Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Anniversary Editions Are Good at Arriving at the Right Time

Album reissues are at once a cash cow and tricky business for record labels. In an industry with ever-fading physical media sales, anniversary edition releases are not only a chance for companies to resell old property as new, but a chance to take advantage of already-beloved material to sell elaborate, expensive versions to waiting collectors. The stakes are high, though. With late 60s/early 70s classic rock albums reaching their 50th anniversaries, and said collectors often already owning multiple iterations of the album for sale, any reissue needs to fit the scale of the occasion, or risk falling flat and leaving unsold stock in unvisited retail outlets. Once the vaults have been emptied of suitable rehearsals/alternate cuts and everything has been remastered, it leaves the question of what else to do to justify another rerelease. For entries in the extended catalog of Beatle-related albums, this has recently involved not just remastering, but remixing the music. These, too, are murky waters. For every fan eager to hear the classics reinterpreted, another is concerned about the "sanctity" of the original, and there's typically no way to please everyone.

All Things Must Pass is an important and surprising album in nearly every way. On its release, it represented an explosion of material from an underrecognized talent, who was nonetheless famous worldwide. It arrived at a time when even double albums remained unusual in popular music, to say nothing of triple albums -- of which it was not the first, but did the most to set the stage for others to come. Then there are the tonal contradictions of the music itself. Lyrically, the album represents George Harrison going all in on the religious themes which had been ascendant in his songs since 1967. In keeping with his earnest Hindu devotion and bitter experience with the breakup of the Beatles, this often took the form of rejecting material matters in pursuit of spiritual fulfillment. Musically, however, the album was bombastic, with an outsized Phil Spector production that Harrison would later come to at least partially regret. Not for nothing, the minimalist themes also stood in conflict with the inclusion of a third LP of jams which, for all of their quality of musicianship and historical import, have often been dismissed as superfluous.

If the lyrical content of All Things Must Pass tended towards the ascetic and its music towards the indulgent, the album's packaging borrowed from elements of both without fully embracing either. Certainly, the very presence of a case and inclusion of 3 LPs and a full-size poster would have made a grand impression in 1970. Even so, the black box and small gold lettering would have evoked the visual vocabulary of a classical music album for collectors of the time, while the front cover's grayscale palate belied the wonderful eccentricity of the photo itself. While the pastoral theme was representative of Harrison and where his true interests lay in 1970, the overall package evoked the contradictions of the album it contained, and defined a good portion of its lasting appeal.

When George Harrison revisited All Things Must Pass in 2001 for its 30th anniversary, he publicly voiced disappointment in the album's production. Plans to remix the album were reportedly rebuffed by EMI, and Harrison opted instead to include a handful of demos and a rerecording of "My Sweet Lord" which was said to better reflect his initial conception of the song. Outside of sequencing, the album came out sounding much as it had 30 years earlier. The packaging, however, was substantially altered. The original cover was first garishly colorized, then digitally altered inside the case to reflect the artist's concerns about humanity's tendency to blight its environment. Predictably, these changes, however insubstantial, were met with mixed reception. "My Sweet Lord (2000)" was described as pretty indistinguishable from the original, except perhaps to demonstrate how much Harrison's voice had weakened a year prior to his death. No dramatic changes were made to the packaging thematically outside of the cover art, and when All Things Must Pass was quietly repressed on vinyl in 2010, the 40th anniversary version's packaging had reverted to that of the original.

In keeping with the 50th anniversary Beatles releases of the past 4 years, the most recent edition of All Things Must Pass fulfills all the expected criteria. Bonus tracks are abundant and include enlightening variations on the final album cuts alongside tracks that were never completed or featured on an album. The new stereo mixes by Paul Hicks offer enough changes to provide fresh looks at the songs without changing their basic identities; they more than likely won't please every purist, but are also not substantially enough better remastered to warrant those purists feeling dissatisfied with the other versions already available. For the exceptionally dedicated (or the idly rich), there is a positively decadent $1000 "Uber Deluxe" set housed in a wooden crate, with extras including replica figurines of George and his gnome friends from the cover. Tastefully, this version does not include any music unavailable on other, substantially cheaper variations. For anyone not purchasing the treasure chest, the album's packaging is designed to evoke the original release, from color schemes to a reproduction of the original pack-in poster.

