23 December, 2014

The Bonus Discs - New deluxe

On October 13th last year, I went to my nearest record store which, thanks to modern technology, is now a bit over an hour’s drive away. I had been reliably informed that the particular chain had a habit of placing stock in the racks as soon as they received it rather than keeping it embargoed until the official release date. I had nothing else to do that day and it was worth it to have the new Paul McCartney album as soon as it came out.

By coincidence, my dearest happened to be in the US at the time, so I asked her to bring my back the Target exclusive version with a bonus DVD. There were other editions exclusive to other big box stores in the US but she wasn’t near any of them. No doubt, there were fans who grabbed them all. Being a bit of an audio nerd, I also bought the high-resolution version from HD Tracks for the greater dynamic range. I didn’t bother with the standard edition – and seriously, who does this? Who thinks to themselves, “I’m going to buy the new album by one of my favourite artists, but I’ll save a couple of dollars by getting the version that has three less songs on it,”? Still, the beancounters at MPL and/or Starbucks clearly thought it was a good idea so what do I know?

So this deluxe edition is actually my fourth copy of New.
Hello, I’m Bill and I’m a hopeless fanboy.

It’s not that the album isn’t worth buying more than once – it’s excellent. There are four separate producers, including two second-generation Beatles producers; Ethan Johns, son of Glyn who worked on Let It Be, and Giles Martin (if you don’t know who his father is, then I’m very disappointed in you). As the DVD reveals, the original intention was to try out these producers – the others being Paul Epworth and Mark Ronson – and see who he actually wanted to make an album with, but having done a whole record’s worth of material, the album was compiled from all four sets of sessions. Despite the contrasting styles, the album flows extremely well. Somehow, it doesn’t suffer from the too-many-cooks problems that made Flowers in the Dirt, which was also promiscuous with producers, sound like less than the sum of its parts.

On the whole, the DVD is good value, with nearly two hours of material. The documentary on the making of the album is quite insightful and rather cleverly plays the complete album through the program. The middle of the disc compiles just about all the promotional junkets for the album, the most interesting of which is Bang & Olufsen interview. There are short pieces on the talk shows and pop-up gigs he did, but they don’t include any of the actual interviews or performances. Show Paul arriving, waving fans, gushing host, two seconds of performance, Paul shakes hands and leaves. Repeat seven times.

Johnny Depp sitting.
The DVD concludes with four official videos plus behind-the-scenes documentaries for three of them. The first compilation of McCartney promotional clips was called The McCartney Years. If there’s ever a second volume, they could almost call it Johnny Depp Sits On Things.

Johnny Depp Sitting. Again.

This deluxe edition also comes with a bonus audio disc that includes four live tracks recorded in Tokyo, and three unreleased studio tracks. The three new songs are decent, but wouldn’t have fitted the flow of the album proper.

Worth paying extra for?  If you don’t already own the album, it’s totally worth paying extra for, but who are we kidding? If you have the slightest interest in this deluxe edition, you already have the album so the question is if it’s worth buying a second time.

The way I usually look at deals like this is that most fans who are interested in the extra discs would gladly pay $25 for them as a standalone release, so why complain about getting a spare copy of the main album to play in the car or where-ever? The other side of that coin is, why bother including that redundant copy of the album when anyone who is interested is bound to have it already? I think the answer to that question is obvious: This way, it counts as sales of the New album rather than as a separate release.

Milking it? Well, yes and no. The 7 tracks on the additional audio disc are all perfectly decent B-sides. If New had been released 15 years ago, there would have been three or four singles released off it, each with two or three additional non-album tracks. Fans would have diligently bought them, spending about as much as the price of this deluxe edition, and getting a redundant, if not butchered copy of each A-side. Now that the market for physical singles is essentially dead, those extras are marketed differently.

There remains the issue of appearing to fiddle the sales figures but again, this isn’t really anything new. Back in the 90s, it wasn’t unusual for a single to be released on two different CDs, sometimes three, each with different bonus tracks. When the hardcore fans bought all versions, the title registered two or three sales for one buyer. A little detail that is rarely mentioned about the time Blur and Oasis went head-to-head releasing new singles on the same day is that while Blur may have beaten Oasis to Number 1, Country House was released on two CD singles, Roll With It was only released on one.

If you’re the kind of fan who is happy enough to have the regular album, you won’t miss anything that’s on the additional discs here. If you’re the kind of fan who has to have everything, this deluxe edition rewards your additional investment.

