When a band issues a special edition of an album a number of months after the regular edition comes out, I usually bristle. It just seems like a cash grab, or a way to stick it to your “day one” fans – those who have already purchased the album in question. When I found out that Anberlin was releasing a new version of Vital (which I favorably reviewed), I was going to just give it a miss. Packaging the album up with a few extra songs, a live disc, and a DVD, and re-titling the thing Devotion wasn’t that much of a draw for me. The band already had my money. Until, that is, Amazon had one of its darned MP3 sales, pricing Devotion (minus the DVD, natch) at the insanely-low, impulse-baiting $4.39.
For Disc One, the expanded edition of Vital, my review stands. Quick summary: it’s really good, driving rock and roll — the best the band has sounded in years. The thing that stands out to me is that, unlike most special editions, where the new songs are tacked on to the end of the album, here the new are interspersed with the old. The previous songs are in the same order, but broken up by the new songs, truly integrating them into the album. It’s a very effective way to sell the new tracks. They’re really good, too, and fit in very nicely with the feel of the album as a whole. The notable exception is the track “IJSW,” which features Auto-Tuned vocals that are as unnecessary as they are awful. At risk of sounding curmudgeonly, can’t we all just quit with the Auto-Tune already? Nobody wants to hear robots sing. Luckily, the rest of the tracks are unblemished by such tinkering. Happily, they also left “God, Drugs, and Sex” as the closing track, as it’s a fairly epic end to a now-more-epic album.
Disc Two of Devotion, as I mentioned, is a live set, recorded in Brooklyn. I’ll be honest: I’m usually ambivalent towards live albums. I own a few, but I rarely seek them out. This one, though, is excellent. For starters, it’s an acoustic set, so all of the tracks feature brand-new, stripped-down arrangements. It makes it more than a just a greatest hits album with added crowd noise. Most enticing for me is that the bass guitar is brought a bit forward in the mix, which makes it a bit more forceful than the delicate acoustic guitars. It really drives the music. With most rock albums, the guitars drive the sound, and the bass tends to get buried, unless the production team is very careful to make it distinct. The band plays well together and shares a great chemistry. The stage banter is light, frequently funny, and displays great rapport with the New York audience. I wish they had trimmed back some of the “WoooooooOOOOOOoooooo”-ing between tracks, but it’s great when you can hear the crowd singing along. It adds a nice energy to the set, and really helps draw the listener in. This will probably stand as one of my favorite live albums.
As a complete package, though, I kinda hate that Devotion even exists, as it is essentially just a really nice double-dip. Furthermore, I think that re-naming it Devotion is intentionally misleading. Why not name it Vital: Extended Special Edition or something similar? (The band does label it as such on their website, but still: if you’re just shopping at your local music store — especially online — you might not know you already own nearly half of this package already. Neither Amazon nor iTunes gives any indication that this is a double-dip.)
If you already own it in its previous incarnation, Devotion will make your copy of Vital completely redundant. Consider how much seven extra songs and a live disc mean to you before you buy. However, if you’ve delayed picking up Vital, this is certainly the definitive version, and is well worth the price, even if you can’t find it on sale.