Smashing Pumpkins and XTC: Tales in Flawed Deluxe Editions
Super Deluxe editions just seem to be getting bigger and bigger, and as the well begins to run dry on the “classic” albums of yesteryear that have yet to get a big-name re-release, labels are beginning to approve lesser-known, but equally deserving, re-issues of albums in their vaults.
Take for instance two recent deluxe editions to hit store shelves: a six-disc box set of the Smashing Pumpkins’ much-maligned but critically-lauded 1998 album Adore, and a special CD/Blu-ray re-release of XTC’s 1979 album Drums And Wires, an unjustly forgotten classic of British new wave.
Both are actually the latest releases in a pair of re-issue campaigns for both bands’ back catalogs, and while both should be lauded for their near-obsessive level inclusion of countless bonus cuts and additional tracks, both also make tragic mistakes that make recommending them a dodgy proposition, especially in the case of Adore.
But lets start by looking at the XTC release, as it’s so massive in scope that I almost wanted to make a pie chart or bar graph to help document everything included on it.
It starts simply enough, with the CD featuring all 12 tracks from the original album as well as six bonus cuts, which are as follows:
- Chain of Command
- Life Begins At The Hop
- Homo Safari
- Ten Feet Tall (Electric Version)
- Wait Till Your Boot Goes Down
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the real meat of this release is included on the accompanying Blu-ray. First up are additional bonus cuts that are not featured on the CD:
- Bushman President
- Pulsing Pulsing
- Officer Blue
- Over Rusty Water
From there, things get crazy, with a boatload of alternate/5.1 mixes, demos, rehearsals, instrumental mixes, extended versions and more all featured on the Blu-ray. In fact, there are so many added cuts on this disc that I don’t even think I can accurately count them. Super Deluxe Edition tallied them at 117, and I’m liable to believe them so lets just stick with that number.
And that’s great. It’s awesome, in fact. It shows that the people behind this re-release are really trying their best to offer up as much content as possible to please as many of the fans as they can. More producers and organizers of deluxe editions should take note of that. When in doubt, throw it all in. The fans will never complain about having too much material.
That is, assuming they can actually access it.
Are you a normal human? Do you listen to your music on your headphones or in your car? Well, then the majority of this release is entirely useless to you, locked behind the needless barrier that is Blu-ray audio. You can’t get it off the disc (at least, not legally, MakeMKV and FormatFactory are your friends in this regard).
Yes, I’m sure that the uncompressed Blu-ray audio makes the high-fidelity audiophiles giddy with excitement. And I can understand why. It’s not often that we get over 100 bonus tracks in high-resolution, better-than-CD audio quality (of course, most people can’t hear the difference, but whatever). Good for those people for being able to enjoy such a great record with a level of fidelity previously unheard of. But it would be nice to have access to that audio without being chained to my home audio system.
I feel like the creators of this special edition, while in tune with what the XTC fanbase wants, are suffering from a slight disconnect in terms of what the average person is capable (or willing) of listening to. Want to give us the audio in super hi-res quality? That’s great! But hey, let us take the audio off the damn disc! Include the songs as data files that can be copied to a computer, or give us a download code. The Blu-ray audio edition of Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing allowed for as much, why not do the same here? It’s an idiotic omission.
But at least they tried, and at least they showed a great deal of respect to the original source material. As such, I still recommend picking this one up. It has a pretty major flaw, but their hearts are in the right place.
The same cannot be said for the recent re-release of Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore.
At first, the release looks like a dream re-issue for a Pumpkins fan. Six discs of content. All new remasters. A disc featuring the previously vinyl-only mono mix, oodles of demos and outtakes, live material and more.
Sounds great, right?
No, actually it sounds terrible. I mean that literally, this release sounds terrible.
Now, to be fair, not all of it sounds terrible. The 2014 remaster by Bob (destroyer of Nevermind) Ludwig is fine enough. It’s slightly more compressed than the original mix, but it doesn’t sound worse – just slightly different. At the majority of demos and outtake sound fine too, or at least as good as demos and outtakes usually sound.
But the mono disc and the live disc, the most important discs to a fan like me, are just shit. Complete and total shit.
Compressed to hell and back. Dynamic range stripped away. They are noticeably louder than many of the additional tracks on the other discs, and in some cases distortion is noticeable. And even if you don’t pick up on the distortion, the fatiguing effect of the brickwalled tracks is unavoidable. This is a tire to listen to, which is really impressive when you consider how quiet the Adore album is.
As much as I would love to blame Bob Ludwig for this massive clusterfuck, the actual perpetuator this time around is Howie Weinberg, who in the past was known for his award-winning work on classic albums like Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet and Garbage’s Version 2.0. But now he’ll always be known to me as the man who took a giant festering shit on what should have been a stellar and welcomed re-release.
I don’t know why I’m all that surprised though. By and large the Smashing Pumpkins re-releases have been nothing but a series of “fuck yous” from Billy Corgan to his ever-dwindling devoted fanbase. Overpriced and overcompressed, at best they’ve been serviceable, but many have been plagued with inexcusable technical mishaps. This one isn’t as bad as the Pisces Iscariot one, which straight-up featured several mastering errors, but it’s a close fucking second.
Its infuriating. And, if the new “Pumpkins” albums weren’t evidence enough, serves as proof that Billy Corgan is now a lazy piece of shit, a two-bit hack that cares even less about his fans than he does his music. And that goes double for Mike Weinberg. He may have been a great audio engineer at one point in his life, but he’s nothing more than a shill now. A cheap gun for hire who will happily destroy an album for a paycheck, just like Bob Ludwig did with Nevermind.
While the XTC releases are marred by an out-of-touch production team who assume too much of their fanbase without giving them the options that they would prefer the most. Corgan and his band of merry has-beens seemingly have an open contempt for not only the band’s fanbase, but for the music itself. And I know this isn’t the case (at least in terms of the music, I actually do suspect that Corgan actively hates his own fans, Roger Waters style) the way he treats his own music sure seems to make it look that way.
Pick up the XTC re-issues if you’re a fan and hope that the people responsible for them get their act together and offer some more practical options in the future, but I can’t recommend the same for the Pumpkins reissues. I mean, hey, if you still like the Smashing Pumpkins then by all means, listen to these new re-issues. Put them on your iPod, enjoy the rare and hard-to-find outtakes. But for the love of god, don’t pay for them.
Steal them. Torrent and seed. Share them around. Fuck it. Fuck Billy Corgan. Fuck Howie Weinberg. And fuck anyone whose idea of “remastering” is to take perfectly fine source material and make it sound significantly worse.
And the fact that they’re going to ruin Machina next just breaks my fucking heart.