Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Post-Punk Reissues: The Top by The Cure

The Top
I am fascinated with the re-issues of various key post-punk bands that have been issued over the past couple of years. Ill-served in their initial rushed CD releases, groups like The Cure, The Boomtown Rats and Siouxsie & the Banshees are finally getting their just desserts. Or are they?

The re-issue project for The Cure is well underway. First thing out was the four-disk boxed set Join The Dots, chock full of b-sides and rarities. The first album followed and then the next three together.

Each of these releases has followed a similar path. First comes a double CD version, the first disk containing the original album, the second including home demos, unreleased takes, live versions and other glimpses into the creative process. In each case these tracks do not overlap with the boxed set.

The re-issues are "remastered" though I often shy away in fear when I see that label. I know a thing or two about mastering and realise that there are possibilities for good or bad if someone other than the original producer/mastering engineer is let loose on the project.

For the good, it is possible to clarify the sound using cleaner transfer processes and digital noise reduction. For the bad, remastering often means squishing the dynamic range to make everything sound louder. At its worst this creates a distorted smudged mess.

The remastering on The Cure project is brilliant. The music is rendered in a clarity that brings to life the inherent textures and increases the soul-gripping power of the music. I have not compared but am sure there is additional compression/limiting being applied. However, it is judicious and appropriate.

After listening to Three Imaginary Boys, 17 Seconds, Faith and Pornography I thought the best was over. With their fourth album Robert Smith had plumbed the Joy Division depths as far as he could. Subsequently he bounced back with the famous "Lovecats" period. (These singles were originally compiled on Japanese Whispers, a record that will not be re-issued as the tracks have found homes elsewhere.)

But a new set of three remastered albums is out. I must say that the cleanup job has done wonders on the fifth album, The Top, a sprawling drunken mess that marks the beginning of The Cure's "fat" period. This is not simply an unkind reference to Smith's corpulence, but an appropriate adjective for the sprawling ungainly music. While it is true that following this record the group would recover and pump out hit after hit, some of them lovely shimmering delights, they would never again "matter" in quite the same way.

The bonus disk here contains four live "bootleg" tracks including the version of "Forever" from 15 May 1984 in Paris. Collectors will note that with this recording the entirety of the 1984 cassette Curiosity has now made it to CD.

Of significant interest are the four non-album demo recordings, including the mythic "Ariel". After so long unreleased this was a bit of a disappointment. Indeed I prefer the more direct take from the Kid Jensen Session. Fans may also like to hear demos of "The Caterpillar" and its two b-sides "Throw Your Foot" and "Happy The Man", along with four other album tracks. Many of these sound underdone, though similar enough to the finished results; not much interest here, then.

Finally, there are alternative studio mixes of "Dressing Up" and "Wailing Wall", giving us almost the entirety of The Top in a different take.

The only version I find interesting is "The Caterpillar" itself, as it sounds like some hybrid of the finished single and Pornography, a missing link between gloom and glee.

Anyone who is a true Cure devotee will need this double disk issue. For the rest of you I recommend waiting for the single disk release. The remastering has given it a new lease of life.

I will write more of such re-issues shortly.

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1 comment:

--- said...

How important are your ears to you?

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