BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: CULT CLASSIC (1994)
1) (Don't Fear) The Reaper; 2) E.T.I.; 3) M.E. 262; 4) This Ain't The Summer Of Love; 5) Burning For You; 6) O.D.'d On Life Itself; 7) Flaming Telepaths; 8) Godzilla; 9) Astronomy; 10) Cities On Flame With Rock'n'Roll; 11) Harvester Of Eyes; 12) Buck's Boogie; 13) (Don't Fear) The Reaper (instrumental); 14) Godzilla (instrumental).
Yes, you have heard all these songs before, and no, this is neither a live album nor a greatest hits compilation. These are re-recordings. That is right, straightforward re-recordings of BOC classics, engineered at several different studios in New York City in early 1994 by three original members of the band (Bloom, Roeser, and Lanier) and the band's then-current rhythm section (Jon Rogers on bass and Chuck Burgi on drums). Not «reinventions» or «special guest mixes» — just really rigid, rigorous, note-for-note re-recordings of the original songs.
Do not ask me the obvious question: I do not have enough information to give a convincing answer. The «polite» version that I have encountered is that the band was trying out those tempting new alleys of digital recording, and wanted to engineer their best songs in a brand new format that breathed modernity and coolness. I myself tend to veer towards the cynical version, though: seeing as how they were dropped from the big Columbia label that must have owned the rights to their old recordings, they simply went to all that trouble for good old financial reasons. After all, if the customer walks into a store and sees an album called Cult Classic and it's got that ʽReaperʼ song on it, how is he going to tell the difference between the original and the copy? He ain't no musical art dealer, he's just a customer.
Therefore, BUYER BEWARE: Cult Classic with all these classic Cult songs is NOT a compilation! Others, too, have been part of this fraud program — I vaguely remember Eric Burdon, for instance, re-recording the old Animals classics with a band that had nothing to do with the real Animals — but nobody I know of, at least if you're talking the real great ones, came as close to genuinely duping the consumer as the good old Blue Oyster boys. You have to remember your classics fairly well to understand that something's wrong here.
On the positive side, when it comes to evaluating the material here on its own terms, I would not know where to begin complaining. Re-recordings they may be, but they are surprisingly good re-recordings, and if you ever wanted to have a good case for digital recording over analog, you simply cannot go wrong with Cult Classic. The sound is crystal clear, the mix is as perfect as it could possibly be, and that guitar tone... well, suffice it to say that the opening riff of ʽHarvester Of Eyesʼ simply blows away the original. Thicker, creepy-crawlier, breaking out of the speakers to run you over with its track, leaving behind lifeless pulp with eyes extracted.
I have no idea how they did this, but everything sounds totally authentic, not one bit spoiled by any production excesses — in addition, Bloom's vocals have not deteriorated one bit, and that new drummer guy is every bit as dexterous as Bouchard used to be. It is possible, of course, to prefer the old versions, but it is impossible to deny that they did a fine, fine job copycatting them twenty years later. Oh, and for ʽAstronomyʼ they actually preferred to remake the live version of the song — the one where they added a lengthy coda with a killer solo by Buck Dharma. The one here is not as impressive, but still serves as a very useful tension-builder in a song that I have, until now, tended to underrate.
It is not quite clear how an album like this could merit a thumbs up — but, curiously, I will not recommend it as a representative introduction to the greatness of Blue Öyster Cult for all them youngsters not because it is a «rip-off», but because the youngsters might actually remain unimpressed with the original recordings from the 1970s in comparison, just because of all these vastly improved production values. Originals are originals, and they have their little sonic nuances that, want it or not, probably did get lost in the re-recording process. But it would take us some time to find, properly feel, and describe this, with multiple relistens and stuff — who wants to spend valuable time doing that? I certainly do not — veteran fans of the band, though, unless they believe in such a thing as «desecration», should by all means check this stuff out and try to savor new values quite respectfully applied to the old classics. That said, the band certainly loses points from me if I ever find out that the record, when sold in record stores, did not bear an explicit sticker with the word «RE-RECORDINGS» on it. At least a small one. At least in minuscule print or something. They obviously handled this whole re-recording business with love and care — so why mix it with customer dishonesty?