Just Played: A Column About Vinyl Records #21

Our regular in-depth look at the vinyl marketplace...As this column was being put to bed, the much-discussed Adele’s ‘30’ hit the racks amid talk of half a million copies having been pressed. Given the industry’s current woes around delays, it has been something of a lightning rod for people’s online ire of late.This column sampled a slightly noisy GZ pressed black edition, but we’re already aware of Optimal’s contribution to the clear vinyl option, MPO having delivered another black batch and Pallas being involved in global copies. As such, it’s pointless attempting to offer a definitive take here given Just Played has no idea what you’ll get should you choose to make the purchase.So, with the intention of maintaining our reputation for dependable tips, let’s get stuck in to the rest of the month’s releases.Freshly Pressed:It’s not just Adele that has had to assemble stock from a number of sources, as ABBA’s much-anticipated return ‘Voyage’ also needed a couple of non-aesthetically driven variants. Which is not to say there aren’t a whole host of different colours for those so inclined. While the majority – blue, green, orange, white and yellow – are Miles Showell half-speed masters pressed at MPO, there are also two different picture disc versions with an alternative cut via SST in Germany and pressed at Pallas, of all places.The music itself has certainly split opinion, moments of beauty that only ABBA could muster mixing with some genuinely bizarre lyrics and sphincter-tightening self-pastiche. It’s certainly not without its charms and I can imagine most will want a copy in their collection. In a curious turn of events, the review copy Just Played received was one of the picture discs. With the artwork on one side and, rather unimaginatively, some sleeve notes on the other it’s a bit of a mixed bag on the visuals. Both sides start with the usual low-level aeroplane rumble but quickly quieten down, while some minor clicks are present here and there. That said, it’s not all that noticeably noisier than a lot of standard pressings in the current climate and the cut sounds pretty dynamic. An album that won’t be for everyone on a format that won’t be for everyone seems somewhat fitting.- - -- - -But for a quite remarkable reissue that we’ll get to later, it’s fair to say that Damon Albarn’s ‘The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows’ would have been this column’s pick of the month. Seven years after his debut solo album proper, ‘Everyday Robots’, the pandemic has ended up causing a follow up. In May 2020, a Boiler Room livestream offered up some stripped back versions of pieces which were designed to be part of a project inspired by his second home of Iceland that he had been due to tour at that time. As the return to live performance got pushed back further and further, the desire to use this writing and move on grew too strong.And so, this slow-burning, beautifully arranged and gorgeously sung record came into being. Named after a line from John Clare’s poem ‘Love and Memory’, which also provides the lyrical inspiration for the title track, it is a wistful, often mournful collection that truly feels like a quest to find beauty during confined, concerning times. Such majestic music deserves decent treatment and, thankfully, Transgressive have delivered on that front. Mastered and cut by John Davis at Metropolis, the parts for the various vinyl editions were sent to several plants. The standard black edition is a pleasingly silent Optimal pressing, while the deluxe edition featured a white disc pressed at Spinroad in Sweden. This had some light surface noise on a few occasions, but preserved the excellent sonics of Davis’ cut, while the accompanying exclusive 7” of ‘The Bollocked Man’ was an Optimal pressing. For silent playback, go for the black but every edition sounds great.We’ve come a long way from the cut-too-hot and occasionally distorting GZ-pressed multi-sleeved and multi-coloured vinyl editions of Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’ which closed out 2020. Some twelve months on and we get a 4LP 45rpm Optimal pressed set for ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’. Is this a sign that labels are listening and looking to keep the faith with this format’s supporters? It’s hard to be certain, especially given the frantic scrabbling for stamper space across the world right now, but it certainly works in this record’s favour.After the slapdash tiling of the CD booklet pages across the sleeve of ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’, it’s also heartening to see some care being taken with the packaging for this latest re-make. Specially designed printed inners hold standard weight black vinyl which sounds pretty open, given the source material. Opener ‘State Of Grace’ is clearly defined, the bassline nimbly hopping in line with the initial drumbeat and Swift’s voice given space to breathe without being hemmed in at the top. ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ maintains its hit single sheen without squashing the soundstage a

Just Played: A Column About Vinyl Records #21
Our regular in-depth look at the vinyl marketplace...