22 November, 2014

The Bonus Discs - Wings at the Speed of Sound

The remaster of the second album by what is generally regarded as the ‘classic’ lineup of Wings sounds just as good as its predecessor. Steve Rooke, Guy Massey and Simon Gibson have excelled themselves here. There is a real intimacy to the sound, even on the big arrangements like Silly Love Songs and Beware My Love.
The remainder of the deluxe package is a little disappointing. This is not so much a reflection on this particular edition as it is on the whole notion of massive boxed editions of single albums. The B-sides of the singles released off Wings at the Speed of Sound were also album tracks and evidently everything that they recorded for the album was released at the time. It makes sense given that the album was recorded between two tours, but it does mean the cupboard is almost bare when it comes to previously unreleased goodies to fill the bonus disc and DVD.
The bonus tracks that were on the initial CD release, Walking in the Park with Eloise, Bridge on the River Suite, and Sally G have been removed now that they’re available on the bonus disc of Venus and Mars. I heartily approve of stripping the albums back to their original track-listings. I find it annoying when the album reaches its natural conclusion and then a few B-sides play. It’s much better to shift them to separate discs.
However, having moved those three tracks to the album closest to when they were recorded, all that’s left are demos.

The “John Bonham version” of Beware My Love has already been milked for all it’s worth. The truth is, it’s not a complete version of the song but a first-take demo that happens to have John Bonham (who was a big fan of Wings’ drummer Joe English) sitting in on drums. It’s interesting but not quite the meeting of 70s giants it’s been made out to be.

The other most interesting demo on the disc is probably Paul’s vocal version of Must Do Something About It - a greatly underrated song of McCartney’s. It’s the finished backing track with Paul doing a guide vocal for Joe, who sings on the album. What’s most interesting about it is how dull Paul’s vocal is. Seriously, that’s not a criticism. Everyone knows Paul can sing the hell out of a song but rather than sell the song himself on the guide vocal, he gives only enough to show how the song goes and leaves it to Joe to do the vocal interpretation. It may come as something of a surprise to those who have Paul pegged as a control freak.

On the DVD? Well, not a whole lot. There’s the original promotional film for Silly Love Songs which has not been remastered, so there’s some added retro authenticity. The only other content is two short tour films, Wings Over Wembley and Wings in Venice. Wings Over Wembley is supposed to be a record of Wings’ three dates at Wembley arena at the conclusion of the 1976 world tour. The film is introduced as an “impression” of those dates and unfortunately, that’s all it is. All it shows is a few snippets of interviews and soundchecks. The film has been edited down from its original version and it beggars belief that they wouldn’t include the full version.

The book is as beautiful as always. It includes plenty of previously unpublished photos, including plenty from the 1975 Australian tour. Paul evidently has very fond memories of being here. HINT HINT!

The bulk of the written content is taken verbatim from an interview in which Paul actually seems rather reluctant to participate. The banal nature of the questions might have had something to do with that. I am sure you will be just as surprised as I was to learn that She’s My Baby is about Linda and the “Phil and Don” mentioned in Let ’Em In are the Everly Brothers. The most insightful part is the reflection on Jimmy McCulloch’s two Wings songs both being songs to himself warning of his self-destructive behaviour.

As with Venus and Mars, there are several pockets with heaps of little trinkets including stickers, tickets, photos and reproductions of handwritten lyrics and studio notes. While it’s very clever that they can copy these pages all the way down to the coffee stains and cigarette burns, it would be much more convenient to simply have them as pages in the book rather than individual objects.

On both Wings at the Speed of Sound and Venus and Mars, all McCartney songs are now credited to Paul and Linda. There’s no indication as to whether this is correcting a historical inaccuracy or whether this is a latter day Lennon/McCartney arrangement, not that it matters either way. The demo of Silly Love Songs does reveal Linda’s contribution.

Worth paying extra for? The remaster is definitely worth it. The additional CD is worth a few dollars extra for curiosity value but the book and DVD? Nah.

Silly Love Songs - initial 1989 CD release
Silly Love Songs - 2014 remaster
Silly Love Songs - 2014 remaster hi-res


16 November, 2014

The Bonus Discs - Venus and Mars

There is a bit of a mythology around remasters. It’s debatable as to whether the average fan is really going to hear the improvement above the confirmation bias of justifying the re-purchase of an album. It’s not that a remaster wasn’t warranted. In the case of Venus and Mars it certainly was. (Ironically, the other Paul McCartney album in the most dire need of a remaster is 2007’s Memory Almost Full, but that’s a rant for another day). I have to say though, with Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound, you can believe the hype.

Venus and Mars is one of my favourite albums. I’ve heard it on vinyl, cassette, CD, quadraphonic digitised from 8-track cartridge and DTS-CD, and I can tell you that it has never sounded better. The music just leaps out of the speakers in the way it always should have but never quite did.

On this new version, the bonus tracks that were added to the 1993 CD have been removed. My Carnival and Lunch Box/Odd Sox have been bumped to the secondary CD and Zoo Gang has been removed altogether now that it’s on the Archive Collection version of the more contemporaneous Band on the Run.

