1992 brought a decent pair of CDs, the similarly but not uniformly titled Best…I and …Best II (both of which spawned singles to promote them). The first volume concentrated mostly on songs that had been singles, while the second added a few album tracks for a slightly deeper focus. Neither was chronological, but together presented many of their best-known cuts for what would have been a solid double album. A little over two years later, Singles repeated many of the tunes on a single disc lasting an hour, but often in their longer album mixes, and including one album track that had been a single but wasn’t on the previous volumes. (Confused yet?)
In the new millennium, The Very Best Of The Smiths crammed 23 tracks onto a single disc, with only two songs that hadn’t been on the 1992 discs, one of which had yet to be regurgitated thusly. The band was more directly involved with 2008’s The Sound Of The Smiths, with Johnny Marr going so far as to supervise the mastering. It also had 23 tracks, in mostly chronological order, but without exactly duplicating Very Best. More interesting to collectors was the deluxe edition, which added several of the B-sides already familiar from previous compilations, along with several rare B-sides that hadn’t made it to any album to date.
But then vinyl came back into vogue, so in 2011, Johnny Marr remastered the catalog so Complete could present all the albums all together in one package for anyone who wanted to start from scratch. However, the title was incorrect. The CD set offered the four studio albums, the three compilations, and the one live album, leaving several of those stray B-sides out. And with all the overlapping between those three compilations, some tracks appeared more than once. For even more repetition, the deluxe set offered (along with the eight albums on LP and CD) vinyl replicas of 25 singles rife with duplication, with some of those otherwise unavailable tracks shoehorned in between. And we’re not even going to touch the deviation in mixes.
For all the fleecing, each of the above compilations does present hefty servings of the band’s best work, so each is musically valid. The first two volumes are the most satisfying of the choices, while Complete allows the new fan to get most everything in one shot, provided he or she can handle the repeats.
The Smiths Best…I (1992)—4
The Smiths …Best II (1992)—4
The Smiths Singles (1995)—4
The Smiths The Very Best Of The Smiths (2001)—4
The Smiths The Sound Of The Smiths (2008)—3½
The Smiths Complete (2011)—3½