Hurple Hoopla

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Life During Wartime

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself more concerned with the sound quality of various albums than I have been previously. I think reading all the concerns from Beatles fans, prior to the remastered CDs release, that their favorite band would be another victim of the “Loudness Wars” sparked that flame, and the sighs of relief when the CDs finally came out and everybody could hear that their concerns had been, largely, unfounded.

If you don’t know what the “Loudness Wars” are, the Wikipedia article, linked here, is a good launching point into further studies. The Rolling Stone article linked at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry is especially good.

So, I was at work one day, listening to one of the Rhino Records Elvis Costello CDs, and about halfway through, after getting hit in the head over and over by the ball peen hammer of over-limited, over-compressed, distorted “Loudness War” shit sound, I’d finally had enough! I went home that night and pulled the old 1993 Rykodisc Elvis Costello remasters out of the box I’d been storing them in (even as I replaced them with the Rhino releases, I knew they sounded superior to my ears but couldn’t place exactly why) and restored them to the rightful place as the versions of Costello’s catalog that I listen to by default. But, I gotta keep the Rhino releases for the cool, new bonus material. Bleh! And, I’ve bought a few of the, even newer, Hip-O released Elvis Costello remasters that used the Rhino releases as a benchmark and then limited and compressed the music EVEN MORE! ENOUGH ALREADY!

As for the Rolling Stones, don’t even get me started. I had the original ABKO/Columbia releases, then upgraded to the Virgin UK SACD hybrid releases in 2002, and not only have not bothered with the NEW 2009 Universal remasters, but won’t even acknowledge their existence because those new CDs fully engage in the “Loudness Wars.” The 2002 Virgin remasters were perfect. I’ve even been going back, now that those are out of print and looking for the few CDs I missed getting in 2002 from used CD sources, just so I have a complete collection.

Yeah, even “Undercover.” What can I say, I’m a masochist, I guess.

This is where the new U2, Talking Heads, and Beatles remastered CDs get things just right, I think. Those series are not horribly over-compressed, and the volume is pushed up to the point where the sound bumps up against the digital-zero threshold without having such a horrible flatline at that point. If you want to see what that looks like, rip the last REM CD “Accelerate” and look at the opening track in Cool Edit Pro, or whatever your audio editing program of choice may be. (If you don’t have one try Audacity, it’s freeware.)

And, that’s another issue. REM should know better than to engage in this whole “Loudness War” crap! If ever there was a band that relied on the fluctuations of a wide dynamic range, it’s them.

But, back to Elvis Costello. The Hip-O release of “My Aim Is True” is so bad, it’s unlistenable.

It used to be I always looked forward to my favorite artists’ catalogs getting remastered and rereleased. It was a pleasure to go back and listen to those familiar old tunes and hear something new and exciting. Now, I approach each one warily. I try to seek out news about the quality of each, and find out whether they are players in the “Loudness Wars’ or if they sit it out. I have not bought the new remasters of the Creedence Clearwater Revival albums because I’ve not been able to find out what they’re like, yet. Well, that, plus I’m perfectly happy with the 2000 releases that pretty much got everything just right.

Oh, yeah, back to the Talking Heads SACD hybrid releases. Have you HEARD them? HOLY F’N GAH! Amazing sound, amazing recordings. If you don’t have any, buy “the Brick” (all their studio albums in one big plastic box) and then sell “Naked.” You can use the space where it used to be to hold “The Name of This Band is Talking Heads” or “Stop Making Sense” instead.

Or, feel free to send the “Naked” disc to me and I’ll dispose of it properly (and save a few pennies on the cost of heating my house this winter.)

And, just an aside here, what’s the deal with Bob Dylan releasing a freakin’ Christmas album? What a way to bring an amazing late-career resurgence to a screeching halt, there, Bobby.

The only Christmas album that matters, or that anyone should own, is the Los Straitjackets Christmas album. In fact, do yourself a favor and buy all their albums, here, NOW! (Hi, Eddie! Thanks for reading my blog. It was always fun talking Who with you at Phonoluxue!)

Okay, I seem to be circling the drain on this subject, now. It’s taken long enough to write all this that I’ve forgotten what point I wanted to make in the beginning.

I hear they’re about to rerelease the Jimi Hendrix catalog, again, remastered again. Gee, the world was begging for that. Please, guys, can we drop the reissue of his catalog down to just once per year, please?

Anyway, at what point do we stop caring? At what point do we, as consumers or music lovers, finally say, “screw it.” I know in most cases, I’m well past that sell-by date. Whenever somebody starts a remastered reissue series (and I am looking at YOU Bruce Springsteen, get on it, your catalog is the last major one that I can think of that needs it, desperately), I hit the Steve Hoffman message board to see what the audiophiles say about it and whether the sound is good or screwed up.

Screw it. I’m even tired of writing about it. I’m gonna just sum up the important parts of this post and call it a day.

  • Remastered CDs are good
  • Unless they sound like crap
  • REM should know better
  • I’ve quit acknowledging the existence of the Rolling Stones
  • Send me copies of “Naked
  • Christmas albums SUCK!
  • Except Los Straitjackets’ because everything they do is cool
  • Hi Eddie!
  • I forget things
  • Enough Jimi Hendrix already!
  • Bruce Springsteen is a lazy bastard
  • Screw it, I’m tired.
  • Somebody buy me this! I'll be your bestest friend!


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