The bonus CD starts out with the tracks recorded during Wings Nashville excursion just before going to New Orleans to record Venus and Mars. This is actually the first time the full version of Junior’s Farm has been available on CD outside of Wings Greatest. Its B-side, Sally G, is followed by two instrumental tracks, Walking in the Park with Eloise (written by Paul’s father) and Bridge on the River Suite, originally released as a 7” single credited to The Country Hams.

My Carnival was recorded during the Venus and Mars sessions but was not released until 1985 as the B-side of Spies Like Us (as you do). There are two version of the song here, the completed version and the demo version under the working title of Going to New Orleans (as you do.) Absent is the “party mix” which was on the Spies Like Us 12”. These are followed by yet another version of Hey Diddle, this time mixed by Ernie Winfrey during the Nashville sessions. It does certainly have more of a country feel than the version on the bonus disc of Ram.

For no apparent reason, Soily and Baby Face from the One Hand Clapping film are included on the CD. The entire film was included with Band on the Run four years ago. It’s true that these two tracks have not been released on CD before but so what? They just seem like padding on a bonus disc that is already rich with quality content.

4th of July is a gorgeous acoustic song which is followed by the “old” version of Rockshow recorded in England and the single edit of Letting Go, which has a considerably drier mix.

The DVD is made up mostly of home movies. The recording of My Carnival is interesting mainly because the track is unmixed and we get to hear some parts that weren’t used in the final mix. The section called Bon Voyageur shows Paul and Linda on a river ferry in New Orleans shortly after Mardi Gras 1975. There are occasional snippets of interviews regarding the upcoming recording and Wings are also shown partying with The Meters.

Wings at Elstree is not a concert but rehearsals for the world tour – also home movie footage, edited to include just the songs from Venus and Mars. The audio on this section ranges from acceptable to non-existent, in which case the album audio is dubbed in. The DVD concludes with the 60-second television commercial for the album.

As mentioned at the beginning, a quadraphonic version of Venus and Mars was released on 8-track and subsequently made available as a DTS-CD. It’s disappointing that the quad mix wasn’t included on the DVD the way the Pink Floyd deluxe versions did.

On the packaging side, things have been changed around a little. Rather than a fabric cover, it’s a glossy one with the album art filling the cover. It’s not exactly a hardcover, either. Rather, it’s a perfect-bound paperback, similar to the one that came with Ram, with a hard cover wraparound. Look at the picture and it makes sense.

The content of the book, written by Barry Miles from new interviews with Paul and Denny, is excellent in detailing the Nashville and New Orleans sessions. There are also several pockets inside the book containing photographs, stickers (although not the strip of planets sticker that came with the original), posters and replica tickets. It’s very lavish and well presented, but most of this stuff you’re going to look at once, say “wow, cool!” and then put it away forever. The time and effort could have been put to much better use by remastering the quad version for inclusion on the DVD.

As usual, the deluxe version comes with a code to download all the tracks in 96kHz/24bit high resolution audio.

Worth paying extra for? For the 2-disc, absolutely! For the 3-disc version, well, I’m biased. Being a New Orleanian-in-law, I found the archival footage fascinating but for many, it might hold as much interest as the replica tickets and stickers. 

Listen to What the Man Said - 1993 remaster

Listen to What the Man Said - 2014 remaster

Listen to What the Man Said - 2014 remaster hi-res

“Very good to see you down in New Orleans, man!”


14 November, 2014

Kicking the can down the Rhodes

For those of you who were born yesterday, came down in the last shower, or just arrived from an interstellar journey, Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott is not the sharpest crayon in the packet. Show me anyone who says differently and I’ll show you someone who has a political agenda. “He’s a Rhodes Scholar!” they will say, but so are Bob Hawke, Bill Clinton, Kim Beazley and Malcolm Turnbull. The difference between Mr Abbott and those other political Rhodes Scholars is that whatever you may think of them, their knowledge and intelligence is self-evident. Their supporters never have to cite a Rhodes Scholarship as a counter-argument to any popular perception that they’re a bit dim.

Abbott’s humble intellect is so self-evident that providing regular updates of examples just seems like piling on. I mean, once you’ve claimed that Australia was “unsettled” before 1788 (um, we don’t regard Aboriginal Australians as native fauna any more, Tony), then failed to learn from the mistake and repeated the comment today, then undiplomatic language about the Russian president and flubbing the rehearsed follow-up line is no real surprise.

Like the “unsettled” idiocy, and his unforgivably ignorant assertion that Australians “admired the skill and the sense of honour,” of the Japanese in World War II (and to think his government complains about how history is taught), once in a while he comes out with a brain fart even lower than our greatly diminished expectations of him.

