Tag Archives: remastering

Loveless

So the My Bloody Valentine remasters are finally in shops and CD players, after years of me doubting they’d ever exist.

Except that Sony, brilliant company that they are, have royally screwed it up by mislabelling the two CDs in the new Loveless package. If you don’t know and can’t be bothered to read the article behind that link, CD1 is meant to be pretty much the same as the original CD release from 1991, but louder (and therefore better – the increased loudness is achieved sans digital limiting, apparently), whilst CD2 is a new master from the original ½ inch analogue tapes, and meant to be more ‘physical’. You can read Kevin Shields himself talk to Pitchfork about the difference between the two, and why they took so long.

So far I’ve not really “listened” to the new versions of Loveless. I put the one labelled as CD2 on as soon as I got it, but I’d not played the original in ages, and I was distracted by various other things at the time. Which is to say that I have no idea if the discs are mislabelled, or if there is a “weird digital glitch” 2:46 into What You Want on the disc labelled as CD1 (i.e. the mislabelled ½ inch analogue master tape version).

So this morning I took five minutes before work and listened for the tell-tale signs that distinguish the two CDs (complete silence rather than a second of hiss before the drums start on Only Shallow, and a longer, more complete fade-out on Soon distinguish the ½ inch analogue tape master).

Sure enough, if that’s the best way to tell, then the CDs are mislabelled; which is incompetent and bad proofing / product management, but not disasterous – spread the word, correct the error on the next print-run, and you’re sorted.

The glitch 2:46 into What You Want is more of an issue though, and it’s definitely there (on the disc labelled as CD1, which is probably the ½ inch analogue tape master – are you keeping up?). It’s weird, though, not like regular clipping on a really ‘hot’ master, but more like a fault in the tape that’s just on Bilinda’s vocal track or something. In the P4K interview linked above, Shields mentions sacrificing one instant of one track to digital limiting for the sake of the whole album, but it seems that he’s talking about the straight remaster there, rather than the ½ inch analogue tape version. The glitch does sound digital, but then again this is Loveless; one person I convinced to buy it many years ago emailed me after listening to it for the first time to ask if it was likely the CD could be warped.

If Shields is as much of a perfectionist as he’s meant to be, as he talks about being in that P4k article, then it’s hard to fathom that this glitch could be an avoidable mistake, unless it is some monstrous cock-up by Sony. Which is entirely possible, and there’s a huge amount of “Emperor’s New Clothes”isms possible with subjective listening to minutely different masters of the same mixes of songs (I’m sure the very same master could be on both discs and some people would swear blind they can hear a difference), and Sony is a major record label and major record labels are as psychotic and sociopathic as any big business, but they’re not as dumb and incompetent as EMI. Are they?

Actually, thinking about it, there’s an errant and incorrect apostrophe on the EPs 1988-1991 sleeve spine. This whole project is in tatters.

How to do a remaster / rerelease properly

Following Tom’s choice at round six of Devon Record Club the other week, I ordered a copy of Crazy Rhythms by The Feelies on Thursday (it’s my birthday tomorrow, and I deserve a present), took advantage of a free trial of Amazon’s Prime service, and had it arrive at work yesterday.

The only copy available was the 2008 remaster on Domino Records, which suited me fine, though I was a little wary as Amazon didn’t list the tracklisting, and I’d seen something about one release appending an (allegedly pretty good) additional song at the end, that wasn’t from the same era as Crazy Rhythms; as The Feelies have spread their career out over quite some time, often with big gaps between records, I didn’t want something from another era intruding on the nine songs I had heard at Rob’s house, and that I liked enough to want to own (even though their sound isn’t meant to have varied much over the decades!).

As I cooked dinner last night I opened the cellophane and stuck Crazy Rhythms on the CD player, and was delighted to see that there were no bonus tracks appended to the original tracklisting. I was also delighted to find, and a little impressed at the initiative of, a little credit-card sized… card… with codes to download a handful of bonus tracks – a single edit, two demos, and two recent live recordings (plus a download version of the album proper – which seems pointless as why not just stick it in your computer and rip it? Presumably this card comes with a vinyl release too…).

I doubt I’ll ever download these tracks, but the thought struck me as good, and innovative, and the kind of thing that, alongside a sympathetic remastering job and decent (but not ostentatious) packaging, makes for a good rerelease. I’m not bothered, as a rule, by bonus discs and demo versions and live versions and fancy box sets in the shape of the guitarist’s head and artwork postcards and gold-coloured vinyl and 5.1 surround sound DVDs and recreation t-shirts and USB sticks full of .wav files and mono versions and all that novelty bumf. At the risk of sounding like some kind of godforsaken hippy, I just want the music, man, on a CD, in a case that doesn’t prevent me taking it out easily enough to play as often as I want for fear of tearing the packaging or scratching the disc.

