iTunes gains even more favor by not only adding Ani’s entire catalogue, but featuring an exclusive download of new tune “Swim,” recorded live at The Orpheum in Boston less than two weeks ago! Also, if anyone has an inside track on being a reviewer at iTunes, let me know; a quick read of the Ani reviews shows deft textual work combined with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic love of music. And, well, if those aren’t two of my best personal traits then i hardly know what to do with the rest of my holiday weekend, because they’re both being relied on to get me through two hellishly boring research papers.
Archives for November 2003
Three related paragraphs that have absolutely no bearing on anything.
I am so chirpy on the phone. “Thanks so much for your help!,” i expel with force. “You have a great holiday!” i command with enthusiasm. I suspect the clerks in guidance offices across Montgomery County hardly know what to say to me, which is apt, because i hardly know what i am saying. I imagine fielding a phone call from me is like trying to catch water from a great stone fountain in a meager paper cup … the stream steady with random variation, the force and volume too great for the vessel.
Last night i was walking down Walnut street, thinking about how everyone wants to be famous. Everybody does. Not all face-famous, of course, not all actors or politicians, but famous for something; inventing, writing, singing, designing, growing record-sized pumpkins, etc. I always thought i’d be a good famous person, because i think i understand what a public expects from someone in possession of fame. But, to be famous you must become famous, and to become famous you or your product must be recognized, and i and the three or four products that i consider to be eligible are currently incognito, embedded in our stealthy and unnoticed positions until further notice.
Sometimes i think that i will take on a character, change my carriage and manner of speaking, to see if i am somehow different than before. When i arrive in the office to find it full with dozens of perspective students, or when i step into a store i’ve never been near before. What great acting it would be, what a superb lie, to alter myself not according to a script but in every facet of my ongoing self.
I’ve never been lazy before. If i didn’t do schoolwork, it was because it just didn’t challenge me, and when i missed a day of work it was because my body really needed a rest. Now i am skipping classes because i don’t want to be troubled by walking to them, and missing work because i’d rather stay at home and play guitar.
I never used to do these things. Is there really something about Senior year, something so real and nearly tangible that it totally sidetracked my post-co-op ambition and turned it into this? Waking up early and reading webpages instead of going to work, skipping classes i think are boring, and skipping optional papers that would boost my grade to an easy A?
Or maybe, just maybe, that last co-op just gave me too strong of a taste of freedom, both financial and academic, and i am now having a hard time imaging my life any other way.
My music-reviewing hero Glenn McDonald beat me to the punch with his insightful iTunes Music Store (iTMS) critique, though i would posit to Glenn that the concept of iTunes expands far past iTMS and is not meant for people with collections very much bigger than mine and obsessions even less so, as it took me the better part of two weeks and two dozen gigabytes to get my entire collection loaded in.
I’d encourage you to read his very intelligent essay, but one point that i don’t agree with is “that the more I try to incorporate the iTMS into my life the more chillingly I realize that I probably think it’s part of the problem.” I know myself to have significantly less than a tenth of the discs Glenn does, and iTunes has allowed me to suddenly appreciate good songs stuck on obscure singles or boring albums, while also making it so easy to create new compilations that i’ve been doing it every morning. As Glenn puts it, “The iTMS is not a paradigm shift, it is a belated solution to a logistics problem that the internet created,” but that problem may ultimately lead the antiquity of music as a limited physical commodity in the not too distant future.
In his conclusion, Glenn says, “TV poisons our culture, and I hate the idea that music can be a toxin, too.” His idea is that iTunes has done for music what HBO has done for movies — destroy the art by making both the great and the terrible into the casually viewed. However, i think iTunes does everything but poison culture — it offers a new generation a decade-lost opportunity to shop for singles. Not only singles, but any single song. Music’s toxin is radio, poisoning us with paltry forty-song playlists and bands clearly being mined for their single hit single rather than any sort of prolonged shelf-life. Maybe, just maybe, iTunes will help consumers my age and younger diversify in the way the rack of 45s did when i was five years old. Maybe radio-play artists will stop pumping out so much album-filler when iTunes users are just buying their hit singles, while the real artists suddenly start making up for lost back catalogue sales.
Or maybe not. Who knows? I’ll leave you with one final nugget from Glenn: “The iTMS is not a way to connect us to music we love, it is a way to sell us music we like.” I agree with it in the sense that Glenn does, in that if i love a piece of music i want to buy it with all of its permanent context, but i think that the music connoisseur/collector/reviewer in him might have slightly obscured the utility of what iTunes and iTMS has to offer.
More commentary coming as soon as i get these last 1787 songs rated.
Tales of a Librarian: A Tori Amos Collection is neither a traditional greatest hits collection (it eschews the smash “Caught A Lite Sneeze,” among others) or a collection of fan favorites (as evidenced by a lack “Cooling”). Instead, it is a collection of twenty songs that Amos considers biographically important. The disc acts as a passable retrospective for newer listeners, but the allure for a longtime Tori fan is not solely the new cuts or the rerecorded songs, but the fact that sixteen old favorite have been remastered.
Aside from an across-the-board reduction on vocal reverb, Librarian‘s “remastering” is as unscientific as its song selection — background vocals are eliminated on some songs and isolated on others, and the balance (and even presence) of guitars is subject to change even within single tracks. Some songs clearly benefit from the remastering. “Cornflake Girl” is chief among these, exploding out of its quiet former context on Under The Pink. Foremost in its improvements is a more prominent piano and a fuller vocal. The vocal arrangement on the “Golden Gun” portion of the song is mixed in reverse, bringing out an additional vocal nearly unheard on the original. Even the theremin-like whistling that opens the track sounds bigger and better.
