Alive Again

Universal Music kicks off its 'Deluxe Edition' series with a pair of frightening and flaccid reissues

But it's no cruel irony that his post-Comes Alive! career described a rapid downward arc. Frampton's brand of guitar-heavy songwriter's rock got eaten alive by disco and punk, if you can believe that, which is a horrible enough fate for anyone to have to swallow. Frampton Comes Alive! appears here in a slightly augmented form -- four unreleased tracks tacking 20 minutes on to the original playing time -- but as with our previous model, the "why" goes unanswered. The unreleased material doesn't add anything to our understanding of the canonical album, which holds up fine, thank you, on its own. It's not as self-indulgent or just plain annoying as the hour-plus "jam" tracks on Blind Faith, but the real problem is that for all the apparently genuine pleasure of performer and audience on Frampton Comes Alive!, Frampton's musical style and material simply don't date well, lending the previously unreleased tracks especially a painfully obvious patina of age. It quickly becomes clear that rock music has developed along entirely different lines in the past 25 years, and shuffling added tunes into a familiar mix actually hurts the album's sound, in this case. (The Simpsons' "Homerpalooza" episode sums up this state of affairs perfectly in the scene where Frampton yells at Sonic Youth for getting into his watermelon backstage, and Thurston Moore addresses Frampton deferentially as "Mister." Points to Frampton for having a sense of humor about it all.)

The ultimate gripe is that both of these albums are already available in remastered editions at midrange prices, in their original sequencing, which is a fair and right and proper state of affairs. To seduce us into buying a two-disc version of either, Universal ought to offer a bit more than masturbatory practice sessions in the first case, or historically related but mostly tangential songs from the same tour in the second. As it stands, we don't need the extras, so they don't need our money.

But . . .

"Can't find your way home? Here, I'll show you the way.": Blind Faith and Peter Frampton emerge from their rancid tombs.
"Can't find your way home? Here, I'll show you the way.": Blind Faith and Peter Frampton emerge from their rancid tombs.
Despite the somewhat lackluster music contained inside, the packaging for the Deluxe Editions of these two platters is nothing short of amazing.
Despite the somewhat lackluster music contained inside, the packaging for the Deluxe Editions of these two platters is nothing short of amazing.

We would be remiss in our duties if we didn't tell you that these two releases are among the most beautifully packaged compact discs ever released. Translucent plastic slipcover, original album artwork, high-quality cardboard, unreleased photographs, extensive liner notes -- the word handsome, as in stately and classy, springs immediately to mind. As soon as Universal gets some more solid material to work with (see the Gaye release above, please, God, please), and if this junk-drawer mentality can be refined into a more selective set of standards for added material, this series is going to deliver some impressive offerings indeed. But until then, stick with the low-cal platters. They're better for your heart.

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