Review – Deluxe Reissues from Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Frank Sinatra, & Smashing Pumpkins – just in time for last-minute holiday shopping!

The CD revolution did not begin with new digitally recorded music. For the most part, the first CDs of note were digital versions of existing analog music. Often those first releases were very clean copies of the old stereo master tapes that had been transferred to digital audio. Some of those transfers were carefully done and sounded great, but other times the transfer was perfunctory. Over the past 20 years, the technology and approach have undergone significant changes and it is clear that remastered pop music is an art form that allows us to listen to the music we grew up with through a new pair of ears.

Differing philosophies about how best to accomplish this have created a consumer awareness when these projects are done correctly, and especially when they aren’t. In the past it seemed enough to just transfer the audio over to digital and call it a day. Early projects were seen as digital restorations, a bit like cleaning the tallow off the Sistine Chapel, with a variety of digital tools to polish and extract the sound. But for the most part this was accomplished using that final stereo mix, which represents a respect for the historical artifact of recording. A bit of audio cleaning, possible use of digital noise reduction, and annoyingly too much compression to make the recordings sound louder, are the tools of choice. The Beatles reissue campaign took this approach, but was respectful enough to clean up the audio yet respect the original mixes and sound, with minimal noise reduction and compression. The attention earned by that project was great for the music lover and helped set a standard for other projects.

40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung

The approach taken for the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung took another route that meant going back to the original multi-track recordings and remixing each track to match the original mixes, but with cleaned-up audio, and no noise accumulation from the mix tapes. The result is extraordinary, sensitive to the original release, but revealing a musicality never present before. This surprised me! I’ve listened to Aqualung since I was in high school, wearing out a couple of albums along the way, replaced with UK-pressed import editions, and finally with the early CD versions in the 80s. So, I felt like I have a good reference to draw upon.

Although many of the songs have been played to death courtesy FM radio, the new release is a revelation. Instead of merely polishing up the stereo master, the new version features an all-new remix from the original multi-track tapes and the end result is the music you’ve known and loved, but with more detail, soundstage, and musicality then ever before. Steven Wilson, who is known as both a musician and engineer, did the mixes. They improve upon the original mixes in every possible way. Ian Anderson acknowledged this is in the liner notes, mentioning the musicians were never happy with the original audio quality due to recording it in a new, overly large, and buggy studio. Aqualung features a mix of hard rock and acoustic work, and using the Oppo BDP-95 Universal Audiophile Blu-ray player, that transition from hard rock to acoustic folk music was handled with grace. The musicality and believability of the audio was outstanding. Soundstage has always been important, but in the case of acoustic work, the ambience of the room, instruments, and vocals are given a front and center position, so the coloration or lack of it is clearly apparent.

The care given this release is evident whether you’re listening to the two-disc deluxe addition with a fantastic second disc of outtakes and rarities, or the full-blown, super deluxe version complete with a vinyl disc, two CDs, one DVD, and one Blu-ray disc. The real stars of this set are the surround mixes – they are among the best I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, listeners can only experience them by purchasing the entire deluxe edition, complete with a lovely hardcover book, vinyl, and four discs. It’s an expensive proposition, but if you really love this album, you’ll agree it’s a worthwhile purchase. Every possible incarnation of the release is included: the original stereo mix, the new Steven Wilson mixes, surround mixes, the original Quadrophonic mix, and more. We think that this is the way all re-releases should be handled! The 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung is a Mac Edition Radio Holidays Pick!

Other recent releases include EMI’s well-publicized launch of the entire Pink Floyd catalog, a fresh look at the beginnings of Smashing Pumpkins via their classic Gish and Siamese Dream albums, and a lovely Frank Sinatra compilation guaranteed to put you in the mood for a martini and a lounge to drink it in!

Pink Floyd – Experience Edition

EMI’s well-publicized launch of the entire newly remastered Pink Floyd catalog revealed nuances and details that I’d never heard before in the music. While titles like Dark Side of the Moon have had several earlier excellent remasterings the new version had a more open soundstage with more detail at the edges and an overall clarity and range. Of all the Floyd releases, my vote for most improved goes to Wish You Were Here – Experience Edition. I compared earlier versions and this title stood out as being significantly more open, detailed, and solid. The guitar work in Shine On You Crazy Diamond came into focus with startling clarity. The dynamic range is impressive, and sucks you right into the music as never before. Well done!