From the beginning of his time as party leader, Abbott’s opposition to doing anything about climate change has been based largely on the fact that the world’s biggest polluters, the USA and China had no clear policy on the issue, so what could little old Australia do? God forbid we should actually set an example for anyone. Now that Presidents Obama and Xi have announced an accord to reduce carbon emissions, Tony Abbott has lost his best excuse and is left humiliated on the wrong side of history. And when asked about the inferiority, by comparison, of his give polluters a shitload of money and hope they do the right thing “direct action” plan, Mr Abbott said:
“I welcome the agreement. As for Australia, I’m focusing not on what might happen in 16 years’ time, I’m focusing on what we’re doing now.”
So this Rhodes Scholar, this man who received some of the best education in the world, not only thinks that Australia was uninhabited before British settlement, not only thinks that Australians regarded an enemy that worked POWs to death on the Burma Railway and ritually beheaded them when they couldn’t work any more, but also thinks that what may happen in the future has nothing to do with the decisions he makes today.

That’s beyond ignorant, it’s beyond stupid. It almost indicates some kind of mental impairment.

Oh, and Tony? Cecil Rhodes called. He wants his money back.*

(*Line shamelessly stolen from my dearest)


08 November, 2014

The Bonus Discs - The Endless River

I admitted in a previous review of Pulse that I took Roger’s side in the great Pink Floyd schism of the 80s. Blame it on being a self-righteous 16yo at the time that I thought there had to be a “right” and a “wrong” side.

However, I stand by the assessment that the first post-Waters album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, almost confirmed Waters’ assertion that the group was a spent-force creatively. Despite appearing at the top of the small-print credits of that album, Richard Wright had not yet officially rejoined the band after being kicked out by Waters following the recording of The Wall. (Wright had the last laugh though. Having been demoted to sideman and put on wages for the 1980 tour of The Wall, he was the only member of Pink Floyd to make any money out of the loss-making shows) His contributions, along with Nick Mason’s, to that album were minimal, partly due to being out of practice and partly due to Momentary Lapse being as much a Pink Floyd album as The Final Cut was. Also, the record tried so hard to sound like Pink Floyd that it ended up being a little embarrassing.

It sold by the ship-load though and gave all three the confidence to be themselves a bit more on The Division Bell seven years later.

Many of the songs on The Division Bell were composed the way Pink Floyd used to write in the late 60s and early 70s, by building ideas up from extended jams. It turns out The Division Bell was originally intended to come with a bonus disc of some of these jams. Time got away from them though and the idea was shelved, as was the idea of Pink Floyd as a group at the end of the ’94/’95 tour. They never officially broke up, they just stopped being Pink Floyd. The untimely death of Richard Wright in 2008 after a brief battle with cancer seemed to confirm that they would continue to not be Pink Floyd. That’s why when I first read rumours earlier this year about a new Pink Floyd album, I put them in the same folder that I send alerts about a new John Lennon tour to.

When it was revealed that David Gilmour and Nick Mason were cleaning up and building upon some of these unused jams, the notion of a new album made a lot more sense. It also sounded quite attractive just from that information. Gilmour and Wright continued jamming together until Rick’s passing. A few of those jams are included as bonus features on Gilmour’s concert DVDs and I thought at the time that a whole album of such material would not be unwelcome.

While there have been plenty of modern overdubs added, it’s evident that the music has not been changed too much. The fact that even on the CD and DVD, the tracklist is divided into four sides, tells us that this is going to be old school. The Endless River is a return to pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd – almost all instrumental and with deep but probably meaningless track titles for good measure.

It begins in classic Floyd style with a long, slow fade-in that makes you wonder if this thing is on and to be honest, the second track It’s What We Do does come just a little too close to a Shine On You Crazy Diamond pastiche. In fact, there’s a fair bit of self-reference in the music and it’s hard to tell if and when it’s deliberate or if it’s just the Floyd being Floyd. There are echoes (sorry!) of Us and Them, Run Like Hell, Sorrow, and even Another Brick… Part 3. Although the pieces started as improvisations, they never descend into pointless noodling. Sonically, the album is about mid-way between The Division Bell and Gilmour’s excellent solo album, On an Island.

The one vocal track, Louder Than Words, which closes the album, has Pink Floyd going a bit sentimental for once, but it’s still beautiful. Some might find it surprising that David Gilmour does bittersweet really well.

The main feature of the accompanying DVD is the 5.1 surround mix of the album. More than just a carrot for audiophiles, this is another aspect of Pink Floyd returning to their roots. They were always champions of surround sound. Even though they stopped mixing their albums in Quad when it became clear that not enough people were interested, their live shows were always in quadraphonic since the 70s and Roger Waters’ concerts still are.

In addition to the surround mix, there is 39 minutes of additional music split across video and audio sections. The piece titled Evrika is in fact Wearing the Inside Out in its early stages. The track called Nervana (sic) wouldn’t have really fitted into the main album but the only way to describe it is: It rocks! Even on their least over-thought album in 40 years, it’s refreshing and surprising to see and hear Pink Floyd being a simple rock and roll band for five minutes.

