ufoHe’s back and this week our resident classic rock columnist discusses the modern music phenomenon that is…the remaster/re-release/deluxe edition.

Just when you thought your favourite record couldn’t sound any better our man in the know suggests it can. Sometimes.

Read Self Made Man‘s exclusive column right here every week.

 

Can you remember those TV adverts asking consumers to taste-test bread with two different spreads on them?

And after being told that their favoured one was actually a …shock, horror….margerine, they declared (totally spontaneously of course!!): “I can’t believe it’s not butter.”

In more recent times, we’re supposed to tell the difference between a £5 bottle of plonk and an £18.99 wine only sold at Waitrose.

Perhaps an even more relevant example is to compare food products from discount supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi to more established fare bought off the shelves of Tesco, Asda or Sainsburys.

The purpose of all these surveys is to prove that ultimately, there is little difference to all but the most discerning judge.

So what’s this got to do with a music blog? Well, nothing actually but I thought it a clever way to introduce the subject of remastered albums.

You know those that are supposed to provide you with a totally different musical experience from the one you initially encountered on buying the album when it was first released!

There’s a record store in the United States which offers customers the chance to listen to a particular song in three separate listening booths. One plays it from the store’s own digital library, one from a CD and the third booth plays music from an LP.

The store claims that customers prefer the latter experience though won’t give a breakdown of the overall results.

The first “remastered” music I ever bought was Led Zeppelin’s er…Remasters, the first “best of” package from the band, released more than 20 years ago.

The fact I bought Remasters on cassette did, I guess, defeat the whole point of the exercise but at the time I convinced myself I was being treated to a whole new aural experience which (the lack of) technology couldn’t offer me back in the 70s.

Naturally, when Pink Floyd reissued Dark Side Of The Moon to coincide with the 1973 album’s 30th anniversary, I believed all the hype that surrounded the release and snapped it up on the day it went on sale.

And admittedly, it did sound better than the original particularly when you listened to the music on headphones.

But if I was to be totally honest, I would concede that if I was to undertake a listening test, similar to the ones those shoppers undertook, my answers would be nowhere the 100 per cent mark in terms of being able to distinguish between the original and the remastered.

Given the choice, I’d still buy the remastered ahead of the original but this probably had more to do with the extensive sleeve notes on offer than the music itself.

Later this month, Led Zeppelin re-release Physical Graffitti, arguably the greatest album ever made, in digitally enhanced format and at the risk of contradicting just about everything else I’ve written, I’ll be buying it for the superior sound quality on offer.

I bought all five Led Zep albums which were released last year primarily because of the bonus discs on offer which offered a variety of live tracks, differently mixed tracks,  tracks without lyrics and on or two which never made it onto the official studio albums.

But the highlights were on the main CD. Jimmy Page’s remastering of songs such as When The Levee Breaks, Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love and Since I’ve Been Loving You has to be heard to be believed.

I can guarantee that with these remasters at least, if I was asked to distinguish between the new versions and the originals, I’d enjoy a 90 per cent plus success rate and so would most Zep fans.

I’m convinced that in many cases, remastered packages are so much style over substance but with Page at the mixing desk, these Zeppelin albums are the real deal.

Ian Murtagh