Finally, there's the iconic cover. Previous Beatle releases had opted to mostly preserve the essences of the original releases. Wisely, the iconic covers of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road were left almost entirely unaltered [1]; the White Album retains the essence of the original's starkness, but superimposes grayscale versions of the bandmembers portraits on the front. When George Harrison opted to redo the 30th anniversary cover - and indeed, when he was denied the chance to release a reconfiugured version of the album itself - it was, on a small scale, in line with the late career revisionism that had landed George Lucas in hot water with Star Wars nerds only years earlier. These changes are not inherently a problem. In some cases, they may, as the artists will usually claim, faithfully represent their original visions; if nothing else, they certainly serve as a valuable source of insight into the mindset and creative process of those artists at the time they get to revisit their old work. The issue becomes thornier when that artist is dead. In Harrison's case, the mantle has been taken up by his son Dhani, who not only bears a striking physical and aural resemblance to his late father, but was also already closely involved in his musical work before his death. Still, while it's hard to dispute that Dhani Harrison may be the best suited person to make artistic decisions in his father's absence, it's also hard to see one of George Harrison's properties altered in any substantial way without at least passively considering what he might have thought about it had he been around. Sensibly, following George's death, his estate has shied away from altering the album's iconography as much as he opted to 20 years prior. The 2021 edition of All Things Must Pass adds a "50th Anniversary" subtitle to the cover in the stately Abbott Old Style typeface used for the original. The only other alteration is the understated but striking decision to colorize the font and Friar Park treeline in a lush green. 

Memories of George Harrison shared by those who knew him since his death in 2001 depict a man who was ambivalent about his time wavering in and out of the spotlight, and at his happiest in quiet, natural settings. He famously wrote "Here Comes the Sun" while playing hooky from a meeting with the Beatles' accountants, wandering around Eric Clapton's garden with an acoustic guitar. The complete package of the 50th Anniversary set strikes a difficult balance between allowing the album to remain itself while asserting its context within Harrison's life as a whole. It would have been an easy choice to make, especially in light of the 30th anniversary redo which never was, to attempt a stripped down version of All Things Must Pass (a la Double Fantasy) and present it as the definitive cut. The gentle remix and bonus tracks instead highlight a 27-year-old Harrison who was both relieved to have left the Beatles for (literally) greener pastures, and also eager to make a grand statement which he only in retrospect might have preferred to tone down. Similarly, the Harrison estate refrained from what could have been a defensible decision to artificially transport George from the photograph into a setting which more overtly emphasized his treasured relationship with nature. Instead, with a subtle tint, they pointed out that it had been there, in plain sight, all along.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Animal Crossing: New Horizons OST Tracklist

Though Animal Crossing: New Horizons failed to win any major Game of the Year awards (in the US) after its bigger-than-expected release, it was the definitive game of 2020, providing a chance at social connection and a retreat to normalcy to gamers worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The game features a wonderful, expansive soundtrack overseen by sound director and longtime Nintendo composer Kazumi Totaka. Though complete YouTube playlists of game music were available to stream within days of the game's release, an official soundtrack release didn't take place until an elaborate, Japanese-exclusive, 7-disc box set arrived in June 2021. Given the absence of an official American release (so far), there is no official English-language tracklist or album cover available online. The album cover to the right is a composite made from the existing Japanese box, with icons slightly juggled and the English-language logo superimposed. (Unedited images of the Japanese-language cover are available elsewhere.) Below is a translated tracklist for all 7 discs, including the 4 disc "BGM" set of background music and the 3 disc "Instrumental" set of K.K. Slider songs. With any luck, Nintendo will someday opt to officially release the soundtrack in the West, at least so that my translating effort can be graded for fidelity.  