As this column was being put to bed, the much-discussed Adele’s ‘30’ hit the racks amid talk of half a million copies having been pressed. Given the industry’s current woes around delays, it has been something of a lightning rod for people’s online ire of late.

This column sampled a slightly noisy GZ pressed black edition, but we’re already aware of Optimal’s contribution to the clear vinyl option, MPO having delivered another black batch and Pallas being involved in global copies. As such, it’s pointless attempting to offer a definitive take here given Just Played has no idea what you’ll get should you choose to make the purchase.

So, with the intention of maintaining our reputation for dependable tips, let’s get stuck in to the rest of the month’s releases.

Freshly Pressed:

It’s not just Adele that has had to assemble stock from a number of sources, as ABBA’s much-anticipated return ‘Voyage’ also needed a couple of non-aesthetically driven variants. Which is not to say there aren’t a whole host of different colours for those so inclined. While the majority – blue, green, orange, white and yellow – are Miles Showell half-speed masters pressed at MPO, there are also two different picture disc versions with an alternative cut via SST in Germany and pressed at Pallas, of all places.

The music itself has certainly split opinion, moments of beauty that only ABBA could muster mixing with some genuinely bizarre lyrics and sphincter-tightening self-pastiche. It’s certainly not without its charms and I can imagine most will want a copy in their collection. In a curious turn of events, the review copy Just Played received was one of the picture discs. With the artwork on one side and, rather unimaginatively, some sleeve notes on the other it’s a bit of a mixed bag on the visuals. Both sides start with the usual low-level aeroplane rumble but quickly quieten down, while some minor clicks are present here and there. That said, it’s not all that noticeably noisier than a lot of standard pressings in the current climate and the cut sounds pretty dynamic. An album that won’t be for everyone on a format that won’t be for everyone seems somewhat fitting.

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But for a quite remarkable reissue that we’ll get to later, it’s fair to say that Damon Albarn’s ‘The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows’ would have been this column’s pick of the month. Seven years after his debut solo album proper, ‘Everyday Robots’, the pandemic has ended up causing a follow up. In May 2020, a Boiler Room livestream offered up some stripped back versions of pieces which were designed to be part of a project inspired by his second home of Iceland that he had been due to tour at that time. As the return to live performance got pushed back further and further, the desire to use this writing and move on grew too strong.

And so, this slow-burning, beautifully arranged and gorgeously sung record came into being. Named after a line from John Clare’s poem ‘Love and Memory’, which also provides the lyrical inspiration for the title track, it is a wistful, often mournful collection that truly feels like a quest to find beauty during confined, concerning times. Such majestic music deserves decent treatment and, thankfully, Transgressive have delivered on that front. Mastered and cut by John Davis at Metropolis, the parts for the various vinyl editions were sent to several plants. The standard black edition is a pleasingly silent Optimal pressing, while the deluxe edition featured a white disc pressed at Spinroad in Sweden. This had some light surface noise on a few occasions, but preserved the excellent sonics of Davis’ cut, while the accompanying exclusive 7” of ‘The Bollocked Man’ was an Optimal pressing. For silent playback, go for the black but every edition sounds great.

We’ve come a long way from the cut-too-hot and occasionally distorting GZ-pressed multi-sleeved and multi-coloured vinyl editions of Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’ which closed out 2020. Some twelve months on and we get a 4LP 45rpm Optimal pressed set for ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’. Is this a sign that labels are listening and looking to keep the faith with this format’s supporters? It’s hard to be certain, especially given the frantic scrabbling for stamper space across the world right now, but it certainly works in this record’s favour.

