Comparing tracks to tracks--as I have been doing--is a useful exercise, but it only tells part of the story. So I compiled visual images that represent the first five tracks on Pleased To Meet Me (just for kicks, I'll call this "side one") taken from the original CD and the remastered reissue respectively.
Take a look at what I found:
Pleased To Meet Me (Side One: Original CD, 1987)
Pleased To Meet Me (Side One: Remastered CD, 2008)
It's pretty easy to see what's happened here. Beyond the obvious fact that each track has been made louder on the remaster, it's clear that the volume of some tracks has been boosted more than others. On the original CD, "Nightclub Jitters" is a fairly quiet song relative to the first three tracks ("I.O.U.," "Alex Chilton," and "I Don't Know"). But on the remastered CD it's been boosted to the point that it is nearly the same volume as the other tracks. Likewise, on the original "The Ledge" is louder than "Jitters," but still quieter than the first three tracks. Those shifts in dynamics between songs have been totally obliterated on the remaster. On the new version, each track appears to have been normalized to around -.3 db with respect to itself, making each song sound as loud as the other.
How loud the individual tracks sound with respect to one another is an important component in how the songs cohere as an album, rather than just as a collection of tracks. I don't believe "Nightclub Jitters" just happened to be quieter than the other songs on side one by accident; Pleased To Meet Me was carefully recorded and mastered the first time around. The song has to be quieter to set the right mood. Hearing Westerberg's whispered vocals on "Nightclub Jitters" sound just as loud as the ones he was screaming on "I Don't Know" is disconcerting, and intuitively sounds wrong.
There's an irony in the fact that an album that has been designated as worthy of the deluxe reissue treatment has been treated like this. On the one hand, the album is presented as a work of "art" worthy of serious evaluation and scrutiny, complete with extended liner notes and a premium price. On the other hand, it's been mastered as though it was never anything more than a collection of unrelated tracks, like some sad-sack Journey "best of" you might find for sale at a truck stop.
I accept that I may be clinging to a completely outdated conceptual framework in thinking about the album this way. Maybe the iPod and iTunes have killed the rock album and there's no point looking back. Perhaps whole the idea of an "album" (a term carried over from the days in which 78 rpm records were packaged together in binders) is simply hopelessly passe. We live in a world where playlists and portability have supplanted coherence and quality. Perhaps in such a world every track has to be the same volume in order to be heard over the background noise of everyday life. But if that's the case why even bother with these deluxe reissue packages at all? Aren't they intended for people who still have enough attention span left to sit down and listen to a whole album from start to finish?