Disc 1

  1. Opening Theme
  2. 12 am (Clear)
  3. 1 am (Clear)
  4. 2 am (Clear)
  5. 3 am (Clear)
  6. 4 am (Clear)
  7. 5 am (Clear)
  8. 6 am (Clear)
  9. 7 am (Clear)
  10. 8 am (Clear)
  11. 9 am (Clear)
  12. 10 am (Clear)
  13. 11 am (Clear)
  14. 12 pm (Clear)
  15. 1 pm (Clear)
  16. 2 pm (Clear)
  17. 3 pm (Clear)
  18. 4 pm (Clear)
  19. 5 pm (Clear)
  20. 6 pm (Clear)
  21. 7 pm (Clear)
  22. 8 pm (Clear)
  23. 9 pm (Clear)
  24. 10 pm (Clear)
  25. 11 pm (Clear)

Disc 2

  1. 12 am (Rain)
  2. 1 am (Rain)
  3. 2 am (Rain)
  4. 3 am (Rain)
  5. 4 am (Rain)
  6. 5 am (Rain)
  7. 6 am (Rain)
  8. 7 am (Rain)
  9. 8 am (Rain)
  10. 9 am (Rain)
  11. 10 am (Rain)
  12. 11 am (Rain)
  13. 12 pm (Rain)
  14. 1 pm (Rain)
  15. 2 pm (Rain)
  16. 3 pm (Rain)
  17. 4 pm (Rain)
  18. 5 pm (Rain)
  19. 6 pm (Rain)
  20. 7 pm (Rain)
  21. 8 pm (Rain)
  22. 9 pm (Rain)
  23. 10 pm (Rain)
  24. 11 pm (Rain)
  25. 12 am (Snow)
  26. 1 am (Snow)
  27. 2 am (Snow)
  28. 3 am (Snow)
  29. 4 am (Snow)
  30. 5 am (Snow)
  31. 6 am (Snow)
  32. 7 am (Snow)
  33. 8 am (Snow)
  34. 9 am (Snow)
  35. 10 am (Snow)
  36. 11 am (Snow)
  37. 12 pm (Snow)
  38. 1 pm (Snow)
  39. 2 pm (Snow)
  40. 3 pm (Snow)
  41. 4 pm (Snow)
  42. 5 pm (Snow)
  43. 6 pm (Snow)
  44. 7 pm (Snow)
  45. 8 pm (Snow)
  46. 9 pm (Snow)
  47. 10 pm (Snow)
  48. 11 pm (Snow)

Disc 3

  1. Resident Services (Tent)
  2. Resident Services
  3. Blathers' Tent
  4. Museum (Entrance)
  5. Museum (Fish Exhibit)
  6. Museum (Insect Exhibit)
  7. Museum (Fossil Exhibit)
  8. Museum (Art Exhibit)
  9. Airport Lobby (Speaker)
  10. Airport Lobby
  11. Able Sisters
  12. Nook's Cranny
  13. Nook's Cranny (Upgraded)
  14. Nook's Cranny (Closing)
  15. Jolly Redd's Treasure Trawler
  16. Dreaming
  17. Island Life Orientation 1
  18. Island Life Orientation 2
  19. Island Life Orientation 3
  20. Island Life Orientation 4 (Campfire Evening)
  21. Island Life Orientation 5 (Normal)
  22. Island Life Orientation 5 (Rain)
  23. Island Life Orientation 5 (Snow)
  24. Island Life Orientation 6 (Normal)
  25. Island Life Orientation 6 (Rain)
  26. Island Life Orientation 6 (Snow)
  27. Island Life Orientation 7 (Normal)
  28. Island Life Orientation 7 (Rain)
  29. Island Life Orientation 7 (Snow)
  30. Deserted Island Day (Normal)
  31. Deserted Island Day (Rain)
  32. Deserted Island Day (Snow)
  33. Deserted Island Night (Normal)
  34. Deserted Island Night (Rain)
  35. Deserted Island Night (Snow)