After the slapdash tiling of the CD booklet pages across the sleeve of ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’, it’s also heartening to see some care being taken with the packaging for this latest re-make. Specially designed printed inners hold standard weight black vinyl which sounds pretty open, given the source material. Opener ‘State Of Grace’ is clearly defined, the bassline nimbly hopping in line with the initial drumbeat and Swift’s voice given space to breathe without being hemmed in at the top. ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ maintains its hit single sheen without squashing the soundstage and this is the pattern across all eight sides. The much discussed ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’ gets all-bar-three minutes of Side H and benefits from it. While not cheap, 4LPs for just under £50 isn’t too ridiculous in today’s marketplace. Now, how do we get them to re-do ‘folkore’ like this?

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One of those mourned for on Albarn’s record is Tony Allen, who he introduced to Joan As Police Woman in 2019. In November of that year, joined by the latter’s friend Dave Okumu, the pair spent a period in the studio improvising music with no specific project in mind. The loss of Joan Wasser’s mentor Hal Wilner, in early April 2020, sent her back to the tapes so as to make something new, only for Allen himself to pass a few weeks later. Out of grief comes a fantastic record which never quite sounds like anything these artists have ever done before, but still manages to offer comfort in the familiar.

The opening piece, ‘The Barbarian’, clocks in at almost 12 minutes, building and evolving as it goes, without ever outstaying its welcome. This is followed by ‘Get My Bearings’, which features guest vocals and piano from Albarn and reminds us of the alchemy that occurred when his instincts were at play with Allen’s skittering arrangements. Wasser’s distinctive and captivating voice is in excellent form, its intense unfurling on ‘Masquerader’ a particular treat, and joyously playful for the meditation on music that is ‘The Love Has Got Me’. Very well cut by Simon Davey at The Exchange Vinyl, the double LP leaves plenty of deadwax to avoid any congestion on Allen’s eloquent playing and the soundstage is bewitching.

For a band who released a special vinyl box set dedicated to double 45rpm half-speed editions of their catalogue not all that long ago and who have often professed to care deeply about sound quality, it’s a little frustrating to position Elbow’s new album, ‘Flying Dream 1’, on the turntable and notice a visible edge warp. Follow that up with some light clicks and pops on a number of tracks and it seems unlikely that the decision to press via Takt in Poland was taken with audiophiles in mind. It’s a shame, as the more hypnotic, piano-driven pieces here like the opening title track and closer ‘What Am I Without You’ deserve a quiet pressing. Cut by Matt Colton at Metropolis, the actual soundstage is wonderful. You might fancy the challenge of tracking down a decent copy, but why must it be so hard?

After the recent work as Jarv Is, it is something of a surprise to listen to Jarvis Cocker’s collection of sweeping French language covers inspired by his audio role in Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’. Together the musician and the filmmaker assembled a selection of vintage pieces for Cocker’s ‘Tip Top’ persona to lovingly record. The production of ‘Chansons d'Ennui Tip-Top’ is excellent, evoking a little of the vintage psychedelic sheen favoured by Matt Berry. Whether it’s the fuzzy knees up of ‘Les Gens Sont Fous, Les Temps Sont Flous’ or the stately duet with Laetitia Sadier ‘Paroles, Paroles’ that hook you in, the whole set works incredibly well and goes far beyond mere pastiche.

Cocker’s breathy vocals are as varied as they have been in many years and the instrumentation is vivacious and emphatic. Mastered and cut by John Davis at Metropolis, the vinyl sounds excellent, if slightly sibilant on the aforementioned duet. The copy Just Played received looks to be a US pressing, likely to be through RTI, although it would seem Takt have also manufactured some copies for the EU.

