Let's talk for a minute about the current remastering craze. We've talked in the past about good remasters - last year's sprucing up of a-ha's 'Hunting High And Low' by Rhino - and inexcusably bad remasters - EMI's massacring of the Duran Duran catalog, also over the course of 2010. Today, though, I'd like to address a remastering of a different kind - one that is done well and a sonic improvement over any previous version, but one that is still a bit of a detriment to the overall album.
From the image, you can obviously tell that a discussion of The Human League's debut 'Reproduction' is forthcoming. So here we go:
A few years ago - I don't remember exactly when - the Virgin-held Human League catalog was given a digital once-over with a series of very nice CDs. ('Hysteria' might not have been part of it, I'm not sure.) Anyways, the remasters are one of those increasingly rare cases of a "job well done" - levels were boosted to modern times without sending everything pounding into the red, each album had a nice selection of period-bonus tracks - many previously unavailable on CD - and they all look nice on the shelf together. However, I argue - particularly in the case of 'Reproduction' - the remaster harms the total effect of the record. It's too cleaned up.
I much prefer a vinyl pressing of the album, especially the kind of poor US edition. When listening to the LP, there's a faint buzz of background noise through the whole thing, kind of like you're listening to it on an AM radio station...and it works. The album itself is dark and moody on old, out of date equipment and has a bit of a science-fiction feel running through the lyrics. Or, at times, they're totally deconstructing the idea of a pop song at the time by stretching out "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" to a 9+ minute slow-as-molasses dirge - which, by the way, is one of the greatest cover versions of all time - and it all benefits from a nice hum. Especially with all of the muffled discussion samples doing on between tracks, it just works. Similar to Kraftwerk's 'Radioactivity', the more layers you have to peel away with your ears before you get to the music, the better. (Side note: 'News' is one of the most terrifying pieces of music ever. I still can't listen to it in the dark without getting the feeling I'm being watched.)
Does that make sense? It did to me when I sat down but I'm not sure I got the point across. I'm certainly not suggesting you run out right away and get the remaster if you don't already have it, because you absolutely should. It's not necessarily better or worse, just a different way to hear the album.
That said, you haven't really experienced the album until you've put the needle on the record, so to speak.