"The Sound of the Smiths" (Warner Music Group) -- 5 STARS
“Reissue, repackage, repackage.” So sang Morrissey on the greatest-hits-mocking “Paint a Vulgar Picture” from The Smiths’ fourth and final studio album, “Strangeways, Here We Come.” Despite these righteous words, the band—who split in 1987—are now releasing their eighth compilation album, “The Sound of the Smiths.” The two disc release includes every one of the classics that have already been included on their myriad greatest hits collections, but it also throws in a significant number of rarities and live tracks to keep avid collectors interested. This results in the first worthwhile Smiths collection since the band split and reiterates what their fans already knew: The Smiths are one of the greatest bands in the history of popular music.The coupling of Johnny Marr’s talent for writing classic pop songs and Morrissey’s extraordinary lyrics created a song-writing duo that could compete with the likes of Strummer/Jones and Jagger/Richards (if not quite Lennon/McCartney). The Smiths are the band that Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher grew up listening to, and their influence can still be heard in the 21st century work of The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys. By involving Marr and Morrissey in the track selection and mastering, and striking the perfect balance between hits and rarities, “The Sound of the Smiths” is the greatest hits album that the band and their fans deserve.The first disc of “The Sound of the Smiths” collates the group’s 18 singles and five would-be singles. Unlike the misguided 1995 release, “Singles,” the disc includes the edited singles, rather than the versions that appeared on the band’s studio albums. The tracks are arranged in chronological order, unlike many of the disjointed compilations that have previously been released. The standard of the disc is obviously phenomenal. The worst songs (“Shakespeare’s Sister,” “Sheila Take a Bow”) are very good; the best (“How Soon Is Now,” “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”) are canonical. Despite its quality, however, there is no real need for this disc, as most fans could simply have assembled it as an iTunes playlist from their existing collections.The real point of “The Sound of the Smiths,” then, lies in its second disc. The CD begins with “Jeane,” a 1983 B-side that has never appeared on a compilation before now. With its prominent bass line and jaunty guitar melody, it is reminiscent of their fellow 80s-miserablists, The Cure, although the vocals and lyrics are classic Morrissey. Another rare, early B-side included is “Wonderful Woman,” the story of a boy’s love for a criminal woman who has “ice water for blood / With neither heart or spine.” There is also an extended version of “This Charming Man,” a live cover of James’ “What’s The World,” and superb live run-throughs of “London,” “Meat is Murder,” and “Half a Person.”Interspersed among these rarities are many of the band’s most important B-sides and album tracks. The inclusion of diverse and affecting songs like the politicized “The Queen is Dead,” the tongue-in-cheek “Sweet and Tender Hooligan,” and the devastating ballad “Asleep” only further confirm the genius of The Smiths. The album is particularly effective in showing off the diversity of Marr’s instrumental arrangements. He can put together a jangling pop song (“This Charming Man”), minor-key masterpiece (“Back to the Old House”), glam-rock stomp (“I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish”) and even heavy-metal rock (“London”).This variety of song forms, as well as the remarkable insight offered by Morrissey’s lyrics, is why there have been so many Smiths compilations. There is an obsessive quality to this music that makes people want to collate it and try to find the best collection of their work. Because their discography is large and diverse enough to offer myriad possibilities for compilation, yet small enough that it leaves people wanting more, people have been searching for the perfect Smiths greatest hits album ever since the band split right in their prime. Finally, with “The Sound of the Smiths,” this mission has been accomplished.—Reviewer Chris R. Kingston can be reached at email@example.com.