“Spark” is mixed in the opposite direction, but with equally excellent results. Away from the dense production of from the choirgirl hotel, its layers have been stripped away to reveal a tone much more in keeping with the disconnected feeling it portrays. The edge on the prickly keyboard tone has been eliminated; verses are now dominated not by swirling keyboards and guitars, but by snares and toms that keep the song tottering forward in compound time. Once-obscure background vocals now made clear, and the deft piano work on the bridge is unearthed.
Some songs stay the same not literally, but for lack of significant changes. The half of Little Earthquakes that is present is all louder and closer. Additionally, “Silent All These Years” and “Winter” amp up their orchestral arrangements, while “Crucify” is improved immensely without its overbearing reverb. The balance of the strings on “Baker Baker” is more equal to the piano, which is interesting though somewhat obtrusive. “Playboy Mommy” wisely plays up it’s slide guitar and subtle backing vocals for a better emotional impact, but isn’t distinctively different.
On other songs, the results are more mixed. All the elements of “Precious Things” sound more precise, but its originally menacing atmosphere is sacrificed. “God” suffers a similar fate, less dense and with its background vocals mixed too close to the forefront. Live favorite “Tear in Your Hand” sounds superbly loud and immediate except for a out-of-place voice-over vocal which hijacks its excellent coda for an entire line. “Bliss” is the one track where the reverb is missed; without its obscurity the arrangement is revealingly unimaginative. The slight “Way Down” is exponentially more interesting with a beefed up mix and an extra gospel refrain, while similar Boys for Pele lark “Mr. Zebra” is clearer but still exactly as kooky.
The four new recordings are solid, but not revelatory. “Sweet Dreams” is a weary update of an unexciting original, though “Mary” manages to retread old ground without losing any charm. “Snow Cherries From France,” ballyhooed for years by Neil Gaiman and Tori herself for, is an unassumingly simple tune that would have been more at home on the recent Scarlet’s Walk. “Angels,” though, is a much more congruous evolution — rendering oblique political philosophy alongside Tori obscurity, it fits right in.
Finally, as is typical of most Amos efforts, there is one massive misstep — the popular remix of “Professional Widow” is used in place of the original track, a strange concession to consumers given the fact that a similarly popular remix of “Jackie’s Strength” does not replace the original. The thumping bass and swirling electronics sound vastly out of place in an album of sweetened vocals and tweaked pianos; in short, it kills the mood.
With over a third of the remastered tracks comprised of remixed Earthquakes tunes, Tori could have easily self-produced a welcome reissue of the entirety of her debut. All of the other revisited tracks here are interesting, but far from essential. Some of Tori’s best sounds even better with age, technology, and some reconsideration; it’s not surprising. On the whole _Tales of a Librarian_ may have taken too many liberties with the balance of songs that Ears with Feet have been listening to obsessedly for years, and its newly produced songs are not even on par with the excellent web-only Bs from Scarlet’s Walk. Tales is a good back-catalogue substitute for new fans, and an unavoidable purchase for fanatics, but otherwise it’s just barely an adequate hits package.
Let It Be … Naked is an easy purchase to justify, as it’s something that i’ve wanted to hear for almost my entire life: Let It Be without Phil Spector.
For those of you not of the Beatlemaniac persuasion, the short of the story is that The Beatles completed the studio work used on Let It Be as a potential soundtrack to a groundbreaking live performance, but then shelved both the idea and the recordings. After Abbey Road was released, Spector was brought in to spruce up the comparatively unpolished studio takes for public consumption.
Naked ditches the Phil Spector polish of orchestras and choirs, as well as the multiple spoken segments and the brief “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It,” while adding a warmly analog digital conversion and a classic “Don’t Let Me Down” (currently found on Past Masters 2).
Spector-rectification aside, the restoration of the basic tracks is subtle but remarkable; rooftop concert vocals are all crisper (notably on “Dig A Pony”), guitar tones sound truer across the board, and Paul’s piano is more balanced on “Let It Be” and “Winding Road.”
The latter two songs also benefit the most from their remixing; “Road” is less periodic and more poignant without it’s loping string section, and with the added bonus of hearing more of the excellent piano work from Paul. “Let It Be,” on which the excess was less obtrusive, holds together fine with the quartet of Beatles ahhing in harmony without a backing choir. “For You Blue” sounds worlds different with the benefit of precise stereo mixing and digital EQ. Also noticeably different is “Across The Universe,” never slated for Let It Be in the first place before Spector stepped in, sped up to its original key and stripped of the airy scales and runs that had cluttered it.
Other revisions are less revelatory, though equally welcome. Aside from their vocals, “I Me Mine” and “One After 909” have a perceptible added crispness, with the former losing much of its organ part — a faithful but jarring choice. “I’ve Got A Feeling” loses a touch of analog fuzziness but otherwise sounds the same.
The changes are questionable on only two tracks. “Get Back” is mastered phenomenally, but it still ends without the refrain present on the Past Masters version — a less objectionable choice on Naked with the song rightfully tracked in the first slot. Original opener “Two Of Us” sounds like it’s gained a slight boost to Paul’s harmony, though it could just be the effect of a clearer mix. Though this choice is consistent with Paul’s lead on the bridge section, the song is not as charmingly self-referential with a reduced Lennon vocal.
Let It Be … Naked is remastering done right — it is a boon to the casual fan, and absolutely essential to the serious collector. It is of a higher caliber than the at-times slapdash Anthology discs, and its omissions and inclusion are purposeful rather than arbitrary or sales-drive. Most importantly, though, Naked presents a picture of what The Beatles actually sounded like at the end of their career, with production that favors the clarity of their performance rather than any commercial or personal gain. Other Beatles discs may be completely retracked or remastered in the future, but Let It Be is surely the last truly essential Beatles release.