Twenty years ago today — Sugar’s Copper Blue

Twenty years ago today, one of my favorite albums was released. Copper Blue, the first album from Sugar. September 4, 1992 was a Friday. I’m not sure why it was released on a Friday. Everybody knows that new releases come out on Tuesdays in this country and on Mondays in the UK.

Anyway, on that day in 1992, a pivotal album, a game-changing album came into the world. Everybody already knew Sugar’s frontman Bob Mould. Both from his days as the front of the seminal Minneapolis punk band Hüsker Dü. After that wound down, everyone got to know a different side of Bob Mould. A guy who wasn’t angry and didn’t have to scream anymore. A guy who could play the guitar with some proficiency. A guy who could write songs. He put out two very different albums. They were different from one another, and they were both collectively so very different from Hüsker Dü. While his solo records showed that he had a sensitive side, he wanted to prove that he was still, at his core, a punk rawk guy.

The album was met with overwhelmingly positive response. Many music media outlets listed it in the top 10 albums of the year, and New Music Express (NME) called it the best record of the year. Considering that, among other giants, Sonic Youth’s Dirty and Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted also came out that year, that’s quite a compliment from a renowned music publication.

It was an album that simply blew me away, and it still does to this day. I don’t remember where I was or who I was with the first time I heard the album, or what the weather was like the day that I bought it, or even if I bought it on the day it was released.

Remember those days? Before things like file sharing and internet leaks and digital versions. When we used to circle new release dates on our calendars. When we used to breathlessly wait for those days to arrive. When we used to stand in lines at midnight sales for piece of crap records like American Thighs by Veruca Salt. When we used to have no option but to buy or borrow a physical copy. When we used to care about the liner notes. I miss those days.

I don’t think that music has gotten worse over the years. I know a lot of people, including some people who call themselves music enthusiasts, who do think that. However, I do think that the music buying experience has gotten substantially worse. And all in the name of convenience. It’s terribly convenient to have digital copies of things for the sake of portability and also for the sake of space-saving. But I just don’t think that there’s any joy in that.

I’ve gotten off track a little bit, but there’s a very loose connection to the actual point. Copper Blue was originally released on Rykodisc Records. They were a label who had fun with the packaging. For a while, they exclusively released CDs. No vinyl, no cassettes. To make their releases stand out, they used translucent green plastic in the jewel case. Since everyone else at the time was using opaque black or opaque white for the tray, it also afforded them the opportunity to create additional artwork for the “back of the insert”, or “under the tray”. The equivalent of the “inside back cover” of a book. I don’t remember when there was a transition, but at some point, some other labels started to use transparent plastic in their trays, but not very many used that as an opportunity to display additional artwork.
This is one of the facets that I hate about the digital age. People might know an album by its cover art, but they seldom know what the rest of the album art looks like. Or what it smells like. And if you’re old enough to remember the vague “grape” scent of WEA Records cassette liner notes, you know what I’m talking about.

I wandered off course again.

Every song on Copper Blue is a winner. Every song. The best of the songs that they left out were later compiled and released as a “short form album” as Beaster. To be honest, I never cared for that record. Which brings me to this…

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of Beaster, not one, but TWO DIFFERENT “deluxe and redux” editions were released.

One was released by the Chapel Hill label Merge Records, which is owned by indie rock royalty Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance from Superchunk. (Mac will be playing a solo show at Hopscotch).
On the Merge reissue of Copper Blue, it’s a 3CD set:
Disc One is all of Copper Blue, in sharper, brighter, higher definition. Plus four b-sides (“Needle Hits E”, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind (Solo Mix), “Try Again”, and “Clownmaster”).
Disc Two is a remastered version of the six-song “short form album” Beaster.
Disc Three is a live recording from a 1992 concert in Chicago. July 22, which was more than a month before the record came out. 18 songs played at a breakneck pace, but played brilliantly.

Copper Blue deluxe and redux

The other “deluxe and redux” edition is the one that I have. It came from Edsel Records which is a UK label imprint that specialises in re-issues. In 2011, they reissued the entire Jesus & Mary Chain catalog, and they did them in spectacular, breathtaking, glorious fashion. I scored Psychocandy and Darklands, which both impressed the hell out of me. I love JAMC, but for my money, it went downhill from there. I’ll get into this more later when I post about JAMC (who are the Friday night headliners at Hopscotch).

Anyway, the Edsel version, which I think is the superior one, is a 2CD+DVD set. It breaks down like this:
Disc One is the brighter, sharper, hi-def version of Copper Blue, plus the same four b-sides contained in the Merge version. Also, one of the things that’s exclusive this set. Four really good BBC Radio sessions (“If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, “Hoover Dam”, “The Slim”, and the b-side “Where Diamonds Are Halos”)
Disc Two is the same concert from disc three of the Merge set.
The DVD features three official promo videos, in all their horrible early 1990s sloppily edited and poorly directed glory (“Helpless”, “Changes”, and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”). There’s also three teevee interviews including a very strange one from “The Late Show UK”, one from MTV UK, and one with Dave Kendall from 120 Minutes.

Because I love you guys, I’m going to give you one song from the remastered album, one from the BBC Session, and one from the concert.

First, from the remastered album:
“The Slim”

Second, from the BBC Session:
“Hoover Dam” (BBC Radio Session)

I love how raw it is. How powerful it is.

Finally, the last song on the concert disc.
“Man on The Moon” (live)

The expansive liner notes are different for each version. I have no idea what’s in the Merge version, but their booklet is apparently four pages longer and has completely different stuff. I’m sure the lyric sheets and most of the photos are identical. The Edsel version has exclusive print interview stuff. Similar to what’s inside the glorious JAMC reissues.

If you live in the United States, shipping on the Merge version is free. If you live in North Carolina, you’ll get it the day after you order it. Even though that stuff counts for something, I still think that the Edsel version is the better of the two.

The concert is pretty amazing. Like I say, it’s pedal to the metal, full steam ahead rock and roll. There’s no banter. No pausing between songs. Just rocking.

At first blush, the remaster seemed like it was only marginally different from the original release. On repeated listens, the differences become much clearer.

It was a brilliant record to begin with. It just became even more brilliant by being given a fresh coat of paint.

My suggestion is to order the Edsel version from here. With the currency conversion and the cost of shipping, it’s about $22 USD, which is $4 more than the Merge version and takes a week longer to arrive, but I still think that it’s worth it.

Incidentally, today isn’t just the 20th anniversary of the release of Copper Blue. It’s also the release date for Bob Mould’s brand new solo record —Silver Age, which is available from Merge here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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