Thursday, August 24, 2006

Megadeth remasters, 2004.

Remaster Hell generally opposes the remixing of albums for the purpose of replacing the originals. Such remixes are welcome so long as they are used as bonus material and the original mixes are left intact.

This is what makes the 2004 Megadeth remasters so maddening. In one sense, it was completely unnecessary. While it is true that some of Megadeth's early albums could have used a fresh remaster with better EQing, Dave Mustaine made a different decision. He remixed all of the albums up to and including 1999's Risk. Yes, you read that right. Not the first three. Not the first four. The first eight!

It all started when Mustaine went in to remix Megadeth's first album, Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good. Despite Remaster Hell's stated position, Killing Is My Business really needed a new remix. The album had a notoriously low-budget mix and needed a complete facelift. In 2002, the new version was released on the Loud label and the results are positively stunning. The sound is much fuller and more realized. It now sounds as menacing as was intended. The only exception is the addition of "These Boots", which was essentially a cover of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" with alternate lyrics. Since Mustaine was threatened with legal action for some of the new lyrics being offensive, Mustaine included the track with bleeps in every place where there is an "offensive" word. He shouldn't have bothered to include the track at all as the bleeps are both annoying and distracting. (At least when Queen did it on Live Killers, it was only once and it wasn't in the middle of the damn song.) The three bonus tracks are demos from the album and that's exactly what they sound like. The remaster, also, boasts new cover art which is considerably better than the original, indie cover and more worthy on inclusion in the Megadeth canon.

But, was Mr. Mustaine satisfied that one project? Noooooooo. He was so happy with the results that he decided to give Megadeth's other albums the same treatment. These would be released in 2004.

My knee-jerk reaction to these remix/remasters was that I wanted to hate them and, upon first listen, I was fully prepared to do just that. Nevertheless, my charge here is to present as objective an opinion as possible. After extensive listening and relistening, I must admit that there is more things to like about the new remasters than there is to dislike.

Unlike Frank Zappa, ZZ Top, or Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Mustaine generally did not try to use these remixes as an opportunity to change Megadeth's music, but, rather, to enhance the sound. The approach appeared to be closer to what a fan might do rather than that of a lofty artist trying to change his own work with a different inspiration. The simplest way that I can put it is that he wanted to make his albums more crankworthy. To this end, he seemed to use a basic formula: Jack up the bass, make the vocals clearer, and make the guitars sound wider to fill out the mix.

Using this formula, Peace Sells...But Who's Buying and So Far So Good So What almost sound like completely different albums, although the same basic tracks were used. To those who are familiar with this material, the remixes takes a bit of getting used to. Once acclimated, though, the sound just hits you in the face and doesn't let up. Some of the thinner production that marred such tracks as "The Conjuring", "Bad Omen", and "502" is replaced with a full, ambient sound that brings these tracks to life. On "Wake Up, Dead" and "In My Darkest Hour", some of the nuances that were previously lost in the mix are now audible, enhancing the listener's experience. A brief acoustic guitar intro has been added to "In My Darkest Hour" and it fits the mood of the song nicely.

The one unfortunate dog in all of this is "Peace Sells". While the opening bass line is now more booming, it no longer pops the way it did on the original mix, as if some of the higher frequecies were noise reduced out of it. The reverse is true of the guitar part, which seems now to "float" over the mix rather than slam you upside the head. Those who have never heard the original won't notice, but long-time fans who no longer have a copy of the original mix may want to seek out the original CD or Capitol Punishment, the latter of which contains a 2000 remaster of the original mix. The bonus tracks on these CDs are alternate mixes of selected tracks. They are interesting, but non-essential.

