What’s the story with the new version of “Rattle and Hum”?
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2019-03-17)
Early in February we reported that a new version of Rattle and Hum on vinyl had started to appear. There was no fanfare for the release, and most storefronts just added it to their listings with little notice. It did appear at Amazon in the USA as well as at U2.Com (with a release date of February 14, 2019 on Amazon). Neither of these locations had previously sold copies of this album, and previous recent releases of Rattle and Hum were European only. We’ve had a chance to look further at the release that has appeared now, and can offer some details as to what is being sold.
The Vinyl Itself
The vinyl is a new pressing of the 2002 version of the album pressed in The Netherlands for markets in Europe. This new version contains the same catalog information, and the sleeve is identical to the 2002 pressing. The album sounds the same as the 2002 pressing as well. Comparing a few sections side by side of the 2019 pressing and the 2002 pressing shows that the dynamics of the audio are similar, and that the loudness of the record is the same. It appears that this new pressing is a copy of the 2002 version in every way.
That record has been repressed a number of times over the years, and has been kept in print in Europe, even when other albums went out of print. This included a release in 2009, and another more recently in 2015. The pressing carries the catalog number 842 299-1 (UPC 0 42284 22991 3). There is little text on the back except for the trademarks, and a note “Made in the E.U.” A sticker on some copies identify that the pressing was made in Germany. This sticker is visible on copies sold in the USA.
One new addition to this release? For the first time the release is now being shipped containing a download card, that allows you to download a digital copy of the album that you purchased. The download, like other releases of late, is redeemed at redeem.thesoundofvinyl.com and comes in a Zip file containing Wav audio files. We can confirm that copies shipping from Amazon in the USA, as well as copies shipping via U2Com do contain this download code. As this vinyl was widely pressed without a download code and sold in stores for a number of years, trying to find one in shops may be difficult.
The matrices on the vinyl from 2002 and from this recent pressing match showing they were pressed from the same plates. The A-Side in both cases is CID U27 A-10. (Of note perhaps is a slight difference in side B which now reads “U27 B-11”, our original copy reads “CID U27 B-10”, but both sides C and D match the original.) The labels on both pressings match as well, and both contain the rights societies BIEM and MCPS, which suggests a release for Europe including the UK. This new version however, is being sold worldwide as witnessed by the addition of a listing on Amazon in the USA, and its appearance in some independent shops. The release is also being carried on U2.Com. Side by side the 2002 release feels slightly heavier than the newer version, but otherwise there is little difference to be found (and both are listed as 180g vinyl). The date on the digital files included with the vinyl is January 2018, so it is possible that these were included in a pressing done last year as well.
The Digital Download
This new issue on vinyl is a replica of the older 2002 version, which has been reissued a number of times over the years, but we were interested in the new digital download that came with the vinyl as well. In 2017 U2 reissued all of their albums on iTunes, as part of the MFiT program (Mastered For iTunes). When the albums were reissued, three albums were reissued with a new remastering overseen by The Edge. All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Pop, and Rattle and Hum were the three albums which were remastered. When recently issued on vinyl, it was these new masters that were used for All That You Can’t Leave Behind and Pop, but to date, Rattle and Hum has only been available digitally.
Our first question was is this new digital download perhaps an uncompressed version of this new master? The answer is no. The MFiT remaster from 2017 features louder tracks, with more dynamic sound than this new download does. There were also several decisions made with the MFiT master, such as additional crowd noise at the start of “Van Deimen’s Land” and less at the end of “Helter Skelter” which is not seen on this new download. We were quickly able to rule out this being a version of the remaster from the MFiT program.
So what is this new download? To answer that question we went back and looked at the CD releases in our collection, and compared the new download to the audio from releases from Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and the USA. Back when Rattle and Hum was first issued in 1988 it was still pretty common for each country to have slight variations on the mastering which resulted in slight track timing differences, slightly different volumes etc. The new download with the vinyl did not match any of the releases from Canada, Japan or the USA. It also did not match an early 1988 pressing from Germany.
This new download, however, is very close to a later CD pressing in Germany after Universal bought PolyGram in 1999. It was also very similar to a CD pressing from France which was done after Universal bought PolyGram. Both of these CDs list a similar catalog number to the vinyl, 842 299-2 compared to the 842 299-1 on the vinyl. It looks like Universal did make some slight changes to the mastering of the CD in Europe when it started pressing these releases after buying PolyGram. This makes sense as original stickers on the 2002 vinyl claimed that it had been remastered from the original tapes. It appears that the mix that was done for that vinyl release in 2002, and the subsequent reissue, was also used for CD pressings from about the same time onwards. The dynamics of these CDs from Germany and France, match up very well to the dynamics of this new download, the loudness levels are the same, and the track times are close, to within milliseconds.
So in summary, the vinyl release is the same as the 2002 release, although a new pressing of that material. Labels, artwork on the sleeve, and matrix numbers are consistent across these releases, although there appears to be some variation in the matrix number for side B. The download is very similar to the digital recording on CD in France and Germany after Universal bought out PolyGram and began issuing CDs. The remaster that Edge oversaw in 2017 for the MFiT program at iTunes remains unreleased in a physical format, and is still only available on iTunes at this time.
So will this MFiT remaster ever get a physical release? We don’t know for sure. We were told that a newly remastered version was due to be released last fall, and we have confirmed that the plans at that time appeared to be a release of the new remaster, and not just a reissue of the 2002 release. Since that time that release has been removed from the Universal future releases list, and our source at Universal has told us it cannot be seen on the future schedule. As always, if we are able to confirm at a later date that a new issue is coming we will pass that information along. But for now it appears this new reissue of the 2002 release on 180g vinyl is what is now being newly added in stores, and online, and it is NOT the previously expected version featuring a new remaster.