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To excavate an old cliché, there are those who love Charlotte Hatherley’s solo debut ‘Grey Will Fade’ and those who haven’t heard it yet. If you’re in the former camp, then you may well find much to enjoy on the first album proper by Lily Konigsberg. ‘Lily We Need To Talk Now’ is a short, sharp burst of electro-tinged indie pop with wonderfully wonky bass lines and shimmering backing vocals. Hooks come at you from all directions and its compact 24 minutes have allowed Wharf Cat Records to have it cut as a 45rpm disc via Third Man Records. It certainly helps the tracks to take up a robust position across the soundstage without feeling cluttered. While the yellow edition Just Played sampled had some light surface noise, it’s a good sounding cut. ‘Proud Home’, ‘Bad Boy’ and ‘Roses, Again’ will provide a representative sample, but it’s all great fun.

Regular listeners to 6 Music will be well aware of Hamish Hawk’s voice, his single ‘Calls To Tiree’ having been ever-present there in late summer. The parent album, ‘Heavy Elevator’, found its vinyl edition caught in the general delays and it finally arrived at the end of October. Hawk’s wonderfully expansive baritone has predictably though understandably picked up some Scott Walker comparisons. Try the tremendously titled ‘This, Whatever It Is, Needs Improvements’ to understand where that link has come from.

But that’s not all Hawk does. Explore the tremendous chorus of recent single ‘The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973’, the slightly manic Editors energy of ‘Caterpillar’ or the mid-paced glinting of ‘Daggers’. A compelling, autobiographical collection, it’s an album which repays repeated listens. The vinyl edition sounds pretty solid, a GZ pressing through Assai. This column sampled the Dinked edition, which was clear with black splatter. Playback was largely quiet after a clean, so it is possible for a record to look and sound nice at the same time.

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Polish duo Hania Rani and Dobrawa Czocher are one of the younger acts on legendary label Deutsche Grammophon and on their first original album together, ‘Inner Symphonies’, you can easily tell why they were signed up. Pianist Rani and cellist Dobrawa create mesmerising soundscapes which will delight neo-classical fans. Indeed, ‘Con Moto’ evokes some of the emotive energy of Nils Frahm’s superlative live set ‘Spaces’. ‘Malasana’ is another highlight, slowly unfurling atop a background field recording that makes it all bizarrely, beguilingly three dimensional. An Optimal pressing, cut at 45rpm over four sides, the vinyl sounds tremendous, allowing the varying textures plenty of room to breathe. Just Played sampled the red edition, although standard black is also available. Seek it out.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

The most striking thing about the twenty-fifth anniversary release of Oasis’ historic August 1996 performances from Knebworth is the artwork. Having never previously been available for purchase, and issued alongside the recent film covering that weekend’s events, plenty of fans were left wondering why the sleeve makes it look like a bootleg. Intended to mirror the contemporary advertising used for the gig, it nevertheless looks rather basic. Once inside the triple-gatefold, thinks don’t become all that more plush, with the same image replicated in different colours across all three inner sleeves.

Those drably printed inners house discs pressed at Takt in Poland which bear a few marks but play back with only minimal surface noise. The issue, however, is with the sound. Alongside the CD and vinyl editions, there is a Blu-ray containing the accompanying documentary and both nights in full. The uncompressed sounds files used there are rather unusual for this particular band, but they offered hope for the standard audio outings.

This is quickly crushed after dropping the needle for the opener ‘Columbia’. There is simply no point in putting mastering like this out on vinyl, so lacking in nuance and beleaguered by bloated, thumping bass is it. Whether listening to ‘Cast No Shadow’, ‘Whatever’ or the especially shrill ‘Roll With It’, this is painful to listen to – as in ‘loudness war CDs from the Noughties’ painful – and merely represents a 12x12 ornamental gesture for the nostalgic.

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Going Round Again

Chrysalis Records’ current run of reissues is on quite a hot streak and, following 2-Tone delights, Steve Miller & Cockney Rebel and Sinéad O’Connor, it’s time for a 1990 folk-rock album by The Waterboys, ‘Room To Roam’, that never quite got the recognition of its predecessor ‘Fisherman’s Blues’. It’s a logical continuation of that very successful sound and a set which feels rather timeless, more than thirty years after it first appeared.

