CELEBRATION: A RETARDATION

So, Mr. Brainwash gives us brilliant artwork which coincides with an equally stunning promotional campaign, so of course Warner Bros. botches the audio portion. I’m particularly sensitive to this right now given the quality, care and accuracy that went into the recently re-released Beatles catalog.

26 years in, is no one going to step up to preserve Madonna’s recorded legacy?

Lest the tone of this come across as entirely negative (it’s really more underwhelmed than anything), this is to serve as final confirmation of what you’re getting when you buy the new collection. All of the truly iconic songs are here, though many major hits have been omitted. And that’s okay considering –impressively– it would require double the amount of discs to include all of Madonna’s hits in one package.

Here is what is included on Celebration.

There are 16 previously released songs featured in their full-length, original album versions.

  • BURNING UP
  • HOLIDAY
  • MATERIAL GIRL
  • INTO THE GROOVE
  • LIVE TO TELL
  • PAPA DON’T PREACH
  • LA ISLA BONITA
  • WHO’S THAT GIRL
  • LIKE A PRAYER
  • JUSTIFY MY LOVE
  • TAKE A BOW
  • FROZEN
  • BEAUTIFUL STRANGER
  • MUSIC - MASTERING ERROR: multiple digital pops and clicks that are not part of the original recording can be heard throughout this song.
  • DIE ANOTHER DAY - MASTERING ERROR: Track fades up late due to the incorrectly placed track index on the American Life album. This is ridiculous. The unaffected album version appears on both the US Promo CD single and the Die Another Day film soundtrack, all Warner Bros. releases.
  • HOLLYWOOD - MASTERING ERROR: Track starts abruptly and end of “American Life”‘s fade out is audible.

Of these, ten were released as singles in versions that differ from these LP mixes. I would have much preferred the inclusion of the difficult to obtain single mixes, but I’m in therapy and have mostly moved on. Mostly.

Fortunately, five tracks do appear in their official single versions.

  • SECRET (Edit)
  • RAY OF LIGHT (Edit)
  • SORRY (Single Edit)
  • 4 MINUTES (Edit)
  • MILES AWAY (Radio Edit)

…and one more is a rarity from a US promo CD:

  • HUNG UP ([Unblended] Album Version)

Next up, there are five remixes lifted directly from The Immaculate Collection.

  • BORDERLINE (1990) (Q Sound Mix)
  • LIKE A VIRGIN (1990) (Q Sound Mix)
  • CRAZY FOR YOU (1990) (Q Sound Mix)
  • OPEN YOUR HEART (1990) (Q Sound Mix)
  • VOGUE (1990) (Q Sound Mix)

And now we pause to ask ourselves why.

The remaining nine tracks are unique to the collection. The first two are new recordings.

  • CELEBRATION
  • REVOLVER

One appears to be a from-the-vault rarity, likely included by mistake.

  • LUCKY STAR – ALTERNATIVE Q SOUND MIX
  • Virtually identical to the version heard on The Immaculate Collection, though there is noticeably more reverb on the “ee-yeah“‘s at the foot of each chorus. The music leading into the first verse is different (on TIC is was edited to match the original 7″ version, on here it is not.) The most obvious difference is right at the fade, instead of the chorus it edits to a set of adlibs heard on longer versions of the song, but not heard on the Q Sound version. Odd, but inoffensive as it seems to be a genuine unreleased variation.

As for the rest, quality control has reached an all time low:

  • EVERYBODY – FAKE EDIT
  • This uses the full length, original 12″ version as its starting point (as did the official 7″ single version), but is structured differently. While the overall idea for this edit wasn’t horrendous, whoever was placed in charge of actually executing the edits needs to be tortured. Slowly… painfully.
  • DRESS YOU UP – FUCKED UP INTRO
  • What the hell happened here? This isn’t a mix variation so much as a mastering error… the album version started late with severe tape pinch/phasing issues right at the top. Of the four beats on the intro, all but the fourth are missing.
  • EXPRESS YOURSELF – FAKE FUCKING FUCK.
  • The most offensive. In a failed attempt to kindofsortof recreate the video version, they have taken the complete intro straight off of the Local Mix, “zipper” included. The actual, official video version starts at the percussion and is specially mixed to have echo on the line “Do you believe in love…” which is dry on the Local Mix and therefore not present here. This new monstrosity then incorrectly cuts to the 7″ Remix/Edit version and then again where they have BUTCHERED the song right at the bridge. A bad edit jumps the track from the end of the chorus to the repeat of the bridge which kills the structure of the track. This version is unlistenable.

