Monday, April 25, 2005

Re-issue Issues

Or "How the Remaster is my Master".

Apparently, I am a sucker for re-issued/remastered CDs. I have been buying music in compact disc format since 1986, when I got my first CD player. Back in the early days, you were just happy that anything you wanted came out on CD, regardless of what it sounded like.

But many early CDs sounded terrible. They were sloppily mastered for CD, if at all. Analog-to-Digital converter technology was relatively primitive back then.

Now, over 20 years after the CD was introduced, people are done "converting" all their vinyl records and cassettes to CDs. What can the industry do to keep the cash flowing?

New format? Well, SACD and DSD and DVD-Audio aren't taking off for all kinds of reasons, the least of which is no one has the players for them in their car, computer, and everywhere else people want their music. So that's out.

But what about selling us CDs all over again? Digital technology has improved quite a bit, and people actually know how to make digital sound good. So they're reissuing CDs.

And they sound great. Seriously. I didn't want them to. But almost every one I've heard does, and it's killing me, or at least my wallet.

It started when I heard a promo copy of Peter Gabriel's 2-disc "Hit" set. I had owned his "Security" album on cassette, vinyl, and CD. And it never had the detail and high end presence I felt it should, especially given that it was one of the first all-digital recordings. The liner notes said it was the first in re-issuing his entire catalog remastered.

I found Peter Gabriel III/"Melting Face" and "Security" used at Amoeba. I couldn't believe how good they sounded. Warm and detailed. Fortunately, those are the only Peter Gabriel albums I think I want.

I thought it was over at that point. Sure, Astralwerks reissued some early Brian Eno albums, but I had a bunch of the ambient tracks on the Sony 20-bit "Eno Box". The difference was striking, but I figured I was OK for now.

Then I found out that David Sylvian had remastered Japan's entire catalog, included bonus tracks and nicer packaging. And he'd done his whole solo catalog, including a full "Gone To Earth" that restored the tracks removed from the double LP to fit it on a single, crappy-sounding CD.

Sylvian's "Gone To Earth" CD in particular was a good example. The original CD sounded so inferior to the vinyl that I hated playing it. I had destroyed my first copy of this out-of-print vinyl record through a combination of playing it and having it warp from sunlight. I had bought my vinyl copy used, and as luck would have it, I was able to find another one used. The CD just couldn't compare to the power, warmth, and depth of the vinyl LP.

But a remastered CD? Well, OK. Why not? So I bought that one new. It was expensive. But as soon as I started listening I knew I had made the right choice. It sounded better than my worn vinyl had ever sounded.

I just bought 6 of the new Eno reissues from Astralwerks. I can't wait for them to get here. I am trying to tell myself that I really don't need to re-buy Japan's "Tin Drum" and "Gentlemen Take Polaroids". But I think I might.

Worse, there's The Cure. They've started remastering their back catalog. I have their first 4 albums in my Amazon shopping cart. Over $80 to buy "better versions" of CDs I already own. Yeah, yeah, they have a bonus disc of crap I'll never listen to. Thing is, the original CDs sound bad. Really bad. I know these new ones will sound better. But $80 better? I must be a sucker.

I also read that Kraftwerk is remastering their entire catalog. I listened to Cleopatra's appalling US release of "The Man Machine" today.


Just tell me where to send my money, Florian. And get it right this time!

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