Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Deja Vu Double Album

Until Morning - Dashboard Confessional (mp3)
Until Morning (Acoustic) - Dashboard Confessional (mp3)
(NOTE: These files were removed from my BOX account because I apparently pissed off a lawyer. My apologies.)
The Deja Vu Double Album: (pr.n.) A single collection of songs by an artist that are recorded different ways on separate CDs but packaged together, thus providing the customer with multiple renditions of each song.

The first time I ever encountered the Deja Vu Double Album concept was when, while heavily intoxicated and searching for a stocking stuffer for my wife, I stumbled across Shania Twain's Up! at the local Wal-Mart. The packaging bragged that it was a double CD but was on sale for a scant $9.99. And, because I always found Ms. Twain adorable, and because her general sound wasn't too unpleasant to my wife's delicate musical ears, I bought the damn thing.

(Yes yes, I know. So shoot me already. The excuses are a pathetic attempt to distract from the fact that I enjoy some cheesy shit. Especially when that cheese fits this nicely into those jeans.)

Lately, the Deja Vu Double Album concept seems to be growing viral. In the past 14 months, I've bought three more of these: The Bravery's Between Sun and Moon (Complete), the Indigo Girls' Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, and Dashboard Confessional's latest, Alter the Ending.

As an economic decision, I don't quite see what's in it for the record companies or the bands. More work, more CDs to press, at practically no additional charge to the consumer.

Shania Twain wanted versions that attempted to keep her country music fans happy while hoping to expand her presence on Top 40 radio. Maybe it worked, but what I found more fascinating was that both versions sounded so tame and processed that it was like trying to figure out whether you were eating Vanilla or French Vanilla. Seriously, 90% of it sounded exactly the same. The only difference is that once in a while you heard a slide guitar or a few banjo licks on the country versions, and a little more synth and bass on the pop ones. So mostly her album(s) just felt gimmicky. Which was appropriate for a woman who began her rise on the gimmick of being able to fill out some worn-down blue jeans like few decent-voiced women before her. [Confession: Everytime I see people oohing over Sarah Palin's looks, I can't help but think she looks like a downgraded and dumber version of Shania.]

The Bravery's Deja Vu Double Album was even more odd. The "Sun" versions were more traditional rock, while the "Moon" versions were more synth and dance. Maybe they thought clubs would play those secondary versions while folks were tripping on X or something. Personally, I found that every single version on the "Moon" version was not only of lower quality, but knowing that those versions existed pulled down my appreciation for both versions. What I'm saying is, that they put out two versions just made me like both versions less.

What Are You Like - Indigo Girls (mp3)
What Are You Like (Acoustic) - Indigo Girls (mp3)

The Indigo Girls' effort was the first move in an encouraging direction. Their first versions included a full band and sometimes some orchestration. Higher production qualities. More layered. Their second version was just the two of them and a couple of guitars. Stripped down and simple. Old school Indigo, if you will. As a lifelong fan of the ladies, I appreciated both versions. It spoke of where they were and where they'd been, and I found myself preferring certain songs more in one version than the other, and often enjoying both in different ways.

Finally comes Dashboard Confessional, the screamy emo boy who could yank tears out of angsty teen girls almost as quickly as Edward Cullen.

Please trust that this is not my Persuasive Essay on Why You Should Buy a Dashboard Confessional album. The dude is a pinot grigiot, and not everyone has a nose for it. He makes some whiny adolescent music fit for 90210 and Dawson's Creek soundtracks. That said, the double-album version of Alter the Ending is the most entertaining album I've bought in a while. Having only owned one other DC album (the most-popular The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most), I have the good fortune of not overindulging a sound that probably wears out with too many listens. The idea of listening to five Dashboard Confessional albums non-stop is enough to make me contemplate driving into a brick wall, so I doubt I'll buy another.

But here's what's fun about this particular collection. The first versions are the full-on heavily produced, mightily orchestrated, reach for the pop charts variety. It's got that Daughtry and Lifehouse kind of feel to it. Radio-friendly rock with a whiny lead singer. There's no denying that they feel a little bit sold out... but it's also kinda good. I mean, for what it is.

The other album, though, is the same collection of music done in Carabba's "older," more emo-attuned style. Him, his guitar, occasionally a few more less-electric instruments, and minimal percussion. What makes this collection so much fun is to hear how much more alive and sincere the stripped-down version feels. The songs have more power when some of the noise is stripped away.

But strangely, and amusingly, I find myself injecting the missing instruments in my head, mixing them up the way I imagine them. I mentally add the electric guitars and orchestrations. I can almost hear the drums. It's very surreal. It's the kind of thing that, when I'm describing it, I want to ask myself that famous question from Judge Halloran to Vinny Gambini: "Are you on drugs?"

I can't say whether Alter the Ending is a "great" album. I can't say whether you, dear random listener, will like it. I can only say it's the most enjoyable Deja Vu Double Album I've ever heard.*

* -- Unless you, dear random listener, can name some others that I have possibly neglected or forgotten.


Daisy said...

I bet I could squander a lot of money pretty quickly by drinking and Walmarting.

Bob said...

Sarah Palin and Shania Twain????? Are you kidding me? That's worse than calling her a viable candidate for national office.

BeckEye said...

Whatever happened to Shania? I remember going to see her in concert. I remember going, I just don't remember much of the concert. Man, I felt like a drunkard. Bah bah ba da da ba ba!

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