Left to right: Shadrach, Meshak, Abednago
The concept of a remaster is always contentious. In cases where primitive technology limits the proper production of a sonic picture, a remaster makes a bit of sense. Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, for example, or Rolling Stones' Aftermath are, conceivably, albums for which a remaster isn't an entirely ludicrous idea.
Paul's Boutique, on the other hand, is but 20 years old, created in the modern, stereo age, with the aid of the Dust Brothers, arguably the most technologically savvy producers of their time. Have the last two decades really wrought breakthroughs that warrant a face-lift of the seminal hip-hop full length? And, furthermore, is it right or good to drag the last-stand of analog hip-hop into the digital age? Is Capitol Records murdering to dissect?
Probably not. Check for yourself-- the Beastie Boys website, in addition to an avalanche of other promotional materials, offers streams of the album at a high enough sample rate to allow for a comparison. Slip on your headphones, queue up the album up, and give it a listen.
Our opinion? The tracks do seem brighter, punchier, and lack a few of the snaps and crackles that made the album precious to all lovers of fuzzy warbles. In all, it's a hotter, cleaner mix, with more shine on the cymbal washes and a little less fat on the vocal takes. It's far from a necessary update, but the album still sounds terrific, and casual fans will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 2009 re-release and the original.
Of course, the content of the album is still a head-to-tail perfection, a brilliant Cliff's Notes of the decade of hip-hop that preceded it, and a clairvoyant glance at the future that awaited. In short, hip-hop has never been so immediately pleasurable, and so quietly challenging. And in the remaster, the entire thing simply seems to be tightened to accommodate the treble obsessed earbuds of an iPod culture.
The debate can chase its tail forever. What's the virtue here-- remixing the album to suit the modern times and increase its appeal to current and future generations? Or to preserve the spirit in which it was originally created, if at the expense of unknowable longevity?
There's a comment box below. Go at it.