Disc 4

  1. Tournament (In Progress)
  2. Tournament (Participating)
  3. Easter
  4. Wedding Season (Reese and Cyrus)
  5. Wedding Season (Party)
  6. Fireworks Display
  7. Halloween
  8. Thanksgiving Day
  9. Thanksgiving Day (Cooking Start)
  10. Thanksgiving Day (Cooking Complete)
  11. Christmas (Snow)
  12. Christmas (Clear)
  13. New Year's Eve Countdown (11 pm)
  14. New Year's Eve Countdown (11:30 pm)
  15. New Year's Eve Countdown (11:50 pm)
  16. New Year's Eve Countdown (11:55 pm)
  17. Happy New Year
  18. New Year (12 am)
  19. New Year (2 am)
  20. New Year's Day
  21. Festivale
  22. Festivale Dance (Normal)
  23. Festivale Dance (Complete)
  24. Deserted Island Getaway Package Check-In Counter
  25. K.K. Slider Dream
  26. Island Broadcasting (Tom Nook)
  27. Island Broadcasting (Isabelle)
  28. Facility Completion Ceremony
  29. Travel (DAL Fanfare)
  30. Travel (In-Flight Broadcast)
  31. Travel (Waiting)
  32. Travel (Welcome)
  33. Travel (Seeing Off)
  34. ! Rescue Service
  35. Invite with Amiibo
  36. Chased by Wasps
  37. Stung by Wasps
  38. Stung by Scorpion/Tarantula
  39. Get Fanfare
  40. Complete Fanfare
  41. Radio Jingle (Morning 1)
  42. Radio Jingle (Morning 2)
  43. Radio Jingle (Morning 3)
  44. Radio Jingle (Morning 4)
  45. Radio Jingle (Morning 5)
  46. Radio Jingle (Morning 6)
  47. Radio Jingle (Afternoon 1)
  48. Radio Jingle (Afternoon 2)
  49. Radio Jingle (Afternoon 3)
  50. Radio Jingle (Afternoon 4)
  51. Radio Jingle (Afternoon 5)
  52. Radio Jingle (Afternoon 6)
  53. Radio Jingle (Evening 1)
  54. Radio Jingle (Evening 2)
  55. Radio Jingle (Evening 3)
  56. Radio Jingle (Evening 4)
  57. Radio Jingle (Evening 5)
  58. Radio Jingle (Evening 6)
  59. Radio Jingle (Easter)
  60. Radio Jingle (Halloween)
  61. Radio Jingle (Thanksgiving Day)
  62. Radio Jingle (Christmas)
  63. Radio Jingle (Countdown)
  64. Radio Jingle (Festivale)
  65. Opening Theme (Remote Performance Version)

Disc 5

  1. K.K. Cruisin
  2. Lucky K.K.
  3. Mountain Song
  4. Aloha K.K.
  5. Hypno K.K.
  6. Surfin' K.K.
  7. K.K. Stroll
  8. Two Days Ago
  9. Only Me
  10. Pondering
  11. K.K. Birthday
  12. Bubblegum K.K.
  13. K.K. Safari
  14. K.K. Western
  15. K.K. Lament
  16. K.K. Rally
  17. K.K. Marathon
  18. K.K. Calypso
  19. K.K. Country
  20. K.K. Groove
  21. Agent K.K.
  22. Soulful K.K.
  23. K.K. Salsa
  24. K.K. Samba
  25. K.K. Chorale
  26. K.K. Jazz
  27. K.K. Jongara
  28. K.K. Swing
  29. K.K. Ska
  30. Mr. K.K.
  31. K.K. Soul
  32. K.K. Song

Disc 6

  1. King K.K.
  2. K.K. Tango
  3. Imperial K.K.
  4. K.K. Dixie
  5. K.K. Disco
  6. K.K. Synth
  7. K.K. √Čtude
  8. K.K. Sonata
  9. K.K. Milonga
  10. Rockin' K.K.
  11. K.K. House
  12. K.K. Ballad
  13. Café K.K.
  14. K.K. Adventure
  15. K.K. Parade
  16. K.K. Rockabilly
  17. The K. Funk
  18. K.K. Fusion
  19. K.K. Flamenco
  20. K.K. Blues
  21. K.K. Bossa
  22. K.K. Moody
  23. K.K. March
  24. K.K. Oasis
  25. K.K. Aria
  26. K.K. Mambo
  27. K.K. Folk
  28. K.K. Metal
  29. K.K. Love Song
  30. K.K. Lullaby
  31. K.K. Reggae
  32. K.K. Rock