While Peace Sells, and So Far might only sound like different albums, Rust In Peace actually is, though that was not the original intention. During the remixing process, Mustaine could not find the original vocal tracks for "Take No Prisoners", "Lucretia", and "Five Magics". To remedy the situation, Mustaine completely rerecorded the vocals for "Take No Prisoners" and used alternate takes for the other two tracks. What is striking about this remix is that all of the vocals sound different, not just on those three tracks. "Holy Wars..The Punishment Due" now sounds more brutal than ever, but the lead and background vocals now collide rather than blend. On "Hangar 18", Mustaine's formula sadly works against him. By bringing up the bass in the mix, the guitars no longer slice through the air the way they do on the original. As such, the track loses some power in the process. Fortunately, this is the only track where this occurs and the other tracks play much better instrumentally, but the vocals still sound just a bit off. While the overall sound is good, those with an original copy of Rust In Peace are advised to keep it. The bonus tracks include a short little stomper called "My Creation" and three demo tracks that few will listen to more than once.

Considering the challenges presented by Rust In Peace, conventional wisdom would suggest that remixing Countdown To Extinction and Youthanasia would produce inferior results. Interestingly, the opposite is true. On the surface, the new mixes are not much different than the old ones (except for the addition of a guitar intro to "Sweating Bullets"). Further scrutiny shows the Mustaine formula bringing out more nuances and a fuller sound. Again, vocals are clearer, bass is more present in the mix, and an overall wider sound. Less discriminating ears may not even notice the differences while long time fans who want to supplement their original CDs might appreciate the improved sound. The bonus tracks on Countdown To Extinction are "Crown Of Thorns" (a gem previously only available on import singles) and three unremarkable demo tracks. The bonus tracks on Youthanasia are more interesting. They include a previously unreleased track called "Millennium of The Blind", a demo for a song called "New World Order" (previously unreleased in the U.S.), a beautiful instrumental called "Absolution", and a rough demo of "A Tout Le Monde" with slightly different lyrics.

The most bizarre of the Megadeth remasters isn't even a Megadeth album. MD.45's The Craving was a collaboration between Dave Mustaine and Fear vocalist Lee Ving. In the process of remixing this album, Mustaine was unable to locate that tracks that contained Ving's vocals and harmonica. Rather than abandoning the project, he resung all of the vocals himself and filled in the places where Ving's harmonica should have been by playing the same licks on his guitar. It is difficult to understand why Mustaine felt the need to remaster this album in the first place, especially since he did not feel the need to remaster Hidden Treasures (which collects one-offs from soundtracks and other sources). By removing Ving's contributions from the recording entirely, he has, in effect, created yet another Megadeth album and many fans have embraced it as such. Furthermore, the three bonus tracks seem to have nothing to do with the MD.45 project: one is an instrumental, another is actually identified as a Megadeth outtake, and all three were written solely by Mustaine. Despite these changes, Ving's lyrics and vocal melodies are distinctive enough that The Craving might not really sound like a Megadeth album, although some fans would argue that Risk doesn't sound much like a Megadeth album either. Obviously, fans of Lee Ving will hate the changes, but given that The Craving never had much of a punk sound to begin with, it's doubtful that many Ving fans liked the project much to begin with.

(An irony here is that Lee Ving could conceivably get more royalties from the remaster than the original release. While it would be true that Ving gets no performance royalties from the remaster, he would still receive publishing royalties. If the remaster sells considerably more copies than the original due to word-of-mouth among Megadeth fans, the increase in Ving's publishing royalties could be greater than the loss of his performance royalties. A curious situation indeed.)

Mustaine finally hits diminishing returns with the remixes of Cryptic Writings and Risk. Why Mustaine would feel the need to remix albums that are less than ten years old anyway is anyone's guess. At best, the remixes sound no different than the original recordings. In a few cases, the remixes sound inferior to the originals. ("Almost Honest" being one example.) The "Needles And Pins" intro has been removed from "Use The Man" although few fans will miss it. Other than that, the only remotely interesting aspects of these reissues are the new artwork and bonus tracks. Cryptic Writings have two previously unreleased tracks that are neither bad nor essential and alternate versions of "Vortex" and "Trust", the latter of which has the chorus sung in Spanish. The cover art is essentially the same as before except that it is now black instead of grey. On Risk, the bonus mix of "Insomnia" is pretty interesting, but the "Jack Joseph Mix" of "Breadline" doesn't make the song much better while the "Jock Mix" of "Crush'Em" officially turns the track into the disco song it has always wanted to be. The new cover shows a mouse contemplating a piece of cheese in a trap as a cat peeks in. On both CDs, the Megadeth logo has been added to the top to make them consistent with other releases. These remasters are only recommended to completists and fans who like collecting CDs with different cover art.

