So what, praytell, does it mean to "remaster
an album"? I asked around on a few mailing lists that i participate
with and i discovered the following.
An album is "mastered" when all of the elements are in place.
That is, all of the sounds are in the appropriate location,
from backing vocals to guitar solos to backwards masked exhortations.
At this point the music if often placed onto one tape, called
"the master tape".
One person i talked with likened this to saving a PSD with
all the layers properly organized. By likening the somewhat
cryptic art of recording to the familiar art of Photoshopping,
it made a lot of sense to me. I repeat it here in case it helps
To "re-master" is to take the master tape and rearrange the
volume levels of the various elements. Perhaps that backing
vocal needs to be a little louder, or that handclap needs to
be quieter. It is, of course, an artistic act comparable with
the initial mastering of the album. To return to my Photoshop
analogy, it involves changing channels on the various layers,
or maybe moving a few layers up or down. It does not, i am led
to understand, mean to turn off tracks in the recording (or
layers in the PSD). All of the elements remain present. Re-mastering
is about re-balancing in the perspecitve of hindsight.
So Robin Guthrie was comissioned by The Beggars Group, who
are the new corporate masters of art label 4AD, to remaster
his band's first four 4AD releases. This means that Mr. Guthrie
went back and made modifications to least three albums that
are often spoken of in the hushed tones of reverence.
At first this might be shocking. These albums are well-regarded,
and to re-master them seems, well, it seems almost sacreligious.
It's not like the albums were poorly recorded in the first place.
Not like they were done in mono or whatever. No, these albums
were recorded in the 1980's, with full stereo and the benefit
of lots of technology.
So why remaster them? Well, i think the whole thing is a plan
by The Beggars Group to cash in on the success of their recent
purchase (4AD). You see, Cocteau Twins were very well-regarded
outside of this country. In fact, i think they even had radio
hits in the UK. (Can you imagine!) So re-mastering the discs
gets a little bit of publicity for the label, and brings these
albums back into the public consciousness.
Which is a good thing, mind you. And i bought them (all 4)
to hear the minor differences in the re-mastered as opposed
to the original versions. (But then again, i'm a geek....) I
think the overall plan is that these albums, long out of print
but well regarded, will be made avaialble once more, in an inexpensive
format. Good. Cheap is good. Heck, available is good. And yet,
on the other hand, i can't help but feel that this is a shameless
marketing ploy, and i fell for it. (I hate shameless marketing.)
At any rate, if there is one good thing to come out of this
it is that it has forced me to get off my butt and review these
albums. So here they are, all 4 of them.
Head Over Heels
It might make sense to read them in order of release. At least,
when i wrote this stuff i intended for it to make sense
in a linear, chronological sort of way. You can judge for yourself
whether or not i succeeded.
One final, sort of overall comment: the re-mastering was really
unecessary. Well, except for on Garlands and parts
of Head Over Heels. For the most part even a diehard
fan like me can't really tell. But, whatever.
However, i do want to know: when is Guthrie going to re-work
this stuff into 5.1 surround sound?