Disc 7

  1. K.K. Bazaar
  2. K.K. Waltz
  3. K.K. Steppe
  4. K.K. Dirge
  5. Farewell
  6. Comrade K.K.
  7. K.K. Mariachi
  8. I Love You
  9. K.K. Technopop
  10. K.K. Island
  11. Animal City
  12. Drivin'
  13. K.K. D&B
  14. K.K. Casbah
  15. Neapolitan
  16. To the Edge
  17. Steep Hill
  18. K.K. Gumbo
  19. K.K. Faire
  20. Spring Blossoms
  21. Marine Song 2001
  22. Stale Cupcakes
  23. K.K. Condor
  24. Wandering
  25. My Place
  26. Space K.K.
  27. Welcome Horizons
  28. Forest Life
  29. DJ K.K.
  30. Go K.K. Rider
  31. K.K. Ragtime

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020

One of the sad realities of Warriors fandom before the team's improbable rise was two decades of sharing a division with Kobe Bryant. At regularly-scheduled intervals, the Lakers would arrive in town for what felt predetermined: 30-50 points from Kobe and another undistinguished loss. And while "predetermined" made it sound like fate, the reality was probably worse: Kobe Bryant, deliberate and inevitable.

Inevitability was the hallmark of Kobe's career. The sense in watching him was that every triple-teamed layup, off-balance fadeaway, and clutch free throw was going in. Of course, the truth -- increasingly stark as his career wore on -- was something different more often than not. To be sure, he had his titles (3 with Shaq, 2 to prove he didn't need Shaq), but if his winning seasons defined his on-court legacy, his losing seasons were emblematic of his mentality. Hot takes, head coaches, and backcourt partners would come and go, but Kobe would ever remain Kobe. He would call his own shots and live with the consequences. Which is, of course, easy enough to do when you've won more titles playing hero ball than anyone else in history, save only your idol.

It having been a Warriors game, I was watching when Kobe tore his Achilles in 2013. Talking heads were professionally obligated to question whether he would (or could) ever return, but no one who had been paying even passing attention to Kobe Bryant doubted he would play again. When he took 50 shots and dropped 60 points on Utah the last time he stepped on an NBA court, well, of course he did. And as he transitioned from retired basketball player to Oscar winner and ESPN-sanctioned sports media mogul, one could hardly be surprised when it felt... inevitable.

It's truly jarring to see a man so willful die so young, and to think at all about the legacy of a 41-year-old with young children. My friends and I didn't enjoy much of Kobe's basketball prime, but even as adolescents tying too much of our identities to a poorly managed franchise, there was no point in denying the obvious, fair or not. In retrospect, I'm glad to have had the chance to have followed the NBA so closely across his entire career. On reflection now, it's apparent that what made Kobe Bryant so singular as a basketball player is an equally rare and remarkable quality to find in anyone: unflinching commitment to their vision of themself.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Get Yourself a Shave

My earliest memories of Local Hero come from Golden Gate Video. The store's comedy section was pressed up against the back left wall, across from the mini fridge with the 50¢ sodas. For years, Local Hero's enigmatic VHS cover watched over me as I scanned across new Adam Sandler releases and middle-period Bill Murray fare, always registering but never quite prompting me to rent it. This lasted until late middle school, when I rented the tape on one of our earliest family vacations to the Stanford Inn by the Sea in Mendocino. All at once, the film's soggy, vaguely enigmatic cover art gave way to a subtle but fully realized little world, reflecting a foggy Northern California coastline with an almost uncanny accuracy.