Much of the video is taking from in-studio cameras during recording. While it’s not the visual feast we have come to expect from Pink Floyd, it’s great to see them at work.

It would be cynical and unworthy to dismiss The Endless River as trawling the archives for some product to release. For all their internal bickering, Pink Floyd have always known how to remember the fallen. The album is first and foremost a tribute to Richard Wright, whose integral contribution to Pink Floyd’s sound was often overshadowed by the clash of egos between Waters and Gilmour. Not only is it a fitting tribute to Rick, it’s probably the most genuinely “Pink Floyd” album since 1975. After so much soap opera, it is an honest and dignified end to their recording career.

Audio: 24bit LPCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1 (album)
          LPCM Stereo (additional tracks)
Worth paying extra for? You’re mad if you don’t.

06 November, 2014

There is a difference, Part 3

This was posted to a friend’s Facebook stream today:

Now I am no fan of Julie Bishop and I am pretty sure my friend isn’t either. I have a strict don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on how people vote, but at a rough guess, I’d say my friend’s politics are fairly similar to mine. That is: fairly centrist by any objective measure but easily branded as left wing for our general opposition to the right.

I used to take umbrage at being branded a leftist since I always considered myself fairly middle-of-the-road politically. I was usually described that way because of my opposition to the authoritarianism and social Darwinism espoused by the modern right (who I refuse to call conservatives because their values have precious little resemblance to classical conservatism). These days, I don’t care. The entire political spectrum has shifted so far to the right over the last 40 years that if being a centrist makes me a lefty to you, fine. Call me a leftist, a progressive, a small-l liberal, whatever. Your label isn’t my problem.

The point is, my friend is no more a fan of the current government than I am.

So the next time someone tells you that each side of politics is as crass and ugly as the other, show them this to remind them that there is a difference.

When Julia Gillard delivered her legendary speech calling out the then opposition leader Tony Abbott for his rampant sexism, both casual and overt, I didn’t see a single Liberal supporter or right wing commentator who had the guts and decency to admit she had a point. Instead, it was Gillard’s fault for playing the “gender card.”

I have no time for Julie Bishop but she deserves better than this. Her personal life is nobody else’s business. I’m not linking to The Age’s article. You can find it yourself if you want to, and shame on you if you do.

My friend’s comment shows that it’s possible to despise everything Julie Bishop stands for, and still admit when she’s been treated disgracefully.
That’s the difference.

31 October, 2014

THE DARK HORSE YEARS – George Harrison

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002Y69RC/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0002Y69RC&linkCode=as2&tag=billablog-20&linkId=ZM6MFCXE6Y3GKMMKAs a bonus feature of The Dark Horse Years box set, this was a wonderful addition. Now that it's been released as a standalone DVD, there is something vaguely unsatisfying about it. And it's mainly down to the fact that the program stays true to its brief of being the Dark Horse years which, apart from being the lifespan of George's record label, is a rather curious way of defining his career. It means there's no mention of All Things Must Pass, The Concert for Bangladesh, the Travelling Wilburys or the Beatles Anthology. Okay, so you already knew that, but there's something slightly incongruous about the disc starting in 1976, flipping through to 1992 and finishing in 1987.

That quibble aside, it's quite a treasure trove. We get all the Dark Horse videos, each with a brief excerpt from an interview by means of introduction. The four songs from Live in Japan, remixed in 5.1 surround, only leave you hungry for more. There's also short film on the beginning of the Dark Horse label and a perfunctory piece from the making of Shanghai Surprise, the ill-fated Madonna/Sean Penn vehicle that produced by George.

Highlight: Crackerbox Palace and When We Was Fab, two of the greatest examples of the art of film clips.
Feature: * * * ½
Extras: it's all extras really.
Audio: LPCM Stereo throughout, Dolby 5.1 and DTS on the live tracks

30 October, 2014

Clichés Translated

Part three of an occasional series

“It’s a no-brainer.”

It’s the kind of idea you would have if you had no brain.

23 October, 2014

Clichés Translated

Part two of an occasional series

“I couldn't have said it better myself.”

I am so accustomed to considering myself the best at saying things, that anyone saying something better is genuinely remarkable and surprising to me.

16 October, 2014

Clichés Translated

Part one of an occasional series

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’”

A quirk of English spelling means that you should do things the way I want, not the way you want.

11 October, 2014

The Morrissey reissues

Reissue, repackage, repackage! Slip them into different sleeves.
Yes, it’s so easy, isn’t it?

