“Anniversary editions” of an album rarely stand up to the hype. It’s as if the record companies, having run out of new recording formats to remarket to the public, latch on to these in place of having the next 8-track, cassette, CD, or SACD, or what not. Like, the jig’s up. We don’t feel inferior for only having MP3s.
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Once in a while, however, they’re totally worth it. For example, Beck’s tenth-anniversary Odelay — it wasn’t even obvious there needed to be a celebration — but the bonus material was so good it turned it into an even better double CD than it was as an original single disc. (Just to be clear, I’m referring to the two-CD set, not the insane four-LP, $100 aberration still making the rounds. If you’re a vinyl junkie, God bless ya. Stick to music that came out on vinyl in the first place, not faux vinyl-fied CD releases.)
The Stone Roses is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its release this summer, and Legacy is pulling out all the stops with three separate editions due August 11: The Special Edition includes the remastered album with an expanded booklet; Legacy Edition adds the Lost Demos, featuring 15 tracks including the previously unreleased “Pearl Bastard” and a 1989 concert DVD. The Collectors Edition ($129.98) adds a third CD of B-sides and non-album singles, a 12-inch album folder with three vinyl LPs in a gold foil-embossed hardback slipcase. And this takes the cake: A lemon-shaped USB flash drive with promo videos, ringtones, wallpapers and previously released John Leckie home video footage of the recording of “Fools Gold.”
An aside: I’m an incorrigible collector. Hell, for three years I edited a 1,800-page price guide that attempted to price every baseball card since the 1860s in every condition. I own a couple dozen watches, and hundreds of fountain pens. Let’s not even talk about rock and blues autographs and ticket stubs I’m keeping for posterity. At present, I must have 10 different collections going (and why does Fred Lynn return, unsigned, the 2001 Fleer Red Sox 100th Anniversary cards I keep sending to his home address? What else does he have to do, really? Mow the lawn? C’mon!) I eat this stuff up, and The Stone Roses rocked my life when it came out. But even for someone like me, the LPs and flash drive are over the top. That’s way too much money for a manufactured collectible in this hardscrabble economy where we’re all picking up pennies we see on the pavement.
Thankfully, Sony sent Popdose a preview of the tuneage, so we can break it down and answer the question: Is it worth it, and if so, which editions represent the best bang for your music buck?
In a word, yes. Which one? The midline Legacy Edition. Upon several weeks of listening, I can vouch for the remastered original album sounding quite nice. Remasterings don’t often make much difference to my ear, although some (like Live At Leeds by the Who) can sound worlds better. In the case of The Stone Roses, things become more clear and dramatic, such as the extended introduction to “I Wanna Be Adored,” which used to be so much sonic mush to open the album but is actually quite the dramatic crescendo recast two decades later. “Elephant Stone” is crisper, more staccato. In general, things just sound a lot more live and interesting–a legitimate reason for repurchase of this disc even if you’ve held on to the beloved original. Don’t even get me started on the closing track “I Am the Resurrection,” the Roses’ “Stairway to Heaven” with its sweeping build to guitar nirvana at the end. And don’t get me started on the new realm of clarity and beauty to be experienced on the new “She Bangs the Drums.” Wow. It’s like we were looking at a slightly out of focus picture for years, and this is what we should have been seeing.
The demos are, for those fans hardcore enough to still be reading, precious. Stripped of the processing and studio sheen, Ian Brown sounds more tone-deaf than on the finished product, ’tis true, but in these tracks the band sounds more like a band than they do on the final work–answering the question of which came first, the producer or the group. It offers enough insight into the development of the songs that–if you were into the band back in the day–the demos CD will definitely hold your attention.
As for the extras, well, most Stone Roses fans have heard this stuff before, legitimately or otherwise. Not much to look at here, unless you were one of the poor sots who missed out on the CD of studio floor clippings Turns Into Stone. If you’re one of them, the bonus stuff is worth checking out.
The bottom line is, at least for this fan, the box set makes me fall in love anew with The Stone Roses. That’s a tall order, because I’d worn the CD threadbare through overplaying it over the last 20 years. Yet, in the democracy of my iPod, these tracks have found their way toward the top of the recently most-played list, and will likely stay there for some time to come.