I freely admit that I’m a sad Smiths anorak. Sorry, aficionado. I always get those confused. Anyway, every book, magazine, not to mention record, that I could find and afford bearing their name which was released during the 1980s, I own. Up to six different versions of the same single, 7″, 12″, different sleeve images, tints, fonts, release territories, mispresses, alternate takes, edits… the list is almost endless. Since 1992, however, it all gone a bit weird and unsavoury. Following the collapse of the original Rough Trade, The Smiths’ back catalogue went up for grabs and fell into the laps of Warner. Despite an initial masterstroke (making ‘This Charming Man’ available as a single for the first time since 1984, including its long-deleted b-sides and the infamous New York mix, and thereby turning it into the Top 5 smash it always should have been), they have proven themselves to be incompetent in the extreme when handling the back catalogue. The 20th anniversaries of all the original albums, including the (ahem) ‘seminal’ The Queen Is Dead from 1986, have come and gone without any reissues, remasters, repackages or tacky badge distribution. Instead, they have released four compilation albums, only one of which, Singles from 1995, had any artistic or catalogue merit whatsoever. And now, on no particular anniversary and without any real point, comes a ‘new’ one, The Sound of The Smiths.
Never mind the single-disc version, which rounds up the singles (including the actual single version of ‘Hand In Glove’ this time) and several almost entirely random, chronologically-inserted tracks, there’s a two-disc version as well, which claims to contain “rarities”. Never mind that this was an open-goal opportunity to include entirely unreleased versions of songs, or even a complete b-sides round-up (there are some glaring omissions, most notably ‘Accept Yourself’, ‘Rubber Ring’ and the instrumental once described by Geoff Travis as “five minutes of instrumental magic from Johnny Marr”, ‘The Draize Train’), there are only a couple of songs which actually count as rarities. There’s the live version of ‘Handsome Devil’ from 1983 which made the b-side of debut single ‘Hand In Glove’, the Troy Tate-produced ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ from the unreleased The Hand That Rocks The Cradle album (which SHOULD have been given an official release long before now) and the band’s live rendition of James’s ‘What’s The World’, recorded at Glasgow Barrowland in 1985 – a gig I just happened to be at as a spotty teenager. Apart from these paltry nuggets, though, who is this compilation actually aimed at? Not new fans, surely? Well, it’s me, really, and my ilk, the original fans who feel practically duty-bound to purchase every last reissue, reissue, repackage they throw at us. I know, I know. And so do they. Clearly, those with the power want to wish us an unmerry Christmas.