I began to collect DVDs in 2001, after noticing a Tower Records ad for the entire first season of The Simpsons miraculously spread across only 3 discs. Counter to my Mom's concerns that the discs were audio-only CDs, I in fact discovered not only visual quality surpassing any home media I'd seen before, but supplemental features; creator commentaries provided precious new insights into The Simpsons, but also introduced me to a way of learning about the media I loved which I would never have dreamed of. I quickly learned that not all DVDs were created equal. Transfers, special features, and even cases varied substantially between releases, with lower profile releases slipping into stores without the bells and whistles afforded their more popular counterparts. So it was that Local Hero arrived to my home in a snapcase, accompanied only by its trailer with a transfer that barely surpassed the preceding VHS releases in quality (albeit in widescreen).

Local Hero stuck with me through the ensuing years like few movies ever have. I watched it repeatedly in 2004 after losing my vision, with Ferness serving a perfect getaway after appointments. I included a rip of the film in the care package I sent my wife as she studied abroad shortly after we started dating -- a choice which in retrospect seems to say as much about how highly I thought of her as vice versa. As the years went by, I became more conscious of the high grain transfer with successive viewings on TVs at home and mobile device screens I'd bring on planes. My archaic DVD slipped quietly out of print, and in the absence of an American market replacement version (save a similarly bare bones appearance in a Burt Lancaster 4-in-1 pack), I settled with an understanding that my much loved disc would have to be enough.

I bought my first Criterion Collection DVD in 11th grade and began collecting them in earnest in college. When I joined My Criterion, I entered Local Hero as the film I'd most like to see added to the Collection. More than a decade later, the June email announcing future releases arrived with Local Hero as a surprise inclusion, characteristically tucked away second from the bottom. Three long months later, my snapcase DVD could at last be retired, likely 18 years after its original purchase.

The upgrade justifies the wait. The transfer looks terrific, offering well deserved clarity to the film's beaches and the craggy faces of its remarkable character actors alike. The abundant archival material is accompanied by an impressive amount of extras from director Bill Forsyth, who's largely retired from the industry since my old DVD was pressed. Local Hero's soft-spoken personality has always belied both the nuance of its characterizations and its assured craftsmanship, and it was never going to clamor for a reexamination (let alone the princess treatment) on its own. I hope this rerelease can help to broaden the film's exposure and call attention to it as the Great Movie it really is. For me, it's wonderful after half a lifetime thus far to see Local Hero with some of the visual haze stripped away, but the foggy core ever intact.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

My Top 10 Albums of the 80s: (3) The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

[This is the eighth in a series of ten posts. The list'll be revealed as entries are written.]

The Stone Roses arrived on the international scene fully formed with their eponymous 1989 debut, a vast and outrageously confident album befitting a band that had already been touring for nearly 6 years. Through a complex series of contract disputes and interpersonal conflicts, the band would ultimately come to stand as the forebears not only of the figureheads of a second British Invasion, but also of those groups’ tendency to fizzle out just as they reached their peak. The thin drums and trebly basslines of The Stone Roses anchor in 1989 music that borrows liberally from very nearly everything preceding it – including, almost as if to make a point, Renaissance balladry on “Elizabeth My Dear.” The guitar-dominated proceedings certainly owe a great deal to The Smiths, an influence which may also have unlocked such unabashedly pretty moments as the chiming “Waterfall.” Much has been made of the absence of overt electronica on The Stone Roses, given band’s place within the drug- and dance-centric Madchester scene. If it isn’t quite a party album, though, it’s a relentlessly kinetic one thanks to its powerful rhythm section and swaggering frontman. The latter does ultimately steal the show, singing “I Wanna Be Adored” and “I Am the Resurrection” with absolute conviction, and either no awareness of or no concern for the disconnect. The effect is something of a magic trick, lending plausibility to The Stone Roses as a miraculous flash in the pan arriving at the precipice of the 1980s to encapsulate the decade, rather than the slow brew it really was. It was perfectly appropriate that the band’s next act was effectively to disappear.

Friday, November 24, 2017

My Top 10 Albums of the 80s: (4) Paul's Boutique - Beastie Boys

[This is the seventh in a series of ten posts. The list'll be revealed as entries are written.]