The release of the 20th anniversary edition of Vauxhall and I completes a slightly ad hoc series of reissues of Morrissey’s 20th century solo albums. In classic Morrissey fashion, these reissues follow neither a standard reissue/remaster campaign, nor an expanded edition model. Instead, what we get is more along the lines of a “director’s cut,” approach with some albums surviving mostly intact and others bearing only a passing similarity to the original versions – not that there was any particular outside interference on the originals. There is a fair dollop of rewriting history here, or at least, ‘This is what we should have done.’

So, is it worth re-buying your Morrissey collection? Or, if you’re starting one, which are the better versions to get? What follows is one fan’s assessments, in order of reissue.

I should declare from that outset that having first heard and bonded with (for that’s what you do when you’re a Morrissey fan) the original releases, I will be slightly biased towards the originals as being the ‘real’ versions.

Southpaw Grammar 1995/2009
Southpaw Grammar was Morrissey’s first album after completing the contract with EMI that was originally signed by The Smiths in 1987, and the beginning of a nomadic relationship with record companies that continues to this day*.  When it was originally released on the RCA label which was then owned by BMG, Morrissey indulged himself in making the album appear as much like a 70s RCA release as he could. Although the artwork has been completely redesigned, the RCA aesthetic remains with an obvious tribute to ChangesOneBowie.

Speaking of the packaging, the reissue includes a booklet with sleeve notes written by Morrissey, which describe the making of the album with wit and humility.

It was certainly a difficult album. Morrissey and band allowed themselves some experimentation by flirting with drum solos and classical samples, and both the first and last songs clocked in at over ten minutes.

One of the greatest crimes of Morrissey’s solo career was the way he hid one of his best ever songs, Nobody Loves Us, away on the B-side of lead single Dagenham Dave. It has now been added to the album along with three previously unreleased songs (Honey, You Know Where to Find Me, Fantastic Bird and You Should Have Been Nice to Me) in a completely rearranged track listing.

The first five tracks make the beginning of a much more consistent album than the original but dropping Southpaw in at track 6 disturbs the flow. It was always an excellent album closer, but putting it in the middle of the album just highlights the fact that it’s really only a five minute song with another five minutes of extended noodling left on at the end. After that, the re-ordered album lurches around all over the place. The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils is similarly stripped of its impact when bumped down from the opening track to track 10. Having already put the natural closing song on the first half of the disc, Nobody Loves Us is again sold short at the end of the album.

Southpaw Grammar was always a slightly flawed album and the revised edition is just as flawed, only in different ways.

The one to buy is:
Despite having only eight tracks, the original version makes more sense as a complete album. Having said that, the reissue has all the tracks from the original plus strong additional tracks and some enlightening sleeve notes, so you might as well get that one and program a playlist that follows the original track list if you so choose.
Reader Meet Author - original 1995 release
Reader Meet Author - 2009 remaster

Maladjusted 1997/2009
The new version of Maladjusted also comes with some explanatory sleeve notes, although they’re altogether more surreal and meandering. As with Southpaw Grammar, the track-listing has been completely shifted around but thankfully the opening title track has been left in its rightful position. Six tracks, previously released as B-sides, have been added. Some of the additions, like Lost and The Edges are No Longer Parallel are excellent while others, such as Heir Apparent and Now I Am a Was are B-side grade.

In fact, that’s the biggest problem with the new version of Maladjusted; it’s sixty minutes of songs that mostly belong on Side 2. Papa Jack and Roy’s Keen have been removed. Although they were both fairly unremarkable songs, the latter contributed some contrast to the original album. In fairness, it was only slightly more twee than The First of the Gang to Die, which everyone considered a triumph. Morrissey really shouldn’t be ashamed of his occasional moments of whimsy.

The inclusion of This Is Not Your Country adds some classic Moz controversy, of the same kind stirred by The National Front Disco, but it’s more about the feeling of not belonging than telling anyone they don’t belong.

The two closing tracks have been reversed. On this edition, Sorrow Will Come in the End (originally left off the UK version) now comes after Satan Rejected My Soul and it’s probably a mistake. Sorrow Will Come… is a thinly veiled response to Morrissey’s loss in the court case brought by Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. The spoken word piece sounded less petulant and ineffectual when followed by the self-mockery of Satan…  but as the album closer twelve years later, it just sounds petty and sad.

The redesigned album art is curious too. While Morrissey was understandably dissatisfied with Mercury’s design on the original, he did at least look maladjusted whereas on the new cover, he looks every inch the Good Looking Man About Town, which is kind of incongruous.

The one to buy is:
The original. While missing a couple of strong tracks it has a more satisfying light and shade while the reissue comes dangerously close to sounding homogenous.
Alma Matters - original 1997 release
Alma Matters - 2009 remaster

Bona Drag 1990/2010
I’ve already covered this in the best of the best ofs, but to recapitulate:
What was originally a stop-gap collection of singles and B-sides has by default become one of Morrissey’s strongest albums owing to the very high quality of his B-sides from 1988 to 1990.

