By David Sason This week the Beatles get an illuminating polish, while Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan re-ups with way too many people around.
While there’s no dearth of Beatles coverage this week, there’s only one question that matters for many: How much better does the remastered music sound? Well, in layman's terms, holy shit! What a tremendous upgrade not only in volume but in dynamics and details, from mop-top gems like “Things We Said Today” (which suddenly gains a melodic jangly rhythm guitar and expert hi-hat tapping by Ringo) to denser, later productions like “Something” (which gains Paul's sprightly bass accompaniment & whose strings bloom like never before). The vibrancy of the songs have always transcended any technological limitations anyway, but now they sound simply incredible.
The stellar remastering of the canonical recordings is no surprise to recording veteran Allen Wagner, co-founder of Turn Me Up!, a non-profit seeking to preserve dynamics in music recording. “Allan Rouse at Abbey Road studios and his team have taken great pains to ensure they don't encroach upon such a timeless piece of music history,” he says. “They are being careful to not even add any equalization where it's not absolutely necessary, or a truly positive addition to the tracks.”
Thankfully those entrusted with the job of all remastering jobs are also mindful of Turn Me Up!'s mission. “I've had the chance to work with Abbey Road as a music mastering house and they refuse to participate in the so-called "Loudness Wars",” Wagner says. “If you request to have your songs mastered in that manner, they will politely tell you to go somewhere else.” You MUST hear for yourself.
Before exemplary TV show The Wire, we had Raekwon’s 1995 masterful opus Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, a chilling & expansive chronicle of the inner-city drug game that remains the best hip-hop work to draw heavily from the Mafioso/Scarface aesthetic. It rivals only GZA’s Liquid Swords as the most celebrated Wu-Tang solo release, but the amount of people wanting to be involved with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…PT. II, which finally got released this week, is the album's biggest problem. Whereas the RZA’s cinematic production on the original added dramatic heft and cohesion to the songs (and foreshadowed his film score work), the sequel’s consistency suffers from its varying producers (Dr. Dre, the late J. Dilla) and non-Wu-Tang guest rappers (Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss).
Still, most tracks are high-quality tunes further exploring the facets of the criminal life. A highlight is “Cold Outside”, a standout track courtesy of Icewater’s wailing movie-horn production and an intense verse from Ghostface Killah, whose Tony Starks alias is actually a more memorable presence throughout than Raekwon himself, especially on the anxious “Penitentiary” and the hilariously brutal “Gihad”. PT. II’s eclecticism ultimately makes its 22 tracks reach tedium before Slick Rick’s clever hook on “We Will Rob You”. The biggest letdown comes with the RZA-produced “Black Mozart”, which squanders a keyboard interpolation of the Godfather theme song on an average joint with Inspectah Deck instead of a worthwhile & lengthy posse cut. The verdict: PT. II has some good songs, but the album as a whole is inessential.---David Sason