A Greatest Hits album has, also, been released concurrent to the other remasters. At first glance, this seems odd since Capitol Punishment was released less than four years prior, but given the fact that Greatest Hits is culled from the remixes and has a slightly different track listing, it presents a completely different picture. Those who want to sample the new mixes can pick up Greatest Hits, while those who want a sampler of the original mixes can get Capitol Punishment while it is still available. The only songs on Greatest Hits that have not been remixed "Angry Again", "Dread And The Fugitive Mind", and "Kill The King". The latter two were introduced on Capitol Punishment, so it would not have made sense to remix tracks that were so recent (although, that didn't prevent the remixing of Risk). "Angry Again" was originally released on the Last Action Hero soundtrack and is on the aforementioned Hidden Treasures.

To Dave Mustaine's credit, the official Megadeth website lists these reissues as entirely separate releases from the originals, so he at least acknowledges that they are not the same. That doesn't change the fact that they have now replaced the originals in terms of availability. If this is how Dave Mustaine would like Megadeth's catalog to be presented from this point forward, he is certainly entitled. While Remaster Hell's original position still stands, I must admit that he did a very good job with the remixes.

Older fans have been, and will continue to be, split over these remixes. Some will hate the changes in sound. Some will find it to be an improvement. New fans probably won't know the difference.

The Megadeth discography appears at .

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Motorhead - No Remorse: Original release vs current available CD release

Okay, first let me say that I've never owned a vinyl copy of No Remorse. The version that I first bought, and still have, is on cassette. It has two bonus tracks, both entitled "Under The Knife". Other than that, the tracks appear to be identical to the LP. I am writing this under that assumption. (Feel free to correct me if I am mistaken.)

The first time that I saw a CD release of No Remorse, it was on a single CD and was missing two tracks: "Louie Louie" and "Leaving Here". That was not exactly a bad idea, since those are among the weaker tracks on the album and the continuity of the album was not affected too much. The fact that it was not necessary to change CDs halfway through was an added bonus.

Nevertheless, Castle Communications in the UK decided to come out with a two-disc version of No Remorse with all of the tracks from the original intact plus the two cassette bonus tracks. But that's not all! The three tracks from the Stand By Your Man EP (a collaboration with Wendy O. Williams) were, also, included, bringing the count of bonus tracks up to five. Eventually, this release made it's way to the U.S. by way of the Metal-Is division of the Sanctuary Records Group.

Well, there are noticeable differences between the current Metal-Is CD and original LP. After some investigation, here is what I have discovered:

Jailbait - Five seconds of studio banter have been added to the beginning of the CD version. Someone (not Lemmy) can be heard saying "Stop wincing about!". This is a minor change and no part of the song itself is different from the original.

Too Late, Too Late - The original LP contained a live version of this song that was taken from the Golden Years EP. The current CD has the studio version of the song which originally appeared as the b-side of the "Overkill" single. This is a major difference.

Bomber - The original LP contained a live version of this song that was taken from the No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith album. The current CD has the studio album version of the song. This is a major difference.

Overkill - The original LP used an edited version of this song that was a little over three minutes long. The current CD contains the full five-minute album version. This is a significant difference, but one that would be considered an improvement.

Louie, Louie - The original LP used the original single version of this track. The current CD uses an alternate version which is cleaner sounding. I do not know the origin of this cleaner version.

Iron Horse - On the original LP, this live track began with Lemmy introducing the song as follows: "This ones dedicated to all the angels in here...and everybody else really...but especially them. It's called 'Iron Horse/Born To Lose'." This introduction is missing from the CD. The song simply starts. Not major, but annoying.

Now, I do not take issue with the differences to "Jailbait" and "Overkill" as they are additions to what was already there and do not affect the overall feel of the album. In the case of "Overkill", the listener benefits from the longer track.

The change to "Iron Horse" doesn't affect the song itself, but the intro is typical Lemmy-speak that is now gone. It is not a significant omission, but one that many listeners will not be happy about.

