Noted engineer Simon Heyworth painstakingly transferred the original analog masters of Brian Eno's seminal (and legendarily meticulous) early works Here Come the Warm Jets (1973), Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974), Another Green World (1975), and Before and After Science (1977) for a long-awaited and much-hyped set of reissues released in May.
Then it happened.
Virgin issued a statement to customers about an image file fault on the master of Another Green World. There was a problem on "Everything Merges With the Night." The irony was instantaneous, a wickedly droll tangle of implications. The expected perfection turned into, "Please return your copies for exchange."
On this, the third reissue of these records, all the care Heyworth showed in preserving the EQ of the original masters was temporarily subverted by a digital snafu, a problem of which software pirates are well aware. And more importantly, in light of the reissues which have gone before, this new batch begs the question as to why even do it at all.
Indeed, the recordings do sound different, but not necessarily better. There are some distinctions to be made between this crop and the earlier ones. (The resonant reverb springs to mind as Jets takes off.) The bass on all discs is more prominent. The individual voices of the instruments occupy their own spaces. But frankly, it tends to ruin the continuity and oneness of the music, prioritizing instead an effete urge toward the annoying anal compulsions of the petulant audiophile. And the confidence of the devoted listener is subverted with each passing batch of reissues.
While Virgin (Astralwerks in the United States) contends that these are the original masters as Eno meant them to be heard, such a statement clashes against the logic of the rhetorical query, "How can that possibly be the case when this technology didn't even exist in the '70s?" So before launching into a tirade about the greedy woes of a label and artist merely trying to generate revenue from their back catalog (the obvious conclusion here), it's important to assess the records as what they are: utterly brilliant documents which, each in its own way, rewrote how we think of and listen to pop songs.
Along with the Velvet Underground, Eno redefined not only the form of the popular song, but the way in which the individual elements were pieced together from an engineering point of view. And it was these years of artistic production when Eno would define what may be his greatest sphere of influence: that of engineer and interpreter of avant-garde elements to the popular mind. Paradoxically, it was during this process of learning to write intriguing songs that Eno learned to abandon the song; it seems no accident that the last of this suite of records is wittily called Before and After Science.
One can only speculate on the real reason for these reissues. Is it for money? To encourage Eno to continue to fulfill contractual obligations? To reinvigorate interest? It really doesn't matter in the end; let the questions remain forefront in our minds. But the original recordings are just dandy.