Author Topic: Remaster campaign for back catalog seems to have fizzled out in sad fashion  (Read 694 times)

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Offline zooguitar

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I was reading a reply from @Ian Ryan (btw, thanks for replying, Ian) in another post I wrote about the Zooropa remaster and he happened to mention R.E.M. Coincidentally, I had a borrowed copy of the 25th Anniversary remaster of REM's "Monster" that I had yet to listen to, which I decided to in that moment. I also went back and listened to REM's recent remasters for their other 90s masterpieces "Out of Time" and "Automatic for the People", as well as recent 50th anniversary remasters for "Abbey Road" and "Let It Bleed".

(As an aside: I hope others can appreciate the dual peaks of U2/REM in the early to mid-90s as I certainly do. Like the Beatles and Stones in 68-70, U2 and REM were putting out great albums right after each other.)

After the initial wave of remaster work for the first 5 catalog albums, the remaster campaign for the remaining catalog has been sloppy and uninspired, IMHO. The only album since TJT to get any kind of elaborate re-release was Achtung Baby for the 20th anniversary release. But even that seemed like a slightly rushed effort, given that they threw in Zooropa as a bonus disc (and not remastered!) in the Super Deluxe box set. Zooropa-the 1993 Grammy Award winner for Best Alternative Album (beating In Utero and Siamese Dream)-was considered a throw-in! To quote David Bowie: Oy vey, baby.

Upon listening to the remasters of the Beatles, Stones, and REM for comparison, the post-JT U2 remasters are simply of poor quality and smack of minimal effort. The other artists did not radically alter their original albums (although REM has included a separate 2019 remix of Monster on the Deluxe edition in addition to the remastered original mix), but they did take the effort to make sure the listener could better hear the album as originally intended, with the utilization of modern day technology. Their remastering efforts don't change your idea of how those songs have always sounded in your memory. But, man, I certainly appreciate Bill Wyman's and Charlie Watts' interplay to a much higher degree now when I hear the remastered version of "Monkey Man". The escalating, epic sense of dread that builds during REM's "I Don't Sleep, I Dream" feels even more intoxicatingly tense. And the Beatles sound like they are finally "coming together" on the opening of Abbey Road, as McCartney's deep bass plucks dance around Ringo's shuffling thump. (I've detailed in other posts how the inferior remasters for Zooropa and Pop actually threaten the legacies of those great albums.)

And even the bonus materials offered by the other groups makes U2 look shabby by comparison. Where are all the studio outtakes that have been hinted at over the years? The Beatles included a recorded version of a George Harrison song "Not Sorry" on the recent White Album reissue, while the Stones included an awesome outtake of Brown Sugar featuring Eric Clapton on the Sticky Fingers reissue from a few years ago. Monster's 25th box set includes 15 unreleased tracks, plus an entire concert from Chicago 1995. Zilch for anything past TJT other than AB.

Alas, aside from a few revelatory moments on side 2 of Zooropa, the remastering of U2's 1990s output is subpar compared to other remaster releases, and definitely does not justify the cost. Quite frankly: the remastered versions, generally speaking, sound inferior to the original CDs (see my full posts on Zooropa and Pop for more on this). In terms of audio remastering efforts, I think the 50th anniversary release of Sgt Pepper remains the gold standard of how to polish up a classic recording. For reissue packaging, REM has made deluxe versions of their re-releases affordable while still providing value in gorgeous photography and additional CD inserts. U2 should look to both of these artists and apply the same standards to their future U2 catalog management. R&H, at the very least, should have a still to be completed digitally-restored version of the film included in any re-release. I'm hoping Achtung Baby has a proper remastering and reissue effort underway in time for the 30th anniversary, along with Zooropa, Pop, and even Passengers.

Get to it, U2! Automatic for the People should not sound as bottom-heavy as Achtung Baby!  :P Owning the rights to their back catalog so that they can then remaster and re-release them under the band's direction is the whole reason they took the lower royalty rates in earlier record contracts. Paul McGuinness would not have let them forget that, but Guy Oseary seems to have.

PS: the albums for sale on iTunes for Zooropa and Pop are the crappy recent remasters. If you don't have those albums already, I recommend purchasing those original issues from a used CD store (there's probably plenty of copies of Pop available! ::)). Just double check that neither CD has a 2018 Universal copyright imprint on the back.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2019, 10:25:45 AM by zooguitar »