The changing of the other three tracks are, however, are inexplicable. The studio versions of "Too Late, Too Late" and "Bomber" are slower than their live counterparts, so anyone familiar with the original LP will be significantly put off with these changes, as they affect the overall flow of the album. Furthermore, what sense does it make to restore "Louie Louie" to the album if it isn't even the same version? Although the single version of "Louie Louie" does appear on other CDs, it has never appeared on any CD release of No Remorse, although it does appear on the LP and cassette.

Now, since this is a newer pressing, I do not know if all of the two-CD versions of No Remorse contain these changes or if they are due to a more recent remastering. I do know that the single disc version did not have any changes other than the omission of the two tracks mentioned above. Until I find evidence to the contrary, I will assume that the above statments apply to all two-disc versions of No Remorse released through the Sanctuary Group (Castle Communications, Metal-Is, etc.).

Despite these changes, No Remorse is still the most definitive Motorhead compilation, even in its current configuration. The tracks that are different are still good cuts, so anyone who is listening for the first time won't know the difference. It is those of us who are familiar with the album already that will be annoyed.

A quick word about the bonus tracks. On the cassette release, the faster version of "Under The Knife" preceded the slower version, which made for an awkward segue. On CD, the tracks have been transposed, which flows better. Also, the bonus track of "No Class" is not Motorhead at all. It is Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics performing a Motorhead song. It is included because it appeared on a Motorhead release.
No Remorse

Disc One
1. Ace Of Spades
2. Motorhead
3. Jailbait
4. Stay Clean
5. Too Late, Too Late
6. Killed By Death
7. Bomber
8. Iron Fist
9. Shine
10. Dancing On Your Grave
11. Metropolis
12. Snaggletooth

Disc Two
1. Overkill
2. Please Don't Touch
3. Stone Dead Forever
4. Like A Nightmare
5. Emergency
6. Steal Your Face
7. Louie, Louie
8. No Class
9. Iron Horse
10. (We Are) The Road Crew
11. Leaving Here
12. Locomotive
13. Under The Knife
14. Under The Knife
15. Masterplan
16. No Class - (featuring Wendy O Williams)
17. Stand By Your Man - (featuring Wendy O Williams)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Robert Fripp - Exposure. 2-disc remaster, 2006.

I will not rehash the checkered history of Robert Fripp's Exposure album. For those who would like to read up on it, I will refer you to The Exposure Pages.

Here's the scoop on the new release:

Disc one contains the entire album in its original 1979 form. This version has not been available for over twenty years and had never been released on CD before.

Disc two contains the Definitive Edition version of the album except that the songs "Disengage", "Chicago", and "NY3" have been replaced by previously unreleased versions with Daryl Hall on vocals. The lyrics to "Chicago" are identical to previous releases. "Disengage" contains different lyrics, written by Daryl Hall, and has been retitled "Disengage II". Hall, also, wrote lyrics to "NY3", which has been retitled "New York, New York, New York", and his vocals replace the tape of the domestic dispute ("Your house, my house").

Disc two, also, contains bonus tracks: previously unreleased Daryl Hall versions of "Exposure" and "Mary", the Definitive Edition versions of "Disengage" and "NY3, and a previously unreleased version of "Chicago" with Peter Hammill and Terre Roche on vocals.

The Definitive Edition version of "Chicago" is not included on the collection, but few will miss it. I will explain.

The new bonus track of "Chicago" is identical to the Definitive Edition version until the word "obscenities". Peter Hammill's phrasing of the word "obscenities" is different and the rest of his vocals have been replaced by Terre Roche's.

Here is the irony: From the word "obscenities" on, Peter Hammill's vocal from original version (which is on disc one) and the Definitive Edition version were from the same take. What this means is that all of the pieces of the definitive Edition version are on this collection, they are just not on the same track. There is method to Robert Fripp's madness.

The sound quality of this collection is superb, as are the liner notes. (Hall's lyrics for "Disengage II" and "New York, New York, New York" are not included, but this is a minor quibble.) Despite the subtitle of the 1990 release, this is truly the definitive edition.

