Monday, October 17, 2011

Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)

Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)
There is nothing I can say that so many others haven't thought before, so I won't bother discussing Nevermind as an album. If you've found your way here then you know how to find many contemporary and retrospective reviews, and besides, there's enough content here as it is.

First of all, the original album remastered. Ha. If you're wondering what a remaster of an album from 1991 can improve on from the original, the answer is usually "not much". The remastered Nevermind, as is typically the case these days, is a victim of brickwall mastering. Geffen ignored the opportunity to buck the trend and lead by example. For an example of tasteful, principled remasters, look at the recent round of Pink Floyd reissues. Worse still, they decided to go with the original cover art instead of retaking the iconic shot with a 20 year-old Spencer Elden. That's really the biggest missed opportunity here, and one the record company should be ashamed over. Actually, you can sort of see that here (safe for work): (sorry for the "bare" url; I had trouble with the hyperlink for some reason). The remastered CD is padded with some previously available b-sides and some live tracks that are duplicates of those available on the Super Deluxe edition, but not the Deluxe.

The second disc consists of The Smart Studio Sessions, The Boombox Rehearsals and BBC Sessions. It's pretty much all academia except for the band's rare cover of The Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now" (if you don't already own With the Lights Out) and a decent version of "Sappy" that's a big different from the one you're used to, which you'll only otherwise find on bootlegs.

Disc 3 brings us to the material exclusive to the Super Deluxe edition with the Devonshire Mixes - the mixes Butch Vig made before the album was handed to Andy Wallace. The difference between some songs and their better known counterparts are negligible while others have various trade-offs, but the most noticeable advantage across the board is the more organic drum sound (Vig, as you're probably aware, is a drummer himself).

The Super Deluxe edition comes with a DVD of Nirvana's famous concert at the Paramount on October 13, 1991; if you're inclined to just listen to the audio, that's what Disc 4 is for. As it comes only two years after Live at Reading, probably my favourite live album ever, I can't help but note that it's not a patch on that one. That said, it's still a hell of a concert, and having been performed just over a month after Nevermind came out, probably made lifelong fans of many of its attendees.

Nirvana - In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition)
Nirvana - Icon

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thoughts on stuff ('n junk)

Kristin Hersh, who has been blogging longer and better than me, wrote a piece a few years ago called Thoughts on Sustainability. It is in part an introduction to her Cash Music enterprise which allows listeners to purchase music via her various projects' websites (and obtain some for free) with no label involvement.

The essay briefly touches on the survival of of the blandest phenomenon in present day music. It got me thinking that poor quality music gets a break because art is supposedly subjective and therefore exempt from having to meet any sort of standard before being made available for purchase. A dishwasher that doesn't wash your dishes would be pulled off the market; an album that doesn't entertain is permissible. There should, of course, be standards. Metallica fans tried to return their Death Magnetic CDs because the brickwall mastering the band approved introduced distortion that was not present in the master recording. I applaud them for taking a stand against a practice that should be unacceptable. A company that intentionally builds an undisclosed flaw into a toaster and doesn't factor it into the price would be prosecuted. Vinyl is less affected by modern mastering trends, but is overpriced and has its own limitations.

The quality of the music itself has no bearing on price either, despite the fact that it is not entirely subjective. You might prefer Wesley Willis to The Beatles and The Shaggs to Pink Floyd (or claim you do), and that's all well and good, but to say that they are better is not. But I'm not talking about music recorded cheaply by people of questionable musical talent. I'm talking about music recorded expensively by people of questionable musical talent. Music that goes through a homogenisation process at every stage of its development with the end goal of creating a product to be consumed by millions should not cost the same as music created with the end goal of creating a lasting work of art. Check used CD shops - while they stil exist - for a more meritocratic pricing hierarchy. There you'll find Hanson's Christmas album for as reasonable a price as can be. Fast food is cheaper than restaurant quality food, and with good reason. Both music and food produced by giant corporations by definition has to be stripped of any unique flavour in order to be palatable to a huge market. We all feel like a hamburger every now and then, just as we all sometimes feel like a song we can nod our head to in the car and then forget about; we just shouldn't have to pay as much as we're being made to.

Sex, War & Robots