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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Pretenders: On The Tube And Reissued

It's gonna take a while to get to the meat of this, so bear with me...

Firstly, digital television. There's such a thing. You might even be watching it on your cable system - if the number of channels you get is now measured in the hundreds, you're doing digital television. But what you might not know is that digital television is also free over the air, just like TV used to be - and if you get a TV with a digital tuner (or just a digital tuner box that plugs into the back of your regular TV) you can get more TV than you used to with the same old rabbit-ears-and-loop combo that used to bring you staticy, snowy television back in the old days, with one big difference: no static and no snow (though if the signal's too weak, no television, either.)

There's two big things digital television can do for you. One that you've probably heard a lot about is HDTV - sharper, clearer pictures and hysterically better multichannel sound than standard TV. The other thing - the one that hasn't gotten as much press - is that a digital TV broadcaster can actually put out more than one program at the same time. ABC and NBC stations are now broadcasting their main station, plus one devoted entirely to news and public affairs, plus one for the weather. PBS stations run up to five side channels. Independent channels can do the same thing...

...which brings us to The Tube. It's a TV channel that plays music videos, promotional spots that emphasize that they play music videos, and pretty much nothing else - it's in the midst of those same halcyon days we remember early in MTV's history, when they didn't have any advertisers yet. Founded a few years back by Les Garland, who was one of the folks in the room that cooked up MTV, The Tube had a hard time signing up cable systems until they realized that they could just piggyback on local stations' digital signals and get on cable systems that way. In New York, they're on WPIX-DT, and identified as channel 11.2.; they're on channel 17.2 in Philadelphia.

And so, an admission: I'm watching The Tube the same way I used to watch MTV, and by that I mean I'm probably cursing at it more than I'm praising it. But that's still a damn sight better than I can say for MTV's current incarnation, because you can at least actually see the music videos that the record companies are still making, and that's good. The Raconteurs' "Steady As She Goes" clip is good for a chuckle, Franz Ferdinand's "This Fire" is dazzling, and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" is twisted, as appropriate. And somehow, Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" shows no sign of becoming dated.

Amongst the wheat (still like the B-52's "Love Shack" video) and the chaff (Robert Plant made that many solo videos?) are clips from the original incarnation of The Pretenders. And damned if they didn't look like they were having a good time. (They weren't, of course, and they soon enough traveled down a course of self-decay that would leave two of the founding members dead, and the band's name simply a shell for whatever Chrissy Hynde's doing lately.)

Still, when they were good, they were very good indeed, and I got to thinking "boy, it's probably time for one of those heavily-enhanced reissues of those first two albums..."

...and Rhino Records was reading my mind; they're putting reissues of "The Pretenders" and "Pretenders II" next week. Original tracks, outtakes, BBC sessions and live recordings.

And, I'll bet, lots more play on The Tube. Walked right into their trap, I did.


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