A tribute to the transformative powers of my Who’s Next remaster

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I am a remaster junkie. I hear something has been remastered and I just can’t help myself: I must possess it. I must own it, pore over its lush new packaging, read the densely packed liner notes, and repeatedly play it over and over.

If I still own the previous issue, I’ll listen to both back-to-back and see what sounds strikingly different, what new little bits of sonic minutia has been uncovered in the remastering process. The most exciting part is that very first listen — usually moments after the new case has been slipped from its shrinkwrap.

The motherlode of remasters, however, is the “mastered from original tapes” remaster, or whatever they want to call it. For some reason, it seems many of the original masters of many classic albums were misplaced, and when the remaster campaigns of the mid-90s occured bands were forced to employ the use of secondaries or “safety” copies, which were one or more generations removed from the master.

This may seem like a trivial issue, but when it comes to improving something, you really need to go back to the very first pressing of that music in its final form, otherwise there is always some level of improvement that could be made.

That’s that happened with the Who’s Who’s Next, which in 1995 was remastered from secondary masters by Jon Astley. This remastering brought new life to a project released on August 14, 1971, making it sound almost as modern as anything issued in ’95, to these ears.

Many of the Who-faithful, however, decried this as being “too bright,” “too harsh,” and a number of other creative, but definitely not-suitable-for-family-viewing terms. (It sounded too modern, maybe?) I, however, loved it, and place it highly among my favorite remasters (and just plain favorite albums of all time).

So, when I heard that yet another remaster of Who’s Next was on the way in 2003, this time in the form a deluxe edition, I was a bit skeptical. Would it be “improved” to me, or would it be “improved” to them — the Who-ites who bitterly complained about the previous issue, and therefore be a step backward to me?

The deluxe model arrived packed with 100 minutes of live material not available on the original issue, and an entire disc of live material not on the 1995 remaster. I chose to wait until my drive home from work, where I could put this issue to the test in the Unproductivity Mobile Sound Lab (UMSL) — my roaming stereo-on-wheels, where I do a large part of my listening. I chose UMSL instead of Unproductivity Headquarters (UHQ – my house) because, well, I don’t even have a home stereo, and instead of Unproductivity Remote (UR – work) because it’s just not condusive to intense listening.

No, within the confines of UMSL, I can safely turn up the stereo and endanger scores of other drivers as I mind more the music than the road.

I won’t really bother to review the music. If you haven’t heard Who’s Next, you owe it to yourself to hear one of the few albums in my collection that is worth the hype it has had heaped on it. What I will say is those formerly angry Who-philes must have been happy, indeed: This remaster felt both warmer and somehow more crisp than the previous issue. I could find no fault in this new mix.

What was in the previous issue has been improved upon, but it’s obvious that there was a much more spacious soundstage present. Drums reflected the cavernous room they were recorded in, vocals vibrated as if they’re right there next to you (one moment in “Bargain,” where Pete Townshend takes over lead, seems to almost float in mid-air), guitars have a more immediate, sharp insistence, while John Entwistle’s bass bobs and weaves more clearly in the background. (Always a good thing, Entwistle being one of the most fascinating bassists I’ve ever heard.) Be warned, though: The live material is rough; these takes are some of the earliest representations of the Who’s Next material before it had the edges smoothed off and kinks worked out.

The final verdict? It’s a must-have for most people — even without the improved remastering. If you owned the 1995 remaster, there’s the bonus of the live tracks on Disc 2 and the previously unissued live takes of “Gettin’ In Tune” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in addition to the earlier Who’s Next remaster’s live tracks. If you never bought the 1995 remaster, you need this one, period. Some may not find a remaster as thrilling as I do, and maybe don’t care about live material. In that case, move along, this reissue will do little for you. But I still think you’re missing out.

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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