A myriad of best-of compilations for an even larger myriad of long-dead bands is not exactly a new strain of marketing in the rock world. As such, the arrival of The Sound of the Smiths -- the fourth posthumous release from a band with only four studio albums under its prestigious name -- comes as a little less than a surprise.
What is a surprise, however, is just how much The Sound, unlike the massively prismatic array of countless comps squeezing the last bit of juice from their respective groups (say hello, Doors, the Who, Stones), gets it right. From the impeccable song selection to the excellent sequencing, this best-of (overseen by Morrissey and Johnny Marr) manages to distill, reflect and embody the lovely and witty melancholic sway of the band’s hyperliterate post-punk nearly as much as monolithically powerful The Queen Is Dead (1986).
Available as a single disc or a double, the first disc sets itself as the band’s definitive best-of. It captures the moods and aesthetics of each proper album -- from the pristine, ringing croons of The Smiths (1984) to the shattered complexity of Strangeways, Here We Come (1987) -- in such a way as to establish itself as the perfect gateway to the Smith’s sideways world of miserable laments and deadpanned humor.
The second disc, however, is the real treasure. Not only does it continue as an expansion of the first disc, including nearly everything essential from The Queen Is Dead, the Smiths' most essential LP, but it also includes several rarities. It includes demos, alternate takes -- the New York Vocal version of "This Charming Man” is almost worth the price of admission alone -- B-sides and several heretofore unreleased live tracks that reveal a swinging, surging power that the studio records occasionally lacked.
The Sound of the Smiths is not quite the full-fledged rarities collection or boxed set that this band (and its fans) deserves. But it proves that with the same attention, wit, grace and intellect that these musicians gave to their songwriting, they can indeed construct a retrospective that not only reflects the brilliance of their band but heightens and intensifies it as well.