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Friday, June 19, 2015

New 2015 Sticky Fingers Deluxe Edition Remaster

Thoughts?  Here's some stuff I put in my listening notes.

Remaster of the original album material

This is for the iTunes and Vinyl versions.  Supposedly the CD versions are just the 2009 remaster, but the Vinyl and iTunes versions are remasters that primarily pull a LOT of the 2009 version's compression, which was horrid, though it did at times cover over some flaws in a few recordings that I'll point out.  The 2009 remaster did some good work to bring a few parts up that were buried in the mix, brought some power to the rhythm section, then proceeded to undo all of that good work by just loading on massive amounts of compression.  The newer master brings out the power and clarity that the 2009 remaster uncovered, and then undoes the compression, allowing the album to maintain its dynamic range.  

It Really is a travesty that the CD versions are the inferior 2009 remix (and yes, I bought the CD and a FLAC CD rip sounds DRAMATICALLY worse than the 256 kbps iTunes version) and to get the vastly superior remaster you either have to go vinyl or limit yourself to a 256 kbps iTunes AAC mix.  I'm personally fine with 256 kbps AAC, but it'd at least be nice to have a FLAC/lossless option.  Really wish iTunes would release an apple lossless version of all their "mastered for iTunes stuff" as they are given UNCOMPRESSED 24bit source material for them.  They have it just sitting in their vaults, and don't use it, but I digress.  

Song by song:

The blown out speaker or mic that Keith Richards (left side of the mix) was playing through from about 1:00 into Brown Sugar onwards stands out even more in this mix.  Definitely doesn't sound like regular tube amp distortion, or even mixing board distortion.  But regardless it's been there on every version of the song I've ever heard, and it's even more apparent here, because the mix is clearer.  I wish this didn't bother me as much as it does, but meh, it turns something that's always been livable to something I can't get past in this remaster.  

Sway, in particularly is a mess.  It always has been, it seems to stand out even more with this remaster.  Everything is congested and sounds like the board they were recording to was simply being overloaded.  Nothing has any punch to it and it all sounds like just mush.  Pity, because it's otherwise I think musically one of the strongest songs on the album.  Again, I think it's just apparent how badly it was mixed on this remaster, as the clarity otherwise added really makes the muddiness in the original mix stand out more.

Wild Horses gains a delicacy to the acoustic guitars, a fullness to Mick's voice and a and a power when the drums kick in.  The quiet parts are delicate and the loud parts are powerful.  As it should be, the stripping of the compression here is a revelation.  You hear Keith's acoustic guitar distort the board and/or ribbon mic that was recording him, at times, but that's always been there.  It doesn't necessarily sound bad, although it could maybe sound better.  But again, this is mostly because the recording is clearer and is showing thing that were previously covered up by recordings that were clipped at the ends of the frequency response and/or compressed to hell.  Here, it's laid bare, for better and worse.

Can't You Hear Me Knocking varies, at times sounding defined in a way the track never has, and at others having a congested, overloaded feel.  My guess is that this is the remastering stripping the mix down and revealing deficiencies that were always there.  


You Gotta Move gains a clarity and richness that previous masters lacked.  The kick drum having both a character and power that it never had.

Bitch (the original version, not the alt take bonus version) really cuts in a good way.  Can't get over how good this remaster sounds.  It probably bumps this song into a top 5 cut on the album for me, simply because of the increase in sound quality.  It really makes you want to move, it hits you, it's sharp and powerful at the same time.  

I Got The Blues really clarifies the guitars and gives them much more distinct character.  The rhythm section is more powerful and there's more subtlety to Mick Jagger's vocal delivery.  I think this is one of the tracks that benefitted most from the remaster.  

Sister Morphine also benefits.  The kick drum that comes in at 2:11and full drums at 2:40 really are even more powerful, which for many had always been the defining moment of the song, it's made even grander here.  The instruments are much better separated in the mix, you have a feeling of being in the studio that wasn't there previously.  