:hotmess:

  • CHERISH – FAKE EDIT
  • The original album version cut to the length of the super-short Immaculate Collection version. AMATEUR doesn’t begin to describe how bad these edits have been executed. Poor edits result in creating entirely new lyrics! How about this chestnut… “Can’t get away, I won’t let to” ?! They render all prior complaints about bad edits on Madonna’s releases void. Again, unlistenable. In the cases of “Express Yourself” and “Cherish,” why not just use the fucking Q Sound remixes?! They’re the exact same length as the fake edits and it’s not like there aren’t 6 others from that release present here.
  • EROTICA – FAKE Radio Edit
  • The edit points are around the same places as the OFFICIAL radio edit, but are poorly executed. The worst is around 3:30… they cut a beat late making for one of the sloppiest moments on this royalfuckupofacompilation. I don’t understand why this needed to be recreated as the official edit appears on countless singles and 2001′s GHV2 compilation. Oh. And the “surface noise” on the end of “Erotica” overlaps the beginning of “Justify My Love”.
  • DON’T TELL ME – FAKE Radio Edit
  • The least offensive/noticeable fake edit, but incorrect nonetheless. The true radio edit was a unique mix for the very last second that does not feature the “whimsical strings” tag. For Celebration, they have chopped off the end, but the first millisecond of this tag is audible.

Regarding the mastering: It sounds as though noise reduction was used to remove “tape hiss” which is unnecessary on most recordings post 1980. This process kills part of the high end of recordings. In addition, the entire album has a smear of bass over it. I really wanted to like it, but it sounds like a cheap “bass boost” EQ effect was applied to the songs, not proper remastering.

I had accepted the slightly shoddy sequencing, several major omissions and overall lack of consistency and attention to detail with the mixes chosen for this release. I love the look of the entire project, but I cannot understand the use of newly created, butchered versions of songs.

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Posted on September 19, 2009, in Celebration, Madonna and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Wow, I really value your obvious admiration for the music to point out song-by-song such flaws and I have assesed every song you have commented on and …..wow, you’re right!
    Upsetting! Such a possibly momentous event for Madonna has been downgraded to me thinking Madonna just said, “Hurry up – just get me out of this contract!”.
    Too bad – your fans DO care and they could have walked away with such a religious experience here. If a true afficianado was in charge here, this could have been GRAND!

  2. Im not so sure this is Madonna saying “Hurry Up”, more Warner Bros messing around with deadlines etc. Some time ago I was party to discussions of the album marketing and that was well over a year ago!

    WB need to respond to the quality issues (even my ears picked up the Erotica cut)!!

    Let the record label respond….

  3. I also wanted to weigh in on the DVD set– I’ve only scanned the set briefly, so this isn’t nearly as thorough as your documentation of the CDs’ auddio issues.

    I know that in putting together the set, they must have been working with a lot of old, unreliable video masters… so less-than-optimal image quality is to be expected. (cf. the smeary “La Isla Bonita” and the really soft/washed-out “Express Yourself.”) But there are some problems that go beyond source elements in a couple of the videos, most egregiously in “Like A Prayer.” Three or four of the interior church shots that go radically out of focus. I’m not sure if that’s a transfer issue, but Warner Bros. QC should have picked up on it.

    And on a really petty note: the formatting is all off in the liner notes– some directors have their last name before first, others don’t, producers names are misspelled, etc. I know that in any production little problems arise and slip through unnoticed, but this just seems like such a sloppy rush job.

  4. OMG!! I thought I’d be the only person who would notice all that!! I’m pleased the originals of Material Girl/Into The Groove/Papa Don’t Preach are on there but that’s about all I am pleased about!!! I REALLY wish they’d release the UK 7″ remixes of True Blue/Open Your Heart/La Isla Bonita/Like A Prayer/Express Yourself etc etc on CD (because when you think about it, those are the actual “hit single” versions!!). It really is unbelievable though that one of the greatest ever pop careers is summed up so shoddily. This should be a monumentous occasion – how could they pay it such disrespect???

  5. This is what happens when people elevate throwaway ad-jingle pop music that never had any soul to the status of art.

  6. so wait….they used the unreleased Q-Sound version of “Lucky Star”? I heard that that version is where she actually re-recorded her vocals…it was later discarded for the original vocals.

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