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Old music in shiny new packages

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I had some quiet days off after Christmas, during which I had the time to enjoy my newly acquired music. Though the “new” should perhaps be put in quotes…

Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt Deluxe Edition

First of all, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since this was first released. I guess I can’t continue to refer to Lowest as one of the “new” bands that I like.

The core of this reissue is a remastering of the original CD.  But though I played it through my best available sound system, I couldn’t actually tell if it the sound quality was noticeably improved. I suspect that’s because I couldn’t help singing along with every track at the top of my lungs. (Yes, I was home alone at the time. Cats didn’t seem to mind.)

What remains apparent, though, is that this is a damn good album. Nearly 65 minutes long, with no bad songs. It’s an irresistible mix of super-catchy tunes and really intelligent lyrics. So you like the album on first listen, and don’t hate yourself for it later on repeat listens.

Below is an audio-only video of “Rosy and Grey” from Shakespeare My Butt—it appears they never made proper videos for these tunes…

The reissue also includes a DVD, where the same visuals come with two soundtrack options: Interviews and Soundtrack. On Interviews, you get various band interviews that were all news to me, because for a band I like so much, I actually knew nothing about them. Like, the band members’ names, or anything. Now, I’m better informed, and they do come across as thoughtful and decent guys. On the Soundtrack portion, you get these alternate versions of the Shakespeare songs on variety of instruments, including a kazoo! It’s pretty cool, actually, and I’ll probably replay that version more.

And finally, you get liner notes, mainly by Dave Bookman of 102.1 The Edge (so it really strikes me that in the interview segment, the band says they can’t get their newer stuff played on The Edge anymore, because they’re not on the corporate playlist) and British novelist John Donoghue, for whom this album inspired a novel of the same name.

Ray Davies: See My Friends

While this CD does consist of all new recordings, it is of older songs, redone as duets between composer Ray Davies and various artists: Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams, and so on. A lot of long-time Kinks fans hate this thing, some complaining so vociferously about it that I was almost afraid to play it.

But now I think they’re just being grumpy and close-minded. True, not everything is great here: Bon Jovi doesn’t exactly improve on the original “Celluloid Heroes”, and while I’m all for women tackling songs originally interpreted by men, Paloma’s version of “Lola” just comes across as weird.

But other things work really well. There’s just a rightness to Metallica, one of the best metal bands ever, interpreting the song widely credited as the original metal song, “You Really Got Me”. And Amy McDonald made a great choice in covering “Dead End Street”, a 1965 song that unfortunately sounds like it’s describing today’s conditions. The interaction between her and Ray is also quite charming.

I also enjoyed the creative mashing of certain songs: “Days” with “This Time Tomorrow” by Ray with Mumford & Sons, and “All Day and All of the Night” with “Destroyer” by Ray with Billy Corgan. The slightly less-known songs “Long Way from Home” and “This Is Where I Belong” are nicely interpreted by Lucinda Williams and Black Francis. And if Jackson Brown doesn’t really improve on the Kinks original “Waterloo Sunset”—who could?—at least he doesn’t wreck it.

The Who – Live at Leeds Deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition

This one was my Boxing Day gift from me to me, as put it on sale from $79 to $49 Christmas Day. UPS delivered it to me on December 29. (I see it’s now back to $79, plus you have to wait 3-4 weeks for it.)

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this that basically boiled down to:

  1. Damn! I’m tired of buying this same album over and over!
  2. Wasn’t the original six-track album perfect in itself? Why keep adding stuff?

To point 1., I sympathize, but I’m not really in that boat. OK, I did buy Leeds once before, but only once, and that was as an iTunes download. I’d since been kind of regretting that, since iTunes downloads don’t have quite the full audio quality of a CD. Plus, I’d been feeling that this was one case where having the LP would be fun too, if I could find one with all the original inserts and such.

So, this package, a mondo thing that includes the original LP, a hardcover book with all the originals inserts (and other stuff), the deluxe CDs, plus another two CDs  of the previously unreleased Hull concert, and even a 45 of Summertime Blues / Heaven and Hell, was perfect for me.

And point 2—why keep adding stuff?—I thought was just stupid. I mean, if The Who had sucked that night except for the original six songs, then you might have a point, but they didn’t. The whole concert was amazing. So why wouldn’t you want it all? If you’re that nostalgic for the six songs, create a playlist of just those ones.

Nevertheless, the LP is the first thing I played when I got the set. Apparently it preserves the original cracks and ticks that were excised from the digital version, but I can’t say I found them that noticeable. And it’s good, of course, but man, is it ever short. I will say that it is impressive that the original made such an impact, despite its brevity.

And the other add-ons? Well the book is a nice collection of Leeds-related information, some of which I’d read before, some I hadn’t. Along with reproduction of album inserts, it has some great photos, and a play-by-play of each song on deluxe CD.

I’ve listened to the Hull concert a couple times. Though they did an admirable job of restoring the sound to this (in particular, bass was missing from the first six tracks and had to be Frankenstein-ed in from Leeds), there’s no doubt that Leeds sounds better overall. Hull also has a lot less of the between-song patter you get on Leeds, and I miss that, since Townshend and Moon are hilarious. But it is a great one for admiring Moon’s druming, as that’s really forward in the mix. It’s also interesting how two concerts, with identical song line-ups, two nights apart, can nevertheless have quite a few differences in interpretation. This was not a band that just went through the motions. Therefore, to me, it’s worth having both (even though I also have Isle of Wight, and Tanglewood, and some of Woodstock, all of from this same period).

I do find it slightly annoying that we get both concerts not in the original order, for the purpose of keeping all of Tommy on one CD. But that’s easy enough to rectify manually.

So, the only thing missing from this package? Video. Herewith I gave you the only footage released from the concert so far, from a Japanese release of Leeds, apparently. (This was pulled down from YouTube a while ago, but seems to be back.)

Striking to me how tiny the stage was. This was one of the biggest bands in the world at that time, and they were playing at a university hall. That doesn’t happen anymore, and that’s partly why we no longer get live albums as good as Live at Leeds.

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