Dead Flowers really clarifies the reverb that characterizes the feel of the guitars.  Originally kind of a thick goup of reverb, here it's more crisp and "nasheville-y"

Moonlight Mile again brings more clarity.  The piano parts are more easily identifiable in the mix, before only occasionally being noticeable, here they're clear throughout the entirety

Overall, the original recordings are largely improved with this remastering.  They much more take advantage of good sound equipment and more fill up the entire audible spectrum, instead of compressing everything between 60Hz and 8kHz like previous masters.  The drums and bass are more powerful, the guitars and vocals crisper.  At times, however, this more revealing master doesn't do already poorly recorded songs any favors.  Partly because they reveal their flaws, partly because the more poorly recorded songs sound much worse in comparison.  If this remastering has a flaw, it's that it makes the album sound a bit less cohesive, because it accentuates the differences in the multiple recording environments.  The tracks laid down at Muscle Shoals tend to have their rhythm section power amplified, the tracks recorded in the mobile studio tend to show when things were being overloaded a bit more.

Bonus alternate cut Material

Brown Sugar's alternate cut is rawer, and some will prefer this to the more measured studio cut.  

Wild Horses completely acoustic cut is fairly similar to the studio version, except no electric guitar, which really lays bare Mick's vocals, which, again, is mostly a matter of taste.  To me, it sounds like something is missing.  Others may appreciate the more sparse arrangement though.  

Can't you hear me knocking essentially slows down the opening riff, makes it a bit more tentative, but in some sense also funkier.  And it cuts out the horns, which depending on how you felt about the horn jam in the middle of the song, is either a great or terrible thing.  At the very least it's worth hearing if you're a stones fan.

Bitch's alternate cut really showcases mick taylor and keith richards trading licks to an extent that may not be surpassed in Stones' recorded history.  It doesn't necessarily do service to the song, but is a very fun listen regardless.  How much you like it in comparison to the album version probably depends on your feeling about extended guitar solos.  

Dead Flowers is probably the alternate version that's most clearly inferior to the studio cut.  Mick Jagger clearly doesn't sound like he wants to be singing the song.  Mick Taylor kind of just players over everything way too much (perhaps sensing that the cut was uninspired otherwise and trying to compensate).  Keith's guitar is weirdly low in the mix.  Wyman and Watts seem to be still getting their measure of the song and more providing an uninspiredly basic background for the rest of the band to figure out the song.  They're still clearly working it out at this point, not earnestly trying to get an actual usable album song.  Nobody really needs to own this unless you're a huge Mick Taylor fan, as while he overplays on the song quite a bit, his playing, like always is top notch.  

Bonus live material

The five Live at the Roundhouse songs included are all amongst the best live Stones recordings.  Both the band's playing and the recording quality are at their peak.  Mick Taylor gives the band a live fire they never had without him.  Mick Jagger's voice is probably at its peak of swagger and soulfulness.  Bobby Keys is at his best.  The mix is good to great, especially for the Stones, whose live mixes tend to be pretty bad (usually because they were aimed at filling a large stadium).  It's not the allmans' live at the fillmore east, but it may be the best the Stones ever sounded live.  It's a pity you only get five tracks here.

The live at Leeds university recordings area bit congested in the way most live Stones recordings are.  You get 13 tracks, but sound quality isnt quite up to the Live at the Roundhouse recordings' level.  It's still better than most Stones' live material though.  Keith Richards is all kinds of loud in the mix (both vocals and guitar), which depending on your feelings about Keef, is either out of place, or the most incredible thing ever.  Mick Taylor is buried in the mix.  Definitely worth owning for the Stones fan.  

Conclusion

Overall, despite the fact that it's mostly a money grab for the Stones, I think it's worth owning if you're a Stones fan.  The remaster, I think, overall brings the recordings, which were originally mastered with transistor radios, single speaker middle of the dashboard car speakers, and maybe a fairly outdated HiFI in mind, into a more modern mix, taking advantage of today's audio equipment's ability to reproduce a full 20Hz to 20kHz spectrum.  This decongests the mixes, adding both a power and a clarity that isn't there on the original mixes and is better than most of the remasters (yes, I've bought them all).  Some songs, which sounded passable on older mixes really have their flaws brought to the fore.  While I've never really noticed much difference in most of the Sticky Fingers remasters, this one is noticeable, to my ears, which is mostly a good thing, though it does have a few mixed moments.  

The alternate cuts are all, with the exception of Wild Horses, worth owning, to see what may have been, and some will prefer some of these to the album versions.  

The live material is definitely on the better end of the spectrum for live Stones material.

It's a money grab, sure, but it doesn't mean it's not worth it either.  

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