Half-speed mastered at Abbey Road, cut at 45rpm and pressed at Optimal, it’s a treat for the collector and casual listener alike. ‘Songs From The End Of The World’ is a frantic jig with many meticulously placed layers and here it sounds imperious, while the more sombre ‘Something That Is Gone’ is knitted together by the lithely drawn rhythm section. There are those who grumble about an album of not much more than forty minutes in length being spread over four sides, but the 45rpm treatment here certainly ensures a beneficial soundstage throughout.

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After the clamour for Demon Records’ recent blue vinyl reissue of the Longpigs debut ‘The Sun Is Often Out’, attention now turns to their not as revered follow up ‘Mobile Home’. Slightly hamstrung by opening with a song built on an execrable pun – ‘The Frank Sonata’ – it has certainly benefited from some time and perspective. Initially emerging into the death throes of Britpop when the music weeklies were openly despairing at the lack of anything exciting to write about, it struggled to gain a foothold.

The aforementioned opener is a slightly unnervingly slinky piece that sounds a little like an early Robbie Williams b-side before he restored his pop bona fides. However, second track ‘Blue Skies’ is a fabulously direct, riff-ridden indie burst which appeared on the superbly curated soundtrack to Channel 4’s ‘Teachers’ at the turn of the millennium and instantly transports the listener. Crispin Hunt’s voice does the same tremendous things it did on that debut and all is well. ‘Gangsters’ evolves the distinctive theatrics and Richard Hawley’s knack for nagging melody is all over the record. It’s a standard Demon GZ press, with a digital but reasonably open sound pressed to clear vinyl. The artwork is very well produced and it’s a solid reissue of an album which may surprise a few listeners.

Stretching the word deluxe to breaking point this month is a blue vinyl reissue of Carroll Thompson’s excellent 1981 album, ‘Hopelessly In Love’, by BMG. Continuing a recent run of Trojan reissues, this has an engaging remaster of the album on a moderately translucent Czech pressing which suffers from some clicks here and there. Given that the disc is fairly standard, and housed in a cheap paper inner, one assumes the double-sided insert sheet is meant to render this ‘deluxe’. Admittedly, it does feature some valuable and insightful new sleeve notes from Thompson and will certainly be of interest to anyone already familiar with this fine album. Irrespective of a rather standard product, the music is well worth sampling. Start with ‘Sing Me A Love Song’ and the title track.

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The Paul Weller vinyl reissue campaign has sporadically deposited some of the most in-demand titles of the past thirty years back into the racks since the start of 2017. Last month saw a return for the sensational acoustic 2LP live album ‘Days Of Speed’, priced at a little over £40, and it’s now turn for one of the rarest of all, 2002’s ‘Illumination’. Dating from the format’s wilderness years and capturing a fairly uninspired phase of Weller’s career, the rounded corners of its sleeve have made it especially hard to track down in mint condition.

This reissue replicates that design, with admittedly quite delicate, thin cardboard and, it has been suggested, such fiddly attention to detail is the reason for it costing the same as ‘Days Of Speed’. Plenty have baulked at the price, although it is still a fraction of some of the insanity being attempted by Discogs sellers of the original. The MPO pressing contained inside sounds excellent, much more open and rhythmic than the 2002 CD. In particular, the acoustic guitar sound gloriously resonant. Unfortunately, the fault on ‘Call Me Up No. 5’ remains, although one imagines it’s quite hard to extricate Kelly Jones from the mix. With some distance, it’s a better record than it seemed at the time, but it’s no ‘Sonik Kicks’, ‘On Sunset’ or even ‘As Is Now’. That said, this quiet and dynamic cut should satisfy the majority of completists.

