The Digital Empire’s plan to digitally-re-master-everything-in-the-universe reeks of hubris. Like some binary fairy dust will finally make those cruddy old 20th Century analog masters — music attached to magnetic tape using rusty metal particles — sound just right. Silly us, we thought the analog Kind of Blue, Electric Ladyland and The Ramones sounded ok. But what did we know from “sounds ok”?
Now, praise Goth, the super powers have gotten around to digitally re-mastering the Judas Priest catalog with “bonus tracks” included on each album to sweeten the pot. This brings up the revisionist side effects of digital re-mastering. The re-mastering process does not just give us our favorite albums in a sonically improved format, it also alters the form and meaning of the original albums. British Steel now carries two extra tracks. This means that if you liked the way the original British Steel built up to the fully erect, sweat-soaked climax of “Steeler”, well, it doesn’t end that way anymore. You’d better postpone orgasm until after “Red White & Blue” and a live version of “Grinder”.
Just to change things even more, artists use digital re-mastering as an excuse to go back and experiment with remixing tracks or even entire albums. The remixes on the re-mastered Roxy Music catalog and Iggy’s remix of the re-mastered Raw Power are examples. If Iggy wants to tweak the knobs one last time, he’s got a right. But remixes on digital re-masters permanently replace the original mixes. The original mix of Raw Power is no longer available, so you’d better like Iggy’s remix. Of course, the Empire will eventually cash in on our nostalgia and give us Raw Power: The Pre-Iggy-Remix Mix and British Steel: The No-Bonus-Tracks Version.
Bottom line? Digital re-mastering changes our relation to the music. The re-mastered product re-positions us in relation to itself as connoisseurs and collectors. Have you noticed how reviews of the Judas Priest re-masters stress ideas about serious rock and roll CD collections including a selection of Judas Priest, to represent the heavy metal genre? Whatever happened to head-bangers who didn’t give a crap about complete outtakes and digital transparency rolling up a joint on the creased cardboard sleeve of British Steel and spazzing out to “Metal Gods”? I guess we’ve been digitally mastered.
I didn’t notice any enhancement of the sound quality on “Living After Midnight” and “Breaking the Law”, probably because I don’t have bat ears. Judas Priest is still the ultimate 13-year-old-male fantasy band, and British Steel is still the ultimate expression of rock in red spandex with an English accent. It’s just that, ever since all this digital re-mastering began and Rob came out of the closet, nothing seems the same. When I plunged this silver sphere into the CD player on my Harley, gunned the engine and headed out on the highway, the blonde on my passenger seat tightened her arms around my glistening, titanium abs and yelled over the wind and Rob Halford in my ear, “Why are you listening to this shit? Don’t you have those Sheryl Crow CDs I lent you?”