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More enjoyable than it has been for a long time
on 10 August 2009
Given that this album is 20 years old and has been subject to no small amount of discussion regarding its status as "the best album ever" and whether it deserves that title (it doesn't; what does?), it would seem churlish to talk about the subjective quality of the songs on it. You probably know them, and know whether you love them or not. I loved them passionately 15 years ago, as a 15 year old. But there's been a lot of records between then and now, and I'd never presume to know what my favourite record is these days, let alone the best ever.
So what I will talk about is the remastering. Silvertone & Sony have repackaged the scant amount of material that The Stone Roses produced between 1988 and 1990 in so many ways that many fans of this music quite rightly feel taken advantage of; singles & b-sides compilations (some of them very shoddy), 10th anniversary editions, remix compilations, demo compilations, a version in an eco-friendly recycled card sleeve... but until The Very Best Of in 2002 they never bothered remastering any Stone Roses material.
The remastering on that compilation was good; it added some weight and impact to (early) material that was a little lightweight on CD, that first album floating in a reverb haze with little bass or clarity to anchor it in the real world. Maybe that was part of the appeal of the debut album; on CD at least, it almost seemed like a dream.
The remastering on this edition is, if anything, even better; John Leckie and Ian Brown have talked about putting the bass back in to the CD release that was always on the vinyl, and they've certainly done that; Reni's kickdrum in the opening to I Wanna Be Adored now has some serious impact on your solar plexus if you turn it right up on a good pair of speakers, and Mani's bassline opening to She Bangs The Drums doesn't vanish when the guitars drop in.
But there's also more definition; you can hear the detail of the strings & fingers in that same bassline better, too. Even Ian's vocals are improved; when he sings "I'd love to do it and you know you've always had it coming" unaccompanied in Shoot You Down (possibly the most sonically improved track) he actually does sound angelic, his voice recorded and presented with an exquisitely natural tone. The stop/start guitars at the end of that tune also sound irresistible.
Other moments I've enjoyed more than on the initial CD release include the chugging guitar riff that starts Bye Bye Badman, which now slowly moves across the soundstage from one side to another and back, something I'd never noticed before. Don't Stop has gone from being a backwards indulgence to a truly awesome moment, the added physicality of it suggesting that dub was as much an influence as 60s psychedelia.
People who worry about this kind of thing (I'm one) will be pleased to know that the album hasn't just been brickwalled in terms of dynamic range either; thought it is louder than it was, the songs still have contours - This Is The One is particularly awesome, especially when it gets into its swirling climax.
I doubt the remastering here will be as revelatory as that on the forthcoming Beatles re-releases (the Beatles' master tapes almost certainly sound better than the Roses', and the Roses' initial CD release sounds better than the Beatles', if that make sense), but it's made me enjoy this album more than I have done for probably a decade. Hopefully the b-sides and non-album singles will soon get released on a single CD so they're affordable - as much as I love them, I'm not spending £80-£100 on the deluxe whistles & bells box set.