Despite my hemming and hawing over the expense of the Dead Can Dance remastered hybrid SACD albums, I bought them anyway. Considering the prices came down since that moment of bitching, I can't really complain about anything. However, I will state that buying a band's almost-complete discography all in one shot feels really weird.
I don't need to go into detail about the quality of Dead Can Dance's music. Every album, even the ones I am not crazy in love with, displays a level of artistic attention that is sorely lacking in this era of Digidesign Pro Tools, mp3s, and a general lack of talent or creativity. As such, I won't be discussing the music itself; if you want reviews of the albums, there have been reviews floating around for the past two decades that you can read elsewhere. All you need to know is that I was in heaven playing these albums back to back all damn day.
The remastered "audiophile editions" come in reproductions of the original vinyl sleeves. These are pretty thick cardstock and feel as though they could withstand a larger degree of damage than the usual mini-LP style sleeve. All nine look absolutely beautiful. Brendan Perry and the people at 4AD really made something fetching when they made these, both the original art and the transition to this edition.
The CD sleeves came shipped in reusable outer plastic sleeves instead of shrink-wrap; this is either a move to reduce unnecessary waste and thus save dwindling landfill space or an extra barrier to keep your investment clean. Whatever the reason truly is is irrelevant since I happen to like the added layer of protection on my CDs. Having these thin LP mock-ups as opposed to the original jewel cases means all nine releases fit in a space on the shelf that would fit only four of the originals. For those of us with big music collections, this is a huge plus, but not if your CD organizer is designed solely for standardized CD cases sizes.
Since the sleeves are reproductions of the original vinyl sleeves, all the text on the back (where applicable) is in eye-strain font sizes. Thankfully, all tracks are also listed on the obi wrapped along the spine of each disc sleeve.
As to the music itself, compared to the mp3s on my computer, the eponymous album through to The Serpent's Egg are incredibly improved in sound quality, but that may be due to the fact that I've been listening to mp3s and not actual CD quality. I never had their first four or last albums, so my opportunities to make direct comparisons, CD to CD, is seriously hampered. To that end, I am limited to Aion, Into The Labyrinth, and Toward The Within.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm not hearing much immediate audible difference in the remastered Aion versus the older CD version, and Into The Labyrinth's remastering only becomes apparent at "Tell Me About The Forest (You Once Called Home)". Toward The Within is improved, but the difference is very subtle for the most part. Perhaps the remastering was more for the benefit of the earlier material, or it is more evident on the SACD layer of the discs. Unfortunately, I don't have an SACD-capable player, and thus cannot take full advantage of these discs (yet). Should that change any time soon, I will let you all know what the difference is like.
Every band, no matter whether or not they are your favorite artist, inevitably does something to drive you up a wall, and Dead Can Dance is no exception. The Garden of The Arcane Delights EP is something that was never issued on its own CD until now. It was tacked onto the end of the self-titled album when that was released on CD, and most people have never heard it separately. The EP being issued apart from the first album is neat on a thematic basis, but charging the same for an EP of 4 songs at about 15 minutes total as for the other full-length albums is somewhat infuriating.
Their insistence to reproduce the original vinyl is taken to some ridiculous points, such as Into The Labyrinth, Toward The Within, and Spiritchaser featuring two inner disc sleeves when there's only one CD each (the original vinyl versions were split onto two records apiece). That took me a couple minutes to figure out. If they wanted to be that precise with their reproductions, why not issue it on two CDs as well?
My friend Frankie Teardrop's first question when he heard about these reissues was, "What kind of extras are there?" The answer: nothing. No bonus tracks, no previously unreleased material, dusty demos, etc., which will be a major annoyance to those that want that sort of thing with their reissues. The only major selling point is the fact that these are remastered and in hybrid SACD, which doesn't mean jack to many casual listeners (I suppose that's why this is the "audiophile edition"). However, Into The Labyrinth features two songs ("Bird" and "Spirit") that were on the original vinyl and apparently cut from the CD edition. While it's nice to see that particular restoration, if you are an obsessive Dead Can Dance fan you already have the assorted CD compilations that these tracks made appearances on.
My final approximation is that there's no sense buying them if you already have the original CD issues. Personally, I'm for the most part satisfied with what I've purchased, but that's more because I never had most of these albums. I was a late-comer to the DCD party, and most of these albums were out of print by the time I was introduced to this fantastic band. Plus, I intend to pick up an SACD-capable player someday to take advantage of the SACD capability of these discs and hopefully unlock the amazing sound contained therein. While these editions look and sound beautiful, I can only recommend them if you are obsessive about high digital sound quality, have the stereo with the necessary equipment, have the cash to blow, or don't have any Dead Can Dance albums to begin with. Even then, you could probably just wait until August and pick up the regular remastered CD editions, which will come packaged in super jewel cases (and no doubt lack the assorted silliness of these vinyl reproduction sleeves).
Dead Can Dance official website, myspace, and 4AD page
(photo snagged from 4AD.com)