The track order has not been changed as with the previous reissues, just the tracks themselves. Piccadilly Palare has gained a verse previously cut out (although, it’s not the “No, Dad,” version that has circulated online), Ouija Board, Ouija Board has lost the humourous, “Steven, push off!” section and Suedehead has had the ambient introductory strums cut off. Interesting Drug and November Spawned a Monster are now cross-faded together. As with the original release of Bona Drag, the achingly beautiful Will Never Marry is faded out early before the minor key coda.

There are six additional tracks added at the end of the disc, four previously unreleased. Unfortunately, the ruins the perfect “Goodnight, and thank you,” ending of Disappointed, but other than that, it’s the appropriate place for them.

Of particular interest are The Bed Took Fire (an alternative version of At Amber) and Morrissey’s demo of Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness, which he wrote with Stephen Street for Sandie Shaw. For no apparent reason, the long mix of Let The Right One Slip In from the Your Arsenal sessions concludes the bonus tracks. It has been a continuing pattern across the reissues to drop in tracks that belong to a different era to the rest of the album. Although his detractors claim all Morrissey’s songs sound the same, the truth is that he has gone through several phases which sound completely different to one another. Mercifully, the new closing track on Bona Drag does not scream too much at the rest of the album.

The one to buy is:
The reissue is the natural choice, given the added rarities, although it does mean that you’ll have to find a copy of Suedehead, The Best of Morrissey (now deleted) if you want to have the original versions of Piccadilly Palare and Ouija Board, Ouija Board.
Suedehead - Bona Drag original 1990 release
Suedehead - Bona Drag 2010 remaster

Viva Hate 1988/2012
Not to take anything away from Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce and especially Johnny Marr, but if you didn’t know in 1988 that The Smiths had broken up and you were told that Viva Hate was the new Smiths album, you would probably have believed them. Such was the skill with which Smiths engineer and co-producer Stephen Street rescued Morrissey’s career. It was, in short, a triumph.

Here’s what nobody said: “It would be even better if you chopped the beginning and end off of Late Night, Maudlin Street, and replaced The Ordinary Boys with, oh, I dunno, some demo that was never properly recorded so the vocal sounds like it was sung into a Walkman.”

Viva Hate has already been through the reissue wringer once before in 1997, where it was given a budget label style cover, and eight additional tracks, only two of which were contemporary to the album. This time around, the original cover photograph has been reinstated (no credit for hair this time, though) but the monochrome shade has been changed from blue to black and the title now appears in a gold, Old English style font. It gives an unnecessary Oi! look to the cover which might have been better avoided given Morrissey’s occasional flirtations with British nationalism, unintentional or misunderstood though they may have been.

The remastering was overseen by Stephen Street and it sounds beautiful but then again, it always did. Street has also made it clear that he objected to the changes that have been made to the album (the word “butchered” may have been used), but despite being the producer, arranger, composer, guitarist, bassist and indeed instigator of the album, his preferences were irrelevant.

The one to buy is:
The original. For the love of all things decent, the original!
Suedehead - Viva Hate 1997 remaster
Suedehead - Viva Hate 2012 remaster

Kill Uncle 1991/2013

Kill Uncle is universally recognised as Morrissey’s weakest album and not without reason. He was three years into his contract with EMI (actually signed by The Smiths) with so far only one album and a compilation of singles to please them, please them, please them. Having split with Stephen Street, Morrissey entered a songwriting partnership of convenience with Mark E Nevin, who had recently left Fairground Attraction. Curiously, Nevin is not mentioned once in Morrissey’s sprawling Autobiography, which might have come as a relief to him since Morrissey seems to have little but contempt for most other collaborators he has parted company with.

So with the album’s reputation for mediocrity unchallenged, it comes as a bit of a surprise that this rearranged and (slightly) expanded version is really rather good. In fact, by bumping Asian Rut (a well-intentioned song with a contemptible title) down from track 2 to track 5, side 1 of Kill Uncle suddenly becomes one of the strongest first sides Morrissey has ever made.

Pashernate Love and East West are added to the middle of the album. Although they stick out a bit – the former is a Your Arsenal era B-side and East West is the first time Morrissey has elevated a cover version to album track status – they serve as a kind of break between (what would be) sides 1 and 2, so they don’t disturb the flow too much.

The two closing tracks have been reversed with There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends now preceding The End of the Family Line. That would almost work but the original version of …a Place in Hell… has been replaced with a live version first released on the Live at KROQ EP. The problem in doing this is that the line on the live version, “And looking back, I won’t forgive / And I never will, I never will,” really only makes sense when you know that the original line was, “And looking back, we will forgive / We had no choice, we always did.” The live version is a great reinterpretation, but it needs the original (recorded directly over Mark Nevin’s piano demo made in his front room) to stand in contrast to.