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Despite the milestone of its thirtieth anniversary being upon us, in the current climate of pressing delays it does feel a little odd to witness yet another outing for Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. This time, you get a bonus 7” containing ‘Endless, Nameless’ – originally a hidden track on the CD edition and subsequently a b-side of ‘Come As You Are’ – and the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ b-sides, ‘Aneurysm’ and ‘Even In His Youth’ with its own separate artwork. It also come in a satisfyingly study, tip-on style gatefold sleeve which does add a tactile quality to the experience, but surely it’s only worth doing if it’s going to surpass previous editions?

And it doesn’t. It’s not awful, but the talk of being remastered from the original half-inch analogue tapes disguises the digital process which has resulted in a not especially dynamic listen. While its sleeve is far less substantial, a recent ‘Back To Black’ reissue used a Bernie Grundman cut that sounds a lot better and costs about ten quid less. No 7”, but that’s the worst sounding bit of this whole package given how much music is squeezed onto each side. It's most obvious on the attack of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. When the drums kick in after a few seconds, they should burst from the speakers, the bassline that follows their subsequent retreat can then hop nimbly and the chorus is an all-out bombardment of noise. Here it’s all happening in the same space, percussive hits smeary and squashed while the hefty volume of everything actually serves to make it less arresting. It’s not terrible, and ‘Nevermind’ is unlikely to ever sound incredible, but this Sterling-cut GZ pressing with a poly-lined inner is thoroughly unremarkable. Largely quiet playback is to be commended, but it’s only really for the casual fan or the obsessive completist.

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When it comes to jazz reissues, the current gold standard (outside of the triple-figure audiophile community) is the Blue Note Tone Poet series. With meticulously restored artwork and all-analogue cuts from the tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio, they continue to be a very, very dependable delight. It is, therefore, pleasing to learn of Gray’s involvement in a new reissue of an over-looked album by American saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, ‘Night Lights’. Originals are far from cheap and several Japanese reissues are even more expensive, so this Pallas-pressed edition remastered using transfers from Phillips’ original tapes is cause for joy amongst the initiated.

With a sturdy reverse-board sleeve, additional photos and sleeve notes from original bassist Bill Crow, it’s a celebratory package for a rather languid but absorbing record. The soundstage is excellent, with the discreet piano of the title track and Jim Hall’s delicate guitar work on ‘Wee Small Hours’ as carefully rendered as the more prominent solo spots elsewhere. It’s a wonderful time to be a jazz collector and enigmatic nascent label New Land have set the bar high with their first entry into the market. Highly recommended.

The ongoing Cat Stevens reissue programme, through Universal and Yusuf’s own label Cat-A-Log (see what he did there?), reaches 1971’s ‘Teaser And The Firecat’ and the sound is excellent. A little more forensic and a little less warm in the bottom end than an original pressing, it is still a very enjoyable listen. Manufactured at Optimal, with a sturdy replica gatefold and the Island pink-rimmed – though a darker shade, fact fans - Island labels in place, it continues with the commitment to quality that such projects demand. The guitar sound across the whole record is captivating, always nimble and airy. Side 2 opener ‘Tuesday’s Dead’ is a particularly fine track but also the best demonstration of this edition’s strengths. Deluxe variants are available but this standard version, cut by Geoff Pesche at Abbey Road, is a delight in and of itself.

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HMV have continued with their 1921 Centenary vinyl series, celebrating 100 years of the high street music retailer. In the main, this programme has involved repressing readily available titles in slightly different colours, but a recent batch included a charming reissue of Elton John’s 1971 soundtrack album for the film ‘Friends’. Having not been in print in this country for almost half a century, this marbled pink Optimal cut is a welcome return to the racks for an enjoyable oddity from a very familiar catalogue. The title track and ‘Can I Put You On’ are fitting tasters but, should they appeal, don’t hang around if you’re after a copy of this one. Presumably a black version will follow, although the current climate will likely make that months away.

