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Over the weekend, I received R.E.M.'s latest album And I Feel Fine... The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982–1987 as a gift. It's been on my list since it came out in September 2006. I have all the albums, so it's not like I needed the songs, but I'm a completist where R.E.M. is concerned. Anyway, last night Dave and I decided to have a listen.

And we were appalled.

Of course the songs are great. They're the bedrock of what made R.E.M.'s later success and that of alternative rock possible. The selection of the songs leaves nothing to be desired, and the track sequence is very thoughtful and maybe even inspired. It should've been a terribly enjoyable listening experience.

But there's a major problem. The tracks are "advertised" as remastered. In fact, here's the exact credit: "All tracks remastered by Dave McEowen @ Capitol Mastering Studios, Hollywood in May/June 2006." I give you that so you know whom to blame. The tracks are not simply remastered, they're remixed. Now, you may be familiar with early R.E.M. recordings and how it's kind of hard to make out what they're singing. That's no longer an issue. But to make that so, they had to tweak the tracks so severely that the vocals almost seem distorted, and the balance between instruments and vocals is radically different from what was originally released.

Not only that, but the volume is so "hot" and the equalization shifted so far toward the high end of the sound spectrum that Dave and I could not stand to listen to it at a volume that would be good for other CDs. It's just too brittle and harsh. And there's more to that complaint, which I'll get to later.

In short, the sound of early R.E.M. records has been destroyed in this release.

Whose idea was this? Are Mr. McEowen and his bosses suffering from such severe high frequency hearing loss that they need the cymbals so loud? Are Capitol's record executives thinking that "Radio Free Europe" could appeal to Radio Disney fans so used to everything blaring at earsplitting volumes? Did Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe have NOTHING to do with this collection at all?

Dave and I only got halfway through the CD. We had to dig out Lifes Rich Pageant and listen to it to remove the memory of the indignity done to "Fall On Me." About the only benefit to this "remastering" is that maybe I'll be able to make out the words to the descant behind the second verse to "Fall On Me." Maybe. If I can stand to put it back in the CD player.

This ties into another complaint that I've been getting ready to make. One local radio station, WDVD-FM (96.3 mHz), has recently started broadcasting so that all their songs are so loud and brittle, I have to reduce the volume or cut the treble on the car radio. As you can guess, this makes WDVD radically "off" from the other stations I listen to, which actually realize that music has and should have dynamic range. I thought this was just a radio thing, maybe just this station, or maybe ABC-owned radio stations at worst. But with this happening to an actual CD, I'm now terribly fearful that music is being changed by the corporate interests so that it's physically unlistenable.

Well, at least in some cases, such as R.E.M., I have all the CDs. So what if I never can listen to any new music again because the recording and radio industries are terminally fucking it all up, huh?

I have to repeat, the songs are still incredible, and the selection and track order can't be beaten. So here's what I'll do: I'll use the original CDs and burn a new CD of what And I Feel Fine... should have been. I hope this doesn't offend the band, but I don't care if it offends the incompetent mastering engineer or Capitol's executives.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 27th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
First and foremost: Belated Happy Birthday!! :-)

I know what you mean about current mastering processes. The last CD by the Jayhawks ("Rainy Day Music") had some of the same problems - way too much treble, and an increase in volume as to cause distortion in most of the tracks. And this was the original release - I can't imagine what some engineer might do to THIS in another 20 years. (shudder) I think a lot of the record companies are trying to make their records louder just to compete on the radio or on iPods.....

The "home compilation" solution works, though. When Capitol Records released The Beatles' first 8 US albums on CD (in 2 box sets), I refused to buy them out of principle: As much as said collections meant to US audiences over the years, the collections were NOT what the band intended. The US versions had less songs than their UK counterparts, the order of the songs was completely mixed up... and all this was done at the whim of some bean-counters. The one exception that worked was "Meet The Beatles" - for both an outstanding song running order AND sentimental reasons. Rather than pay money for Capitol's version, I made an iPod playlist (utilizing the original British releases) with the US running order of "Meet..."

Rumor has it that EMI/Apple Records is preparing to re-release the original British albums....REMASTERED.

Mar. 27th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
The Jayhawks??? I mean, come on... I could understand the treatment if it was Hannah Montana or some other teen act. But the Jayhawks, like R.E.M., appeal to quite a different audience.

"Remastered" Beatles... after what they did to R.E.M., I think we should picket in front of their offices to stop this possible travesty.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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