It was only a matter of time before the deluxe bubble burst. As I wrote recently, increased prices for barely increased content increasingly rankles and offering fans a bit of extra card or some expanded artwork in return for a sizeable bump in the price is a disturbing current trend. As the good folk at SuperDeluxeEdition reported, the latest Suede album seemed to suffer from this with a £100 edition, possessing all of two additional songs, a print, a T shirt and a USB containing no additional music, actually not proving to be a definitive version of ‘Bloodsports‘. When this then arrived damaged, missing some of the, frankly already scant, content and with careless errors in abundance, the band’s message board rightly lit up. As is always the way in such circumstances, a number of hardcore fans looked to leap down the throat of anyone expressing a dissenting opinion. As someone who didn’t go near the ludicrously priced versions but was keen to hear the record, I’d been dipping in over there in recent weeks and noted with interest a thread about the digital distortion on several tracks, most noticeably ‘What Are You Not Telling Me?“. A whole passage of the track where the guitar soars and a rather beautiful song should take off is marred by digital crackle in the left channel where the volume has been artificially boosted. It’s clearly a fuck up. You can’t argue it sounds good. It doesn’t. It’s a potentially transcendent moment in the song – why would you actively want to spoil this with a distracting noise?
As a vinyl purchaser, I’d assumed I’d miss out on such woeful mastering for the LP mastering and yet it’s even on there. Having always been a fan of the wax, my move to almost 100% vinyl purchases happened about four years ago after getting truly fed up with the loudness war and its resultant mastering. There’s plenty of forum discussion about it out there if you care to look and Nick Southall, Twitter’s ever entertaining @sickmouthy, wrote a fine piece a few years back about this problem. Generally, mastering for vinyl is a little more sympathetic, largely because you physically can’t crank things too high and expect the grooves to be playable. However, the Suede error is at a key point in the chain as it appears everywhere, including an apparently not especially high fidelity high resolution version they’ve got on sale from select sites.
People make mistakes though, don’t they? No big deal. Fess up and sort it out. Ben Folds released a hideously mastered version of his album ‘Way To Normal‘ to such protests that he later put out a far less aggressively loud version. The initial vinyl pressing of Bill Fay‘s beautiful comeback album ‘Life Is People‘ features some unpleasant distortion on the final side and the label responded to concerns, listened to criticisms and rectified it. Surely, a band as big as Suede would ensure that their employees would respond in similar fashion?
Well, not quite. In a capital letter monologue which pitched itself somewhere between blasé and contemptuous, ‘Didz’ described poor quality control as charming and insisted that the crapulous mastering is intentional:
“THEY ARE PART OF THE ATMOSPHERE OF THE TRACKS. IT IS HOW IT SHOULD SOUND. THESE TRACKS ARE CERTAINLY NOT CLIPPING, ALTHOUGH BLOODSPORTS IS MIXED AND MASTERED VERY AGGRESSIVELY (THIS IS WHY THEY SOUND SO LIVE AND LOUD ON THE RADIO) AND I CAN HEAR HOW THIS MIGHT BE MISCONSTRUED. THIS APPLIES TO ALL FORMATS.”
Obviously, every artist should make the music they want to make and have it sound however they want it to, but if this is sincerely the effect Suede were after then they might want to be a bit more gracious at receiving the entirely deserved criticism it brings. Having contempt for the people who actually bother to buy your music has always been a risky approach and it’s downright stupid in the industry of the 21st century. But, irrespective of this, if artists choose to actively dismantle and destroy their own music in this way then I guess we should stop talking of it as bad mastering and simply refer to it as bad music.