Maybe, if I really like a band, I might be interested in all the b-sides (and possibly related non-album singles) that accompanied the album being rereleased; it might be nice to have Paperback Writer and Rain tacked onto the end of Revolver, for instance (even though they should, chronologically speaking, be tacked on at the start); but I’m not complaining, at all, about having them together with We Can Work It Out and Hey Jude and so on in the Past Masters release – not being able to get hold of them at all (except for on a prohibitively expensive box set, perhaps), would be the thing that infuriated me here. Hello The Stone Roses and Silvertone records.

I know it seems like a luddite thing to say in 2011, but I still like the integrity of an artist’s intent (or an A&R man’s, perhaps…) regarding the sequencing of an album; having to rush to press ‘stop’ after I Am The Resurrection finishes because I’m not in the mood for Fool’s Gold is an annoyance (so a few seconds of added silence in which to do so is a good thing, fyi remastering engineers and product managers). Bonus materials as a rule, and especially putrid demo and live versions, should be stuck on a separate disc so I never have to listen to them unless I want to. Saying that, 5-10 seconds of silence followed by some choice, well sequenced b-sides, isn’t going to upset me.

As for the actual remastering, well… despite some perceptions, I’m not as fascistically anti-dynamic-range-compression as some might think. Certainly I don’t just want to hear a scuzzy, indistinct version with the levels pumped up towards digital zero – I want improved clarity, imaging, impact – but I’m not averse to things being made a little more beefy and modern, as long it’s sympathetically done, and they don’t end up tediously loud or, and this is especially important, digitally clipped.

Some serious audiophiles I saw online circa the remastered Beatles albums release in 2009 were getting haughty that the CD versions weren’t quite as good as some rare Japanese vinyl release that costs $600 or whatever, but to me, they were pretty spot on in terms of what I wanted. Likewise the Sly & The Family Stone and CAN remasters from a few years ago, and the recent Stone Roses, Paul’s Boutique, and Screamadelica rereleases. The 2003 Talking Heads ones maybe pushed things a half-step too far, likewise the Funkadelic series from approx 2005 perhaps, but neither is rendered anywhere near the kind of unlistenability achieved by Kanye’s Dark Twisted Fantasy; they might be loud, but they’re not distorted, to my ears.

Another thing to consider is whether something needs remastering or not; the 3CD set of Giant Steps from The Boo Radleys doesn’t mention anything about remastering on the cover, spine, or in the liner notes, which is great, because the original version I have still sounds utterly fantastic, and didn’t need anything doing to it to my ears (I don’t know what Martin Carr thinks regarding this, however). (I did buy the new version and give away my 15+ year old original, though, because, well, two discs of b-sides!)

(As a side note, both The Beatles and Sly & The Family Stone had their studio album remaster rereleases bolstered, a few months later, by the remastered rerelease of seminal compilations – Sly’s 1969 Greatest Hits set, which was my introduction to the band, and The Beatles’ epochal Red and Blue collections – for many people, compilations like this are how you get to know an artist’s work, and they can be just as revered as the ‘proper’ albums; it’s a shame when they’re forgotten amidst a flush of remastered studio LPs.)

The only major artist I can think of who I’m still waiting for remasters of is Prince. Heaven only knows if he’ll ever get his thumb out of his ass long enough to make peace with his record label and sort this out. I’m sure there are plenty of other, lesser-known but no less talented, musicians awaiting sympathetic rereleases. I’ll hear about them in time, I suspect. What I could really hanker after, though, is ‘fixed’ versions of albums from the last ten years or so that have been released with shoddy sonics on CD in the first place. Whether that will ever come to pass or not, I don’t know.

Screamadelica remastered / revisited

When I bought the remastered 2CD version of Screamadelica on Monday (which comes packaged with the Dixie Narco EP), it was the fourth time that I’d handed money over for Primal Scream’s finest moment. I first bought it on regular CD in the mid 90s, aged about 15 or 16. I still have this copy, and it’s served me so well over the last 15+ years, and still sounds so good, that I was reticent to hand over cash for the new version. I wish I could remember where I got it from, and exactly when, but I can’t.

I can remember the second time I bought Screamadelica vividly, though: in early 1998, just after passing my driving test, I found it on cassette (yes!) for £1 in Woolworths in Dawlish, and bought it to keep in the car (sadly I have no idea where this is now, having not had a cassette deck in a car or anywhere else for at least five years).

Maybe a year or two later I found it on double-gatefold vinyl for £7 in Northampton’s Spinadisc record shop, on the high street. I was at University and had just bought my first proper hi-fi, which included a record player. I snapped up Screamadelica, Stand! by Sly & The Family Stone, and What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye for £7 each.