Following an abortive career in punk, the Beastie Boys made an overnight leap to stardom with Licensed to Ill, a tone poem of gleeful idiocy that quickly became the best-selling album in hip-hop. Headed by producer Rick Rubin, and armed with an even more finely tuned version of the rock formula already worked to near-perfection on Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell, Licensed to Ill proved an enduring surprise, thanks to the sharpness with which the Beasties skewered the frat culture they had, from the outset, (mostly) transcended. Even those who appreciated the wink behind "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)," though, could never have anticipated Paul's Boutique, which presented hip-hop as a legitimate mode of expression on a scale never before attempted. It honed the wit of the debut and was saturated with a pop culture referentiality presaging nearly 3 decades of post-Tarantino media to come. It retained the signature, labored rhymes that lent the MCs their peculiar charm, but also provided the maturing rappers with genuinely impressive technical showcases. Finally, it lay upon an unparalleled bed of samples assembled by the Dust Brothers; befitting a medium that lives and dies on the spoken word, it not only surrounds and invigorates the lyrics, but complements and occasionally even answers them. Smarter than Licensed to Ill, better produced than Raising Hell, and more consistent than Straight Outta Compton, Paul's Boutique survived a vigorous commercial flop to find acclaim throughout the world of rap as perhaps the first album fully to live up to the genre’s potential. Of course, subsequent to the album’s release, both momentous litigation and a growing awareness on the part of record labels of the potential profitability of sample-based music would ensure that no album could ever be made to sound quite like Paul's Boutique again. Few other hip-hop albums have ever sounded so literate; far fewer have ever been as immaculately produced; and possibly none to date have been so resoundingly successful in both.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Peak Ringo

The ubiquity and adulation of the Beatles makes it difficult to cover their songs: one tends to mimic the arrangements and fail to recapture the magic, or else stray too far and fall flat (except in the presence of transcendent talent). Likewise, while many artists have revisited old songs late in their career, precious few rerecordings have offered value beyond their inherent novelty. A number of rock's legends are by now far enough into their 70s to have had one, or even a few, releases that have addressed aging with grace, and even elegance. With Ringo Starr recently releasing Give More Love, appended with 4 rerecorded back catalog tracks, it was easy to wonder whether he could follow his contemporaries' lead and produce a late-career curveball.

Ringo's discography features only one overt foray into introspection, which followed on the heels of Paul McCartney's nostalgic Memory Almost Full and borrowed from it liberally, thematically and musically. Almost by definition, it was a kindhearted look at a remarkable early career that offered little insight into its author. There's no doubting the song's sincerity, but it sounds like Ringo attempting a reflective Paul McCartney song, which in its heart it probably is. By all accounts, in Give More Love Ringo has produced his eighth-or-so consecutive amiable and largely indistinguishable studio offering. It was perfectly unsurprising for Ringo to revisit the well for 4 bonus tracks to please old fans on a nineteenth solo album. It is at least a bit surprising that one rerecording offers something different from the original.

"Don't Pass Me By" was written in 1962 and released on The Beatles 6 years later. It's a typical White Album recording, sharply arranged and more than a little frantic (especially in its sped-up mono incarnation). It's a simple song that perfectly suited a 1968 Ringo, earnest and immersed in the lovable sad sack persona he'd cultivated in the band's movies. While it was written as a raucous country and western number, it's been retrofitted into a gentle bluegrass arrangement, in keeping with 5 decades of changes to the genre and years lived by the performer. Where the other 2017 rerecordings are happy to retrace the originals' steps, "Don't Pass Me By" was shrewdly allowed to amble, affording Ringo an opportunity to sound not only laid back, but quietly dignified.

Ringo presumably never will release a Memory Almost Full: it's not just that his musical stylings aren't suited to a statement album, but that statements exceeding "Peace & Love" in complexity are not part of his personality. When he ends his own 55 year old song with a reprise of "Octopus's Garden," he sounds at 77 like a man at peace with himself and still content to sit in quiet safety with his friends. We should all be so lucky.