Known Johnson

March 4, 2007

The Police reunion

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 9:04 pm

. . . but not the reunion everyone’s been buzzing about for the past few weeks. No, I’m talking about a reunion with me. You see, a few years ago, I had an unfortunate mishap with the great Message In A Box boxset, the nearly complete collection of Police music (it didn’t include the two-disc live album nor a few b-sides, but that’s easily forgiven given how awesome it is in general.) If you’ve been considering a Police best-of, forget it – what you need is this box.

In the days before the Ipod entered my world, I was forced to take big bunches of CDs with me wherever I went. The Police box was one of my more frequent tag-alongs, but, being a boxset, it’s just not built to withstand the rigors of travel. I knew that those big fat CD cases that used to hold two discs were now being made to hold four . . .

. . . and that would be perfect for my needs, but I didn’t have any. What I did have was a three-disc case, so all I needed was one more spindle for the empty side. So I decided to make my own. I even edited the box’s artwork so that it would look somewhat official – and it looked great.

I had an old AOL disc case (really, who didn’t?), the kind that were in those flimsy plastic cases made out of very thin, white plastic. I cut the spindle out for the middle portion of the fat case. And then stupidity struck. For whatever reason, I had the other three discs in the case, disc 1, 2, and 4 (disc 3 being the position for which the new spindle was being created), and, I suppose, there must have been some logical reason I did this, but I put that spindle into position and prepared to do so with extremely strong model cement – the kind that melts plastic in order to bond two pieces, not the kind they sell to children that you could basically eat. This cement is applied with a brush – it’s a liquid, a very loose, flowing liquid, and very fast acting. Once it touches plastic, that’s it – it makes its mark.

I brought the brush down and watched in horror as, through the holes in the case you see above, small drips of the cement dropped straight down onto disc 2. I ripped the disc out of the case immediately, but it was too late – I wiped and wiped, but that just made it worse. The cement melted the polycarbonate quickly, marring the surface beyond any hope of repair. One of my favorite boxsets of all time was irreversibly ruined.

When the newest set of remasters was announced a few years back, I saw a glimmer of hope. Surely those would have all the b-sides the box had, right? As it turns out, nope, they didn’t. They were just bare-bones remasters. I was going to be forced to buy the box again to get disc 2 in all its glory again. With a heavy heart, I put the remains of the box on Ebay and sold it as-is and, amazingly, someone actually wanted it, damaged disc 2 and all. Message In A Box was put on my “to buy” list again.

And then the Ipod came along. I had put the Police on my mental back burner for quite a while, it seems, but when the Ipod entered my life, I realized I really wanted the Police on that thing. I still couldn’t fathom buying that box, especially not with what I assumed would be inferior 12 year old remastering. I bought up the remasters when I found them cheap, mostly at Costco, and put them on my Ipod . . . and then found that I just didn’t enjoy them. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I just ran into my first example of music that was actually ruined by remastering. I’d read about it many times from sound freaks who said that modern remastering techniques actually can ruin the listening experience, but I wrote that off as coming from people who have far too much money and time on their hands, not to mention stereo equipment that might just be too good for anyone’s good. But here was a flesh-and-blood example where I was actually turned off of music due to what some engineer did to some great music.

But I didn’t realize it then, of course – I just thought maybe, in the time between my unfortunately incident with the glue and early 2005 that I’d grown out of the Police. So I wrote off the Police all together. Of course, I couldn’t keep some of their songs from tickling the back of my brain from time to time, so I kept an eye out for a good used copy of the box, and once in a while I toyed with the idea of just giving in on those remasters again – even lacking b-sides, it might be better to have the music than not.

It wasn’t until Friday that I realized what had happened. On Friday, I felt a need to hit Zia Records where I found waiting for me in their box section a pristine copy of Message In A Box for a measly $23.99. I stared at it in disbelief – (“Does Everyone Stare?”) – and the gears in my head went round and round. “Do I need this? I wanted this a while back. Do I need all of this again? Just buying three of the albums used would cost more than this. This is dumb – buy this NOW!” I went straight to the counter and took it out with me, unwrapping it in my truck to find that it is absolutely perfect – not a scratch, no finger prints, nothing. It’s as if the universe has been waiting to replace my screwed up copy with this one at a time when I could really appreciate it. And appreciate it I have – it’s all I’ve listened to this weekend. And, wow, does it sound good. My first reaction upon hearing the Outlandos D’Amour tracks was simply shock – I knew they shouldn’t sound this good from the 2003 remaster, which I thought sounded harsh and flat, so much so that it made the album unpleasant to listen to. This 14 year old version sounded so much more vibrant, I couldn’t believe it – I wanted to hear it again after those tracks finished, but the b-sides beckoned me.

Just weeks ago, I hoped this reunion would result in a killer live CD and DVD – which is a sure thing – and maybe a truly definitive best-of collection, something that would fill what I’d thought were my meager Police needs. I was so wrong – I still want that killer live CD and DVD set, but nothing less than this box will suffice.


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