The one to buy is:
Despite the quibble over There’s a Place in Hell… the reissue is a much stronger album.
Our Frank - original 1991 release
Our Frank - 2013 remaster

Your Arsenal 1992/2014
Show me someone who says all Morrissey songs sound the same and I’ll show you someone who either hasn’t heard many Morrissey songs or paid very little attention when they did.

For the video to Sing Your Life, a rockabilly band was hired and subsequently became Morrissey’s touring band and songwriting collaborators. For their first album together, Morrissey adapted his style to theirs far more than they did to his. This, and working with Mick Ronson as producer, were undoubtedly good for him. Not only was Your Arsenal a return to form, but its raucousness smashed the stereotype of fey, bookish, diary-writing Moz.

Being so good from the start, the immediate worry was that Morrissey would tinker about with the reissue as he had done with all the previous ones. Such worries are unfounded though. The track listing is identical. The only advertised difference is that it includes the US mix of the closing track, Tomorrow. However, this is also a little misleading. The only difference between this version and the original is that the vocal does not fade out in the last line. The quirky piano coda (which I always liked) is still there, and even goes on for a couple of extra bars.

This may make it seem like it’s a rather pointless purchase but I can tell you it isn’t. The remaster is fuller, brighter and had more bass presence. It has been given a fair bit of volume limiting but there are some styles that this approach lends itself to and this is one of them. If you already own and enjoy the album, it’s definitely worth the upgrade without even mentioning the additional DVD.

The DVD was filmed live at The Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, on October 31st, 1991, about six months before the recording of Your Arsenal. As such, most of the set is drawn from Viva Hate and Kill Uncle, with previews of We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful and Pashernate Love.

As with the Live in Dallas DVD, it’s sourced from VHS and has had no restoration so both the picture and sound quality are as low as you’d imagine. The mix is very dry for a live recording and may even have come from monitor mixes. Despite the substandard quality, it really captures the barely organised chaos of a Morrissey show, where the quality of performance and production come a distant second to the experience.

The one to buy is:
The reissue. Calling it the Definitive Master may sound a bit wanky, but it is.
Tomorrow - original 1992 release
Tomorrow - 2014 remaster

Vauxhall and I 1994/2014
Following the return to form of Your Arsenal, Vauxhall and I was the album where it all fell into place. After several failed attempts, he had finally found some long term songwriting partners in Alain White and Boz Boorer, and their compositions for this album were an order of magnitude more adventurous than the previous set. This, combined with some excellent production from Steve Lillywhite makes it probably equal with Viva Hate as Morrissey’s best solo release.

It’s not a perfect album. There’s a noticeable side-2 slump but that is forgotten as soon as Speedway begins, with probably the only ever use of a two-stroke engine as a musical instrument, and builds to a crescendo four minutes later that almost leaves you breathless.

Under the circumstances then, there was a reasonable fear that he might butcher this one as well. Fortunately, he hasn’t. He’s just sold it awfully short.

Like all the reissues from Bona Drag onwards, it comes in a mini-gatefold cardboard sleeve with no lyric sheet and minimal credits. Full points for sustainability but you would expect a “definitive” edition to have just a little more, especially when the design of the original was so beautiful. So while the presentation is no more minimalist than the four previous reissues, Vauxhall and I looks particularly cheap and nasty even with a bonus live disc.

Having written that, it’s just struck me that the whole series of EMI reissues has the look and feel of the kind of mid-price, no frills reissues of classic albums that we used to see in the 80s. Given Morrissey’s long held focus on design and presentation (including the resurrection of several defunct company imprints from His Master’s Voice to RCA to Attack), this is quite possibly deliberate, if not particularly satisfying to fans who are probably buying these albums for at least the second time.

The sound quality is excellent, but it always was. It’s not a failure of the remastering that it hasn’t brought out nuances that weren’t there before, it just goes to show that it was kind of unnecessary. Although having said that, credit is due to the mastering engineers for not fixing something that wasn’t broken by just making it all really loud.

Of all the live sets that have appeared as bonus incentives on Morrissey reissues and compilations (Greatest Hits, Swords, Your Arsenal), this one, recorded at the Theatre Royal in 1995, is far and away the best. Typically, bonus live discs are not up to the standard of standalone live albums, but this one compares very favourably to Moz’s first solo live album Beethoven was Deaf. It’s certainly worth the purchase price and having a redundant copy of Vauxhall and I for.

The one to buy is:
The reissue if you want the live disc but otherwise, the original.
Speedway - original 1994 release
Speedway - 2014 remaster

* In fact, in the time between writing that sentence and completing this series of reviews, Morrissey (ahem) parted company with Harvest records and the new album released on that label has been withdrawn from sale, so you had better get it while you can.

Finally, we know Morrissey has a flair for dramatic language so “cancer scrapings” could possibly mean anything, but do get well soon, you contrary old devil.