My light shines on

A funny thing happened to me yesterday. Well, maybe not funny. Whatever I can think of to call it this event was certainly different. A bit of exposition:



Twenty years ago a great album was released. One of many great albums from 1991 in fact. (My senior year of high school, for the record, was 1991-1992.) Like so many great LPs from 1991 I heard this LP in the mid-90s. Maybe 1994/1995. The LP is entitled Screamadelica by the group Primal Scream. Named for Arthur Janov’s regressive therapy where you find yourself “reborn” and yelling, more or less. The band has its roots in the Jesus & Mary Chain, Scottish noise merchants who made one classic and several non-classic LPs, the first few discs featuring the drumming of one Mr. Robert Bernard “Bobby” Gillespie. Gillespie spun out of the group, formed his own and signed to Creation Records, a record label founded by an ex-school chum/terrific ginger named Alan McGee. After releasing a few uninspiring records on Creation the band commissioned a remix from DJ Andrew Weatherall. Taking the main hook from the band’s “I’m Losing More Than I’ve Ever Had” Weatherall created a completely new song, a classic in fact, that was renamed “Loaded.” The song was released as a single and changed the landscape. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but it ain’t.

The record is a classic warm weather record, and from the opening gospel of “Movin’ On Up” to the lullaby soothing sounds of the closing “Shine Like Stars” there isn’t a duff note on the LP. And not only is the LP classic but so is the visual, created by Creation Records’ on site artist, Paul Cannell. The cover is vivid red with a chunky, chalky looking sun with eyes staring back at the listener. On CD the cover is striking, on vinyl it is engaging and soothing in spite of the vivid red. I can only imagine being 18, 19, 20 when this LP came out. It sounds like it could be epochal and the type of disc that you would listen to again and again and again until the sounds turned into strands of your own fabric, your own DNA. The music sounds young, full of promise and hope for the future.

The song “Come Together” is a personal favorite. I would talk about the song with my friend Carol from time to time. I think I remember our mutual conclusion that the song was a mix tape killer. The opening lines on the US version are “Kiss Me/Won’t You Won’t You Kiss Me,” pretty hard to pop that song buried on side two of a tape and hope it won’t be noticed. Ain’t nothing subtle about that song and you would hate to end up in the realm of Hope Taping Is Killing Me. Years later I realized the ultimate time to have played the song, the pinnacle where there would be nothing that could top the moment it was played: my wedding. Walking up the aisle at the MSU gardens with the song blaring out of the speakers? Holy shit, that would have been an instant classic! We just would have hoped to have stopped the song before the “I Want You To Touch Me” stanza. Gotta stay classy.

Twenty years after the initial release and seismic shift, comes the inevitable reissue. I think this is the second reissue that comes from a classic slightly pre-Nirvana world. The debut LP from the Stone Roses was from 1989 and was reissued two years ago, also in the 20th Anniversary format. And as with the Roses the Scream saw fit to offer TWO versions of the LP, one with 2 CDs (the item I bought) or the uber-mammajamma version with LPs, a t-shirt, stickers, three CDs and a HUGE red round box that conjures images of an acid damaged version of Metal Box.

I ordered the double and received the disc in the mail in early April. It took SIXTEEN days to arrive from the UK (grumble) and I eagerly opened the cardboard to find the CD in its mini-LP format. Not wanting to waste any sonics or fidelity I dug out my CD Walkman and grabbed my trusty an ancient Sony Studio Monitor headphones. I have two small children and a CD player that is three more skips away from the Office Space FAX treatment. This setup, however meager, allows for a more personal, direct interaction with the music. In the case of reissues of beloved music it does allow the listener to really hear the different sounds the remastering drug up from the mix. The Beatles catalog launch of 2009 was an event made for headphones. I listened to my select purchases and heard things within the mix I had never heard before on the LPs and will never not be able to hear again. In the case of the Stone Roses I heard new harmonies and new instruments I hadn’t heard in my 16 years of prior listening. Surely there would be more of the same from Screamadelica, an LP created in high times by high individuals with high aspirations. Factor in the talents of Mr. Kevin Shields (the sonic terrorist behind My Bloody Valentine and a touring member of Primal Scream in the early 2000s) and I was VERY excited to see what changes the LP would be undergoing. Turns out there weren’t that many.

The first, and greatest, change comes in the clarity of the mix. As music was continually entering new technological breakthroughs over the past 20 years, recorded works don’t really sound ALL that bad. But during the A/B process with Screamadelica one could really hear the sound of the mix rather than anything new in the mix. “Slip Inside This House” featured buried, muddy vocals in the original pressing. Now you can really hear the words. They may be blurry, but they feel equal in the mix. Another change, subtle but welcome, is the boosting of the bass and the reducing of the hiss found on the US version. Listening in headphones you really notice this difference, and when you hear the sounds and words with this clarity it does take you back to the first time you heard them. And apart from those two substantial sonic changes the only difference is the inclusion of the original UK version of “Come Together,” one of the LP’s centerpieces. I’ve heard this version before, can’t remember where (Trainspotting 2 soundtrack?) but I’ve heard it before. And frankly when I first heard it I was shocked as it samples a bit of the speech Jesse Jackson gave to the gathered crowd at WattStax in 1972. I tried to use that speech on a mix CD once and could never pull it off. Probably as it had been done before, in a much greater fashion!

I will admit that when the CD skidded to a halt after “Shine Like Stars” I was a bit disappointed. And then I got a bit pissed off. I’d spent this money and waited waited waited for this CD to show up in the post and which was only slightly better than the version I’ve had for 15 years? What bullshit. I felt ripped off. Then I realized that not every disc you buy as a reissue is going to be a revelation, it might not open up new doors that you haven’t heard before. We have become spoiled, in so many ways. We expect so much more, in so many ways. Lately I have been dreaming to a time where we weren’t all connected by cables. Where we didn’t follow tweets and wall posts. I’ve been thinking about a time where you connected with artists, musicians and such in your imaginations, or in magazines. I miss that chasm; the chasm is what was special. That distance came with waiting and not feeding the monster at every turn, needing more more more. When I was hired in my first record store in August of 1994 I remember reading a notice about Nirvana’s Unplugged CD having its release date pushed back two weeks into November. I had no idea that show was being released on CD. Would these same thing happen now? I’m sure I’d know and would have known for months. Nothing feels special anymore. We don’t live in a 24-hours news cycle as much as we live in a 15-second cycle; everything is dissected, mulled over, picked apart, tossed aside and forgotten until tomorrow’s nostalgia show. Patience is a virtue, one that we lost patience with about 13 years ago.

Ultimately I am glad I have this reissue. The phonics are such that you are actually able to play the disc LOUD, which is a great improvement over the previous edition. Gone are the days that the sounds of a reissue will be akin to removing a cloth covering your speaker. Rather than insane sonic breakthroughs we must take comfort in the facts that the technological leaps from one generation to the next allows for a full sonic spectrum to reach our ears. Which in some ways is making the music new again. Can’t think of anything better.

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