s ghost must have bristled with jealousy at such deft and pointed lyrical venom.

Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce, Andy Rourke. They conjured high sonic drama from the “kitchen sink” hopelessness of Thatcher’s Britain. Marr wrote melodies and guitar lines like Nabokov wrote sentences. It was the saddest music (“Reel Around the Fountain”), the wickedest music (“Barbarism Begins at Home”) and the most hauntingly tormented pop music (“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”) ever written, really. Ever.

Complete. It is, in effect, the only acceptable historical document of the nearly incomprehensible phenomenon that was The Smiths. It recalls not just a band, but much, much more importantly, it documents the end of a grandiloquent young ideal, a valorous belief that somehow music could act as a unifying bulwark against the ultimate catastrophe and defeat of soul-crushing social assimilation.

Complete. Now you know how Joan of Arc felt.

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