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The Breakdown: Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Opeth, U2

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One last big blast of what the industry hopes are massive, can't-miss releases before the shopping season begins – it's pretty obvious looking at the list this week. It's all greatest hits and weird repackagings the likes of which we would never see any other time of the year. However, it's also the day that brings two of the biggest re-releases of the entire year, the ones that will likely not end up under many music freaks Christmas trees – they'll have already bought these themselves.

Genesis – Live Over Europe and 1983-1998 (Box and Individual releases): Given the fact that I've seen absolutely no talk about Live Over Europe, I'm going to assume that few really care about this live album that documents the reunion tour from this past summer. It looks almost to be buried by the label with no warning whatsoever of its impending release – it's just here with no fanfare, and given the lukewarm responses to the shows, that's no surprise.

On the other hand, the second installation in the remix/remaster campaign curiously focuses on the band's least appealing period, from the self-titled 1983 album through the final, Phil Collins-less Calling All Stations in 1997. It's as if the label actually wants to show you that they're really not tuned in at all. This box of material that few fans are dying to get is readied for the hot Christmas season while the box that all the fans are eager to wrap their ears around, the Gabriel years set, lingers in limbo . . . ?

As it is, the material on these albums has been remixed from the masters to update their sound, so they won't sound exactly how you remember them, and each album has a DVD with surround-sound versions of the album tracks. If you opt to buy the box, you get not only the requisite book but also a disc of bonus tracks (and the surround DVD of those as well.)

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the SameCD and DVD: I remember one of the fundamental disappointments when getting into Led Zeppelin was, sadly, this live album. It was just a mess. Sprawling, rambling, incoherent, it just didn't jell, and there was good reason: it had been chopped up to fit on two pieces of vinyl and was never readjusted for CD. We could go on and on about the video version of it, the fantasy segments of which were a complete surprise when my friends and I rented it one night as teens just getting into the band. Confused is about the only word that comes to mind. "What is going on here? Why are his eyes glowing? Why is he sword fighting? Why are we watching cars?" Now, having seen it via VH-1 Classic a few times, those fantasy segments merely look quaint and a bit charmingly self-absorbed.

Now we finally get the CDs the way they should have been – all 15 songs represented in the setlist played on the nights at Madison Square Garden in 1973, remastered for sound quality and reflecting the actual concert represented in the film. The DVD, unfortunately, does not represent the concert alone – it is still the movie as it was back then, due to legal reasons that I don't understand that prevented Page and engineer Kevin Shirley from re-editing it back to just the music, but now it's in Dolby 5.1, and includes a second disc with the four missing songs, some interviews, coverage by Tampa news crews of the band's arrival there, and a few other small things.

The DVD set can also be had in a special edition with a shirt bearing the album cover, lobby cards, tour schedule, and other stuff.

Nine Inch Nails – Y34RZ3R0R3MIX3D: 133t!11!! H4x0rd! w00t! LOL WTF?! OK! Pandering title aside, the concept is pretty cool – the usual NIN remix album that follows in the footsteps of a regular album, but this time it's accompanied by a DVD containing all of the multitracks for the songs so you can do whatever you feel like with them, then upload them to for Trent Reznor's amusement (and, presumably, other fans, too). This is not entirely as unique as Trent and Interscope want you to think it is – Duncan Sheik's 2006 album, White Limousine, also came with a DVD with audio tracks, but I believe the NIN DVD has them broken completely down where Sheik's had them broken down into simple categories – one track of already multitracked vocals, another of multitracked guitars, etc. Regardless, it's a cool idea, and for $11.99, it's kind of hard to pass up the opportunity to play (The disc also includes a demo of Ableton Live so you can get playing immediately, but they will work in other audio programs).

Opeth – The Roundhouse Tapes (Live): While the Lamentations DVD represented Opeth following the low-key, but amazing Damnation (that is to say, quiet and contemplative – not to mention all singing, no growling), this live set is more representative of a normal Opeth concert, which presents the band in all their glory, touring for Ghost Reveries. Speed, heaviness, and those vocals are in full effect, mixed in, as usual, with Mikael Åkerfeldt's surprisingly beautiful singing voice. Be forewarned: a DVD is likely coming sometime early next year, so if you crave watching and not just listening, you might want to wait.

U2 – The Joshua Tree Magical Ultra Super Special Deluxe! Edition: 20 years ago, all I wanted was for people to just stop talking about U2. Oh my God, they were everywhere. My best friend, he'd been brainwashed, plastering his room with posters and hand-drawn replicas of their albums. The song he and his girlfriend called "theirs" was "With or Without You." I couldn't bring myself to tell them it wasn't really all that happy of a song, kind of like how people dedicate the Police's "Every Breath You Take" to loved ones not realizing it's actually about an obsessive stalker. People don't want to hear that, they have to learn some things on their own. But I digress.

20 years ago, all I wanted to do was ignore U2. I let the band click with Achtung Baby and it's been a slow climb ever since then. I'm thoroughly in the "fan" category now, and I fully acknowledge that The Joshua Tree absolutely is one of the best albums of the '80s, if not the best. I'm obviously not alone, hence this special edition. Two CDs – the remastered album on one, non-album tracks on the other – and one DVD with a full concert, a documentary, and a couple videos, packaged in a very elaborate box with a 56-page hardback book. If you don't buy this version, you're really kind of wasting your time – you're really missing out on something special.

Oh, and my friend? He married that girl – and their song changed to Tracy Chapman's "The Promise." Much better choice.

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About Tom Johnson

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Opeth may have started Lamentations by running through the whole Damnation album but they still do songs from Deliverance as well as Blackwater Park which offer some killer growling from Mr.Åkerfeldt. Honestly,did you watch the entire DVD?

    I personally feel that if you missed Still Life & Blackwater Park live then you really haven’t seen Opeth in all of its “Glory”. Ghost Reveries really doesn’t hold up very well against that material,though, seeing Opeth in concert is always a treat.

  • Tom Johnson

    Yes, Brian, I did. I think you missed the point – it wasn’t a normal concert. It gave us Damnation and a small representation of a regular concert after that.

    I like Ghost Reveries, but it definitely does not stand up to the earlier material. For them stretching out into, I guess, “proggier” territory, it’s a good album, but something’s missing. Blackwater Park, on the other hand, is an amazing piece of work. I hope someday they’ll dig out some archival live material to release from that tour.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Ahha…I guess I just don’t feel that Lamentations isn’t a “normal” Opeth show just because they cover alot more of their melodic material.

    I can understand that if you[in general] missed their earlier work live that could be a little upsetting when watching Lamentations. But, like you said its an amazing release and I was wondering how they would reproduce it in a live setting.Obviously, they came through as usual.

    I think Ghost Reveries is missing the passion that they once had for creating real Dark & Gloomy Death Metal. Plus, the production was heading more towards capturing what they sound like in the raw. Not necessarily live but without all the effects. It’s possible that Mr. Akerfeldt is getting tired of playing Death Metal. Martin Lopez has some health issues & left the band along with Peter Lindgren,so, I don’t forsee an album of Blackwater capacity being released again… BUT, I’m not knocking them.