(For rippers who want to try to recreate the "Daryl Hall" version of the album should replace "I May Not Have Had Enough Of Me But I've Had Enough Of You" with "NYCNY" from Daryl Hall's Sacred Songs album. It's not the same version as the original test pressing, but it's as close as you are ever going to get.)


Robert Fripp - Exposure

Disc One - First Edition
All tracks are from the original 1979 vinyl mix.

1. Preface
2. You Burn Me Up I'm A Cigarette
3. Breathless
4. Disengage
5. North Star
6. Chicago
7. NY3
8. Mary
9. Exposure
10. Häaden Two
11. Urban Landscape
12. I May Not Have Had Enough Of Me But I've Had Enough Of You
13. First Inaugural Address To I.A.C.E Sherborne House
14. Water Music I
15. Here Comes The Flood
16. Water Music II
17. Postscript

Disc Two - Third Edition
Tracks are from the 1990 Definitive Edition version of the 1983 remix unless otherwise indicated.

1. Preface
2. You Burn Me Up I'm A Cigarette
3. Breathless
4. Disengage II (previously unreleased with vocals and alternate lyrics by Daryl Hall)
5. North Star
6. Chicago (previously unreleased with vocals by Daryl Hall)
7. New York, New York, New York (previously unreleased with vocals and alternate lyrics by Daryl Hall)
8. Mary
9. Exposure
10. Häaden Two
11. Urban Landscape
12. I May Not Have Had Enough Of Me But I've Had Enough Of You
13. First Inaugural Address To I.A.C.E Sherborne House
14. Water Music I
15. Here Comes The Flood
16. Water Music II
17. Postscript
18. Exposure (previously unreleased with vocals by Daryl Hall)
19. Mary (previously unreleased with vocals by Daryl Hall)
20. Disengage
21. Chicago (previously unreleased with vocals by Peter Hammill and Terre Roche)
22. NY3

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Remaster Hell blog is officially launched

Have you ever walked into a store and seen a CD of an album that you haven't thought about in years? I mean, you used to have this album on LP, 8-track, or cassette. Hell, maybe you still have it, but you never listen to it because you don't have working equipment anymore. You forgot about it even though it was one of your favorite albums and you know it inside and out. Maybe you had looked for it on CD before, but couldn't find it. Now, here it is, in all its glory, with a big "Digitally Remastered" label on it. You buy it immediately.

As you get in your car, you painstakingly remove the wrapper and that top sticker-seal, open the jewel case, remove the disc and insert it into the CD player as you pull away from the store. You drive down the road but you realize that something is wrong. "Wait a minute. This doesn't sound right. What's going on here?" As you begin to think that you are imagining things, something comes out of your car speakers that is drastically different from the album that you knew and loved. You scream. You stare at your car stereo in horror. "What happened? What did they do to the music that I loved?"

Then you look up from your stereo and realize that you are about to barrel into a stopped 18-wheeler. You swerve to the right, only to end up jumping onto the curb. You try frantically to regain control of the vehicle, but it's no use and your car runs head on into a telephone pole. You are killed on impact.

All because some asshole decided to remix an album.


Okay, maybe the last part didn't happen, but as those of us who grew up with vinyl records have transitioned over to the digital age, we have discovered a disturbing trend. The powers that be whose job it is to take the music that we love and make it currently available to the general public have, at times, been doing some undesirable things that have detracted from our enjoyment of the music.

Sometimes, it's a record company. Sometimes, it's an engineer. Sometimes, it's the artist's management or even the artist him/herself.

As a lover of rock music, I find this phenomenon fascinating. I used to find it appalling and, more often than not, I still do. Every once in a while, though, someone will make changes to a recording that I like. Nevertheless, I prefer it when the original recording is still available and the "new version" is made available as an addition, not a replacment.

So, I've decided to chronicle the various issues that I have discovered with reissues that I have become aware of.

The above example is only one of many things that are currently happening with reissued music and, over time, I am sure that a pattern will emerge as far as what content will be included here, but much of this all started from the trend of remastering older albums for CD, hence the name "Remaster Hell".