My beloved bought me the Smiths box set for Christmas, consisting of the four studio albums, the only live album and three compilations from the 1980s, all beautifully packaged in vinyl replica album slip cases. And it's a revelation.
Now I am a smiths fan. I have a good deal of their output - some of it on vinyl from its original released date. But listening to this is like hearing the band for the first time. Each album has been lovingly remastered by Johnny Marr. And I guess, they each sound as the band had intended they would.
We fans are used to listening to the muddy analogue recordings that were released during the band's all-too brief career (the studio albums were released between February 1984 and September 1987). They sounded great and yet... Listening to properly remastered versions of these great songs (and there have been a number of ghastly remastered collections over the past decade or so) reveals so much that was unheard on the original pressings.
The first album always sounded as if it had been recorded at the bottom of a fish tank. Now, although it is still very much a work in progress, a band finding their feet as writers and recorders, it glistens with flourishes of Hammond organ and rolling bass lines previously unheard. And the songs shine as a result - Still Ill, This Charming Man and and in Glove were already classics; now Reel around the Fountain, Miserable Lie and Suffer the Children take their place alongside them. Indeed all 11 tracks clamour for attention in a way they never used to.
But it's The Queen is Dead that is the biggest surprise here. The sound on the new version is spacious and deep allowing the songs to take on a new life, providing the proper sonic backdrop to what I think is Morrissey's best set of lyrics.
Meat is Murder is still a bit of a disappointment - but I never really rated it their best (unlike a lot of critics) - the sound is crisper but some of the tunes are still limp and the title track is as preposterous now as it was then. Morrissey should stick to what he knows best - yearning love songs and wry observations on the lure and emptiness of celebrity. Still, The Headmaster Ritual, Rusholme Ruffians and That Joke isn't Funny anymore are still crackers.
If you got vouchers or cash for Christmas, do yourself a favour and get this; it's £30 really well spent.