I have relatively old ears, more from overexposure to high decibels for extended periods of time than for any other reason. But, I'm still able to pick out nuances from different releases following remastering.
As you may know, there have been about 60 Zappa albums "re-released" during the second half of 2012. I've only been a Zappa fan for about 20 years, so some of the recent re-issues sound pretty fresh to me. However, I'm trying to figure out how to buy to update my collection. As a general rule, I'm limiting myself to reissues of the original Analog Masters.
Apparently, with the advent of the digital age and into the 90's, Zappa may have tinkered with the original mixes for reissue through Barking Pumpkin and Ryko, editing bits out, adding drums and bass to "Cruising...", adding guitar solos from other tapes, etc. It's his prerogative, so I don't mind, but I also want to hear the original release, and I'm not going to hunt down too much vinyl, although I do have some.
The sound and mix on all of these that I've picked up have been revelatory. I will say that "Hot Rats" is a bit jarring at first as some of the percussive sounds are mixed a bit higher in parts and some of Frank's guitar is mixed a bit lower. However, being a recent Zappa fan (although a total Zappaphile), I got used to the sound of the '95 Ryko reissue of "Hot Rats" over the years. I now prefer the new reissue.
However, on "Absolutely Free" I've heard things that I've never heard before. "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" sounds amazing. As does "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and "Fillmore East - June 1971."
Of the first batch, which included everything from "Freak Out!" from '66 through "Just Another Band From L.A." from '72, I limited myself to only the ones indicated above (still have to pick up "Chunga's Revenge", but I might pass on "Just Another Band from L.A." mostly because I've heard "Billy the Mountain" enough times for now).
I've also picked up "Sheik Yerbouti" from '79 due to some early internet chatter I heard about it and it's even more brilliant now than ever before, especially the re-appearance of the final part of "I'm So Cute."
A goodly portion of the earliest albums are re-issues of Zappa's prior digital masters mostly because some of these came out as Project/Object (like "MOFO" and "Lumpy Money" and "Greasy Love Songs") based on the original analog masters. Those are available at Frank's website. Also, "Uncle Meat" is from the '93 digital master, which, hopefully means it's a future Project/Object. "Roxy" is also based on the '92 digital master, probably because there's going to be a deluxe "Roxy" release coming up soon...I hope.
Zappa embraced the digital age early, so most of the stuff from '82 on appears to be based on Zappa's digital masters, but I'm not sure if there's a demonstrable difference due to any remastering or "re-transferring" on releases as of "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch" (which I think could've used a refresher) and after.
So, what I'll do, I think, is list out the first four waves of releases here, with the source master, hoping to perhaps get a discussion going about the new releases, if they are different from prior releases, and, if so, just how. We can talk about it as a whole, or piece by piece, album by album, or song by song.
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