The entire campaign has been handled masterfully by EMI, and the cost of the new discs is reasonable. The digipak packaging works well, with small booklets that add to the experience. Of course, nothing beats the full-size artwork of a vinyl LP, which you can also purchase if analog is your first priority. The truly deluxe version also contains the surround sound mixes, which we didn’t have the opportunity to review, but other reviews have been very positive. The remastering is done with restraint, with a minimum of compression, if any, and there remains a tiny bit of tape hiss, so they haven’t been noise-reduced to death. All the titles sounded better than earlier versions. Although Dark Side of the Moon fanatics seem to all have their own favorite versions, but I think the latest version is superior. The entire set comes recommended and you have a variety of purchasing options from normally priced single- and double-disc Experience editions to the fully deluxe versions complete with vinyl, books, and multiple disc formats. Head to your local retailer, order online, pick your favorites, and imagine that you are at a Laserium concert! The Pink Floyd – Experience Editions are a Mac Edition Radio Holidays Pick!

Sinatra – Best of the Best

Frank Sinatra recorded his best music for both Reprise and Capitol Records meaning that to get the full range of his recordings meant stocking up on two different catalogs. Not any more! Sinatra – The Best of the Best is a two-disc release with a solid collection of his hits from both labels. It also includes a superb (and surprisingly chatty) live recording from a performance on June 9, 1957, in Seattle, Washington, with Nelson Riddle.

This is the best of Sinatra from the 50s through the 70s, featuring wonderful arrangements and insightful liner notes from Frank Sinatra, Jr. Tastefully packaged, this is a perfect introduction to the “Chairman of the Board” at his best. We recommend the two-disc Deluxe Edition with the 1957 concert, as it makes it clear how much Sinatra enjoyed performing live. If that isn’t enough to get you snapping your fingers, the clean remastering is well handled and you can almost feel the atmosphere in the studio! Grab that Martini and enjoy! Sinatra – Best of the Best is a Mac Edition Radio Holidays Pick!

Smashing Pumpkins – Gish & Siamese Dream

One of the surprises this season is the release of vibrant new collections by the Smashing Pumpkins. When you think of the most popular alternative rock bands of the 90’s the Smashing Pumpkins is always in the upper ranks. Starting with Gish (1991) and Siamese Dream (1993) EMI is releasing the entire catalog in Deluxe Editions complete with remastered versions of the original titles, a second outtakes disc, and a third live DVD. The entire set is curated by founding member Billy Corgan, and contains imaginative packaging complete with postcards, a free download, and more. Billy Corgan has been in the news lately, with interviews, appearances, and discussion of this new set of reissues. After listening them it’s clear that they took this project seriously. Every aspect of this project oozes the kind of self-involved perfectionism that Corgan is known for.

 A Message from Billy” on the Smashing Pumpkins website states that “Gish, Recorded in 1990 and 1991, 'Gish' represents our first foray into the deep waters of rock and roll. In the music within, I still hear our naivete and fresh spirits asking to be heard, and I miss the times that helped make this music so earnest.” Siamese Dream, In 1992, with the weight of a perceived world on our shoulders, we disappeared into a parking garage to write the songs that would change the course of our lives forever. 'Siamese Dream' represents all of our dreams coming true, while the dreams of a happy band fell apart.”

It’s easy to forget that before the band became a public road map for the personal triumphs and tragedy that befell the band, it was a band capable of just about anything they put their minds to. The lush beauty of tracks like Crush from Gish and Spaceboy from Siamese Dream contrast beautifully with full-blown rockers. The often contradictory mix of lyrics and melody shine through wonderfully in the new collections. The extra tracks stand on their own and help to illuminate the choices the band made in assembling the original albums. The mastering is invisible to the point of reminding me of just how well recorded these albums were. After listening to them for years through a car stereo stuck in Los Angeles traffic, it was a revelation to hear them again with a richness and bottom end that I hadn’t heard before. These are great gifts for the Pumpkin lover in your life. The Smashing Pumpkins Gish & Siamese Dream Deluxe Editions are Mac Edition Radio Holiday Picks!

Harris Fogel, posted 12/23/11

 For more information on Jethro Tull's 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Aqualung visit:

For more information on Pink Floyd’s 40th Anniversary Why Pink Floyd? reissue campaign visit:

For more information on Sinatra – Best of the Best visit:

For more information on the Smashing Pumpkins reissue campaign visit: