Sure, anyone who’s made a party-mix CD-R with ABKCO’s low eq’d Stones CDs from the late ’80s would want to hear the original London albums sonically overhauled. But who wants to fork over $18.99 22 times to Allen Klein, the still-undefeated bastard supremo of rock? A guy who managed to siphon $216,000 off the charity triple album Concert For Bangladesh by illegally selling promotional copies that didn’t buy a single speck of rice for the starving? No less karmically damaging is the way he’s hoarding the entire Cameo-Parkway catalog, determined that no one gets the original versions of “96 Tears” or “The Twist” on a CD in their lifetime. What’s the thinking here — that it’ll be prudent to open up the vaults after the last living Bobby Rydell fan activates his Medic Alert bracelet?
Seems no one’s getting any review copies of these Stones remasters, either — Rolling Stone’s David Fricke reviewed the lot of ’em without offering one detail to make you believe he’d actually listened to the things. Where’s mention of the lavish digipak covers that need an extra panel to explain what the hell SACD and DSD mean? How come Fricke didn’t chastise ABKCO for not including two measly bonus songs on the 38-minute U.S. Between the Buttons that would’ve rendered a U.K. version unnecessary? Maybe Fricke spaced mentioning the real big draw here — each CD comes bundled with a certificate of authenticity! Well, awwlryyyyht! Collect all 22 certificates and you can assemble a B&W reprint of Their Satanic Majesties Request cover on the back, the Stones’ second-most-loathed London-era album (we’ll get to Metamorphosis in just a moment). So when I gritted my teeth and bought six of these reissues, goddamn it if they didn’t all have the same fuckin’ puzzle piece inside! Serendipity, thy name ain’t ABKCO! Here’s a cheapo roundup of six of the albums.
I started with Let it Bleed, the one with instructions that this record must be played loud! But with this new Super Audio-Hybrid-Stereo-Direct Stream Digital Whatchamacallit format — my favorite Stones album now sounds like it had way too many steroids and can’t make it up the stairs anymore. You can only turn it up just so much before everything distorts — at least on most human people’s audio systems anyway. Plus, you hear all sorts of newfound misery — “Gimme Shelter” sounds like somebody put the mic too close to the Coke machine, and on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” you get what you don’t need — so much clarity that you can guess what some of the London Bach Choir had for lunch. Do you really want to delve that deep into the title track to hear Charlie miss a beat or get done in by a sloppy tape edit that you never noticed before? The biggest shocker was “Love In Vain,” when Keef’s acoustic gets plucked so hard it emptied an entire shelf of Homies figurines. It’s unsettling seeing an old album do new tricks like this — almost like coming back from vacation to find your girlfriend’s tongue can suddenly wrap around your neck.
On the other hand, Beggar’s Banquet and Between the Buttons improve considerably by letting you hear the bass guitar and the acoustic guitars so clearly. Clarity could’ve nearly ruined a ragtag collection like December’s Children, where two live cuts are surging with screaming girls and squeaky strings. We love tracks like “She Said Yeah” because they are a beautiful sonic mess covered with oppressive layers of crud that bury the vocals; the fuzzy guitars and bass congeal into one giant buzz like a hornet’s nest flying into a bug zapper. Somehow they’ve managed to keep and separate the crud so you can fly through it in columns like it’s The Matrix. The reprocessed stereo sound is thankfully absent on older tracks like “Look What You’ve Done,” which originally sounded like some engineer was trying to match Jagger’s body weight with reverb.
If you’re on a budget, you’re best starting off with Through the Past Darkly. You’ll get an absolutely menacing “Paint It Black,” an actual stereo version of “Honky Tonk Woman” and a “Street Fighting Man” that pisses over a sonically inferior “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (which has a dropout that makes you feel like you’ve got water in your ear).
Completists who already own all the early ABKCO albums will want to purchase the first-time-on-CD Metamorphosis, the album that contains many of Andrew Loog Oldham’s brazen attempts to turn The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band into Gene Pitney. It contains the best-ever song about latent homosexuality, “I’d Much Rather Be With the Boys,” and more than a half-dozen Let It Bleed/Beggar’s Banquet outtakes. Sadly, this is the only outpouring of unreleased material that ABKCO has ever seen fit to dole out — and that was back in 1975. You want more but don’t want to pay bootleg prices? Get in line behind the people still waiting for Dee Dee Sharp CDs to show up.
The Rolling Stones will perform at Ford Field (2000 Brush St., Detroit), Saturday, Oct. 12. No Doubt is also on the bill.
E-mail Serene Dominic at firstname.lastname@example.org.