NOTE: For extended reviews and more discussion on remastering, see Southpaw Nation.
First, let me address the notion of remastered albums. There have been some recent remastered reissues where I was immediately struck by how great they sounded (Rocket from the Crypt's Circa: Now! and the Bad Religion reissues come to mind), and then there have been those that didn't strike me as anything special, but weren't botch jobs by any means (į la Green Day's 1,039 / Smoothed Out Slappy Hours reissue). Very rarely you get something completely amazing, like the Misfits' 12 Hits from Hell, which doesn't seem likley to ever be officially released.
The other point about remastered albums is that so-called "purists" may often be basing their purity standard on an original pressing that may not sound anything at all like what the artist originally intended. There is a difference between taking an old movie or record that was recorded in mono and artificially creating a stereo or 5.1 mix out of thin air and improving the master job on something that has high quality original masters, but, for whatever reason, lower quality mass production. Time and budget constraints, poor production work, and any number of pressing plant issues could be to blame, but a remaster job using the most up-to-date technology is generally an effort to make the pressed CDs (or vinyl or whatever) match the master mixdown that the artist/producer was happy with in the studio. We've all heard albums that sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a pool or in a metal trash can. Those are great candidates for remastering. From what I understand, you're looking to get a much richer, fuller sound with clarity enough to hear all the dynamics of a given recording.
Which brings me to the Screeching Weasel series of remasters. Overall, much like 90% of all remastered reissues, this series isn't worth rebuying simply for the remastered album. Nor would I recommend avoiding them in favor of the original pressings. If you've worn out your original copies, they're cheap enough that you might as well replace them with the new versions. And, if you're new to Screeching Weasel, I wouldn't discourage you at all from picking up the new versions. For newcomers to Screeching Weasel, I'd recommend starting with either (or both) Anthem for a New Tomorrow and/or My Brain Hurts. You might even be best served by picking up the Weasel Mania compilation off Fat Wreck.
Original release: 8/10
Remastered release: 8.5/10
Following up a perfect masterpiece of an album is tough for any band, so perhaps the let-down of Wiggle shouldn't have been totally unexpected. Wiggle is my least favorite "classic" Weasel album, yet still miles better than later disappointments like Emo and Teen Punks in Heat. There are some great songs on here like "Jeannie's Got a Problem With Her Uterus," "Sad Little Girl," "Slomotion," and "Teenage Slumber Party." But, something about this album just didn't quite work and I suspect it has a lot to do with this being the first album Mass Giorgini and Sonic Iguana produced.
However, this remaster is getting my "Most Improved" award, and is the only one I'm rating higher than the initial release. The artwork looks better, with the liner notes from the UK's Lindsay Hutton (The Next Big Thing) solid and good song commentary by Ben, Jughead, and Vapid. Along with the more "mature" packaging of all the new CDs, there seems to have come a new found modesty as well. Now, I'm just as happy to be spared gratuitous cockshots as the next red-blooded, heterosexual guy, but I was amused by the self-censorhip in the "new" (i.e., colorized) booklet photos. And was I not supposed to notice that one of the flyers in the art added to the booklet is a piece from The Onion that was done when Screeching Weasel reformed in 1997 and talks about Bark Like a Dog?
As for the bonus track, I've waited for years to finally hear Weasel reclaim "Fuck the World" like they did "Pervert at Large." "Fuck the World," however, was a disappointment. Co-written by Ben and Joe Queer, this is one of the best punk rock love songs ever written, and the Queers' version is reason alone to buy Love Songs for the Retarded. (Yes, Joe -- and the "Queers" -- should have hung it up long ago, but once upon a time they were really good.)
The recording included on the Wiggle reissue sounds kinda rushed, and it's probably no surprise this track has stayed under wraps for so long (the song did appear with alternate lyrics, as "Amy Caught Me Looking at Her Boobs," on the Thank You Very Little rarities/outtakes/demos compilation).
If you were hoping this bonus track was enough to make rebuying the CD worthwhile, I'd have to say, "eh, not so much." But, overall, this repackaging does the most to improve on the previous version. I can't put my finger on anything specific with the remastered sound, but I thought this one did sound a little better than the original.
Anthem for a New Tomorrow
Original release: 10/10
Remastered release: 10/10
A favorite of the band, fans, and me personally. SW was really firing on all cylinders with this release. Any 'best of' SW CD I've ever made for myself or to introduce someone to SW includes almost every song off this album. Includes cameos by NOFX's Fat Mike ("Peter Brady"), Jawbreaker's Blake Schwarzenbach and Joey Vindictive ("Anthem for a New Tomorrow"), and solid liner notes and song commentary.
The remastered version seems to again add clarity to the low end (particularly the bass lines) and do the standard loudness-level raising. The original (first anyway) CD pressing had a song track order error, which is now remedied (the track listing didn't match up to the song #'s after Track 5, "Talk to Me Summer." This could have been fixed on subsequent pressings of the CD, I'm not sure.) Again, some of the original packaging's "fun" is removed and a more straightforward presentation is used. Any way you slice it, though, this album is a must-have in any self-respecting punk rock collection.
How to Make Enemies and Irritate People
Original release: 9/10
Remastered release: 5/10
While I always enjoyed and listened to How to Make Enemies and Irritate People (the title refers to Dale Carnegie's best-seller How to Win Friends and Influence People), more so than say, Wiggle, it was still somehwat of a red-headed stepchild album. I'd listen to it when I'd worn out the Boogada x3 / My Brain Hurts / Anthem rotation I constantly had going. It's somewhat of an odds 'n' sods album Weasel put out just to record and release the last songs they had written after disintegrating during the short-lived Anthem for a New Tomorrow tour. As Vapid and Ben were on the outs, they enlisted Mike Dirnt (you might know him from some band called Green Day) to fill in on bass. It was intended to be their last release as they officially broke up the day it came out.
The discography included in the original CD booklet is gone, and all of the "fun" of the original packaging has been completely sucked out of this puppy (way more so than My Brain Hurts or Anthem). Gone are the fake song titles on the back of the album. I always liked those: "Planet of the Dupes," "Smurf Goddess," "I Hate Yer Nuts on Monday," Johnny Is that Beer?," "If I Was Hugh" (a nod to the late Queers drummer), "Da Genitals," and "I Wrote Ignatius J. Reilly."
FYI, "I Wrote Holden Caulfield" is a "response" song, in title, at least, to Green Day's classic "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?" (off Kerplunk!). At least, I always assumed it was. Holden Caulfield, of course, being the protaganist of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, while Ignatius J. Reilly is the hero of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.
The cover art looks even more blurry than the original (this cover art was intended for the original My Brain Hurts release, but Lookout! was too cheap at the time to spring for a full-color cover). The original `50s sci-fi movie-style font has been inexplicably replaced with block text.
There are no real new liner notes (just a short paragraph from Ben) or song commentary (I just told you more than you'd find out from reading the new liner notes). And if you consider the photo contact sheet that comprises the "new, unreleased photos" worth having than by all means pick this up. But, there is no good reason to rebuy this, and if you can find the original Lookout! pressing used, a copy of that would suffice just as easily as the new release.
From the look of things, the motivation for putting solid effort into these re-releases had severely run out of gas by the time they got to this one. And there is still the two Riverdales reissues to go!