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 Scott Creney

THE COLLAPSE BOARD REVIEW The Smiths – The Complete Smiths (Rhino)

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The Smiths - The Complete Smiths (Rhino) album cover

By Scott Creney

Oh, it’s complete, all right. About as complete as a pass from Tim Tebow to Chad Ochocinco (first US football reference in the history of CB?).

If they had actually made it ‘complete’, that is to say if Rhino had included stray B-sides and unreleased versions, a double-album version of Rank that included the songs from that concert which didn’t make it onto the album, they would have sold 10 times as many copies. As it is, this box set isn’t any more complete than the video collection The Complete Picture. Come to think of it, if they had included a DVD of Smiths videos, tv appearances, a couple of documentaries and a live concert, they could have sold a hundred times as many copies. But instead, all you’re getting is remastered versions of albums you already own. Nice job, Rhino. You dipshits.

Oh yeah, if you live in the UK this song isn’t going to be in your ‘complete’ box set.

By way of contrast, the reissues Edsel just did for The Jesus And Mary Chain and Suede are the standard by which others should be judged.

Nobody in the history of pop music to date has written lyrics that were as funny, as tragic, or as endlessly quotable as Morrissey. Any band who claims to be influenced by The Smiths should be ashamed of themselves. They are no better than John Grisham claiming to be influenced by Faulkner.

Everyone takes that line Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package from ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’ out of context, and every time there’s a Smiths reissue some clever person lines up to fling it in the band’s face. But nobody seems to have given the song it comes from much thought. It’s a brilliant contrast between the grim bottom-line reality of life in the music business vs. the passionate life of being a fan — the dull consumerist language of one against the yearning imaginative poetry of the other. Morrissey had intimate knowledge of both these worlds,  and he used it to create a song unlike any other in the history of pop.

The fact that the music changes keys back and forth between B major and D major, depending on who’s speaking, just makes it even more genius.

It should be noted that Johnny Marr had just turned 18 when he started The Smiths.  ‘Hand In Glove’ came out a year later. By the time he quit the band, he was 23. In four years, he wrote the music for 82 songs, along with playing, producing, and  – at most points — managing the band’s daily affairs. No wonder he hasn’t done much since.

Morrissey is one of the few male singers who actually sings like a woman. I don’t mean this as an insult. In his phrasing, his openness, he more closely resembles Dusty Springfield, or Dionne Warwick, or Sandie Shaw, than any kind of male predecessor. If Morrissey had been smart, he would have picked up the phone and called Burt Bacharach when The Smiths split up. And forget offering the band millions of dollars to re-unite, if I had a million dollars I would have given it to Nina Simone just to hear her sing ‘I Know It’s Over’.

I was 17 years old when I started listening to The Smiths, and I can’t stress the effect it had on me. It was a revelation in every way shape and form. Not just the music, or the lyrics, but the fact that a weird skinny kid could become a pop star wearing clothes you could buy at a department store was — for someone like myself in the late 80s — nothing short of earth-shattering. You didn’t need to have shitloads of muscles. You didn’t have to be a macho dickface. And you didn’t have to dress up like an Amish peasant. All you needed was passion, intelligence, and the guts to fling it in the face of the world. You could be your own kind of sexiness, your own kind of beauty, your own kind of brilliant. I haven’t been the same since.

They deserve better than this. And so does anyone who ever cared about them.

Related posts:
41 Short Reviews about the new Smiths box set
The Collapse Board review of that new Smiths ‘Complete’ box set

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