I think I first heard about Screamadelica from a book in the school library, which seems like a strange place to find out about legendary drug-fueled records, which I discovered while I was in the fifth form. It was something like “The Virgin Guide to Alternative Rock and Indie”, or similar, and I read it ravenously during revision periods (it was better than the prescribed textbooks) and lunchtimes. It was from this tome that I first of albums like Astral Weeks (mentioned in the blurb for A Storm In Heaven by The Verve), and probably dozens of others I’ve since come to know and love.

But it was Primal Scream’s entry, and the blurb for Screamadelica in particular, that excited me most. The idea of this dirty, leather-jacket-clad bunch of rock ‘n’ rollers teaming up with dance music gurus and producing a record that evolved indie or rock or whatever you want to call it into this blissed-out, psychedelic, utopic dance groove seemed like the most enticing thing in the world. I’ve never taken hallucinogens or stimulants (or pretty much any other illegal substance of any kind, to be honest), and the promise of music like this meant I didn’t need to; I was convinced that just by listening to it with an open enough mind I could appreciate the sensations, the euphoria, that others needed narcotics and adrenaline and soundsystems to appreciate. Whether I ever managed this or not is up for debate…

Screamadelica was, along with Björk and Orbital, my gateway drug away from the guitars-and-only-guitars stuff that most of my friends were listening to. I’ve had phases in the last 15 or 16 years when I’ve not listened to it much at all, and when I’ve thought it had aged poorly, dated, and seemed like an early 90s relic rather than the futurist amalgam / evolution it was intended as. But revisiting it in the form of the new remaster (which sounds very good to my ears off a few casual listens – I’ve not compared it directly with my original CD release though), it’s risen back above XTRMNTR in my estimation as Primal Scream’s finest moment.

The two sit well together, XTRMNTR as a noughties inversion of Screamadelica (each features a remixed version of a song from the previous, less successful album, as well as two versions of the same single, the latter take a bone-shaking remix in each case). XTRMNTR foreshadows the bleakness of a decade that was typified by decadent consumerism and an open-ended war on terror, while Screamdelica echoed acid house’s second summer of love and the wide-open potential of the 90s. The greatness of both records is due in no small part to the fact that they’re essentially made by people other than Bobby Gillespie; Weatherall’s influence on Screamadelica cannot be overstated, and XTRMNTR is as much a Kevin Shields / DFA / Chemical Brothers product as the work of the band that debuted with Sonic Flower Groove.

Primal Scream are an awesome band. Their wild oscillations in quality, their entire aesthetic and modus operandi, make them almost immune to normal critical discourse and canonisation. They are both spectacularly great and woefully awful, often within the same album (or even song), and they are both eminently enjoyable, enviable, and mockable. I still think they have about the best band name ever.

At this point I’m compelled to point out that, despite announcements to the contrary, Kevin Shields didn’t “remaster” the new version of Screamadelica; the sleeve proclaims that he merely “approved” the remaster (actually done by a chap called John Davis). So I’m also compelled to post this excellent excerpt from their main thread on ILX, by the awesome Tom D:

Bob: “Holl’ Shieldsy, whit’s the sketch wi’ this fuckin’ remaster here?”
Kev: “Oh ’tis a wonderful piece o’ work, Robert, me boy, yer man Davis has done a simply splendid job, splendid! Sure didn’t I tell him so meself.”
Bob: “I don’t gie a fuck aboot that, who the fuck is this cunt? Ah cannae jist hiv any auld punter in aff the street remixin’ ma fuckin’ CDs, man. Ah need som’dy ah can bum aboot efterwards, some cunt everybody’s heard ah.”
Kev: “Oh but you’re a terrible man for the name droppin’, Robert, terrible!”
Bob: “Could you no’ ha’ done it yerself, ya lazy Irish get? Ah mean, whit’s this “approved by” shite? Ah’ll gie ya a fuckin’ boot up the erse in a minute, see how ye approve o’ that!”
Kev: “But I need me rest, Robert, I’ve only got 10 years to make the next album, so I have.”
Bob: “Don’t gie us that, ya shitebag. Ah’m fuckin’ phonin’ Holger up, see if he cannae dae it… Holger? Get up Holger, ya dozy auld bastard…”
Holger: “… Herr Bobby, it is 10 o’clock of the hour, why are you phoning me at such ein ungottliche uhr already! Gott in himmel, Englander schwein!”
Bob: “Hey calm doon, auld yin, ah’m wahntin’ a favour, that’s a’. Listen, could you dae a cheeky wee remaster o’ fuckin’ Screamadelica?”
*click*
Bob: “Hullo? Hullo?”