Sunday, September 28, 2008

Children By The Millions Can't Hear Alex Chilton

I haven't done one of these comparisons in a little while, but I do plan to keep doing them occasionally. Take a look at the remastering job Rhino did to The Replacements' 1987 album Pleased To Meet Me. The diagrams below represent the waveforms of original and remastered versions of the track "Alex Chilton."

The Replacements - "Alex Chilton" (Original CD, 1987)

The Replacements - "Alex Chilton" (Remastered CD, 2008)

I'll just go ahead and state the obvious: Rhino has squashed a lot of dynamic range out of "Alex Chilton" to make it sound "louder." This is hardly one of the more egregious examples of heavy handed peak-limiting and compression in the loudness wars, but it's still wrong. The remaster hasn't been compressed to the point that it sounds aggressively bad, but the drums occasionally lack the impact of the original. Subjectively, the differences between the reissue and the original are small, but to my ears the reissue certainly doesn't improve on the original in any way.

I hope you enjoy the bonus material and liner notes on this updated edition of Pleased To Meet Me, because when you shell out $17 for this remastered CD, you're paying for worse, not better, sound. My advice: don't sell your original.


Mark N. said...

I love these analyses, Pete--keep 'em coming! I have all the original CD issues of these Replacements albums ("Let it Be" through "All Shook Down," anyway) and have been debating as to whether I should pick up the re-issues. Frankly, the rather steep $18 price (for all except "Stink") has been the main sticking point for me, plus I'm not sure how much I care about the bonus material. It's really unfortunate that record companies seem to equate loudness with better sound. Anyway, thanks for the consumer tip. (I'd be interested in your take on the bonus material on these discs, is it worth taking the plunge to hear some of that stuff? With the exception of Rhino's Elvis Costello reissues of several years back, I have found that bonus material is usually rather anticlimactic).

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Mark,

I think I should have spent a little more time with this post to address some of those questions.

First of all, I can't speak for all the reissues, just this one. I do own the Hootenany and Let It Be reissues, but my only point of comparison on those is the original Twin/Tone LPs, which are mediocre pressings at best. I thought those CD reissues sounded good, although I suspect they may have been "loudness enhanced" to some degree as well. I have not done any kind of comparison with the originals on those.

As for this particular reissue, I can't recommend it if what you are looking for is better sound quality. Subjectively--on both my home system and my iPod--I did not hear a big difference once I adjusted the volume. I did not hear any enhancement in clarity, etc. compared to the original as I sometimes do with remastered recordings, but I also didn't really miss whatever dynamic range has been removed. The differences subjectively are small. This may be because the album was recorded digitally in the first place (probably at 16/44), and so newer DACs can't really squeeze anything additional out of the master (I'm not speaking from a position of expertise here, just guessing).

As for the bonus material, how big a Replacements fan are you? I think the bonus material on this one is quite good. The demos of album material are high-quality, and it's nice to hear these songs sounding a bit more ragged. The rarer songs are good, but there are no "lost masterpiece" songs.

That said, it's hard to escape the feeling that Rhino could have offered more. "Whose Gonna Take Us Alive" is a very good track that was left off the Let It Be reissue for no good reason. And given The Replacements reputation as a live act I find it disappointing there weren't a few live tracks included on Pleased To Meet Me. That's an important part of The Replacements' story and so far it hasn't been told on any official releases.

I doubt Rhino is at fault for this, The Replacements are known to be very difficult about what bonus material they will allow to be released, and it can be hard to figure out their idea of quality control when you compare what's out there on bootlegs and what they've chosen to make available for release. At the very least, a lot of good material from the All For Nothing/Nothing For All compilation could have been included on the Sire reissues, but wasn't. (But then if you're a big enough fan to buy the remasters, you probably already have that anyway).

I still think of Rhino as one of the "good guys" in the reissue business, but honestly, The Replacements series is a bit of a mixed bag. I'll probably still buy Tim (I'm interested to hear what they do with the sound on that one, because the original CD and LP sound lousy), but I'll likely pass on the others. Hope this helps.

Gordon Winslow said...

Have you seen the Wall Street Journal piece from a few days back on compression on the new Metallica album? It's even got a nifty interactive comparison so that you can hear and see the difference between ...And Justice For All and Death Magnetic. Nice to see more mainstream attention to the issue.

Pete Bilderback said...

I had not seen the WSJ piece, although I had noticed there was something of an online fan uprising regarding the sound of that album when someone noticed the version on Guitar Hero (!) actually sounded better than the CD. I'll check out the article.

Mark N. said...

Thanks for the detailed reply, Pete. I may eventually up a few of these reissues