The work of songwriter and keyboard supremo Billy Preston is fairly high profile right now, thanks to his involvement with The Beatles around the time of the ‘Get Back’ session chronicled in both the recent ‘Let It Be’ box sets and Peter Jackson’s three part film streaming on Disney +. A social glue who seemed to unite a band in disarray, his remarkable touches on their music are always a delight and it’s a welcome treat to have one of the more notable Apple Records releases, his 1970 album ‘Encouraging Words’, back out on vinyl again.

Pressed at GZ and housed in a poly-lined inner, it sounds decent and has near silent playback. The bottom end of this mix of blues, soul and gospel is important, as too much emphasis will wipe out the dexterous nuance in the mix. Thankfully, it is clearly defined here and percussive sounds have sufficient air around them also. Preston’s own ‘Little Girl’ is a poised delight, with just enough swing and necessary warmth on the backing vocals. His good friend George Harrison co-wrote ‘Sing One For The Lord’ and he’s also represented by a pair of covers: a flamboyant ‘My Sweet Lord’ is joined by a sweeping alternative reading of ‘All Things Must Pass’. A fairly no-frills reissue - although bonus points to Universal for that inner sleeve – but an essential listen. A very welcome return to the turntable.

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It seems faintly ridiculous to describe one of the biggest albums of Travis’ career as over-looked, but even the name of 2001’s ‘The Invisible Band’ alluded to their tendency to slip between the cracks a little. The ongoing and often impressive vinyl reissue campaign of their catalogue has arrived at another of the more comprehensive box set editions, also deployed for 1999’s breakthrough ‘The Man Who’. An LP sized book contains scans of lyrics, original photography and reflections from the band and their producer, Nigel Godrich. It’s a beautiful snapshot of that moment and an obvious delight for the hardcore.

But what of the sound? Freshly remastered by Emily Lazar and cut to vinyl by the esteemed Barry Grint at Air Studios, the music is very well served on the two LPs within. It holds up favourably against an original pressing, the all-important definition of the acoustic guitar sound keeping its textures and the Godrich trademarks hovering beyond the speakers. The original record is accompanied by a bonus disc of b-sides and sessions. These include a perfunctory ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and a truly joyous ‘Killer Queen’, which is prefaced by a wonderful studio outtake of the band first hitting upon the idea of doing a cover of it. The box set editions are clear pressings done at GZ, so there’s a little noise here and there, even after a good clean, but this will vary from copy to copy. All audio is also provided on CD too, although the mastering is a little louder there. While not cheap, it’s a satisfying physical testament to a heartfelt and frequently beautiful album.

At The Front Of The Racks

It is hard to believe that it has now been ten years since R.E.M. confirmed their split, not least because of how willing Michael Stipe and Mike Mills have been to promote the various deluxe editions that continued to be issued thereafter. Amongst the more high-profile records from their remarkable career nestles an album which marked the end of the first phase. 1996’s ‘New Adventures In Hi-Fi’, your correspondent’s favourite release by the band, emerged after the many medical crises of the ‘Monster’ tour amidst talk of a sizeable new recording contract as well as much discussion of how it had been made on the road. This wasn’t entirely true, even though several songs did use parts from their mobile recording unit, and seemed to somehow diminish its standing before it even had a chance to assert itself as a quite incredible body of work.

As time has passed and revisits have proved favourable for many, its rather scarce original double vinyl edition has been greatly in demand and the anticipation for this reissue has arguably been greater than for the accompanying 2CD/Blu-ray deluxe set. Largely comprised of previously released material, a few visual additions aside, there has been a little disappointment at the lack of new discoveries to be made in that package. However, where perfection has been achieved is with the 2LP set. Cut by Kevin Gray – twice in one column! – at Cohearant Audio and pressed at Pallas, this is a reminder of just how good vinyl can sound as a format.

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Indeed, the label know they’ve got this one right because they’ve included those credentials on the hype sticker attached to the shrink-wrap. Not only does this confirm that people are well aware of what is required for high quality discs, but it also offers a glimmer of hope for future projects. From the first moments of ‘How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us’, it’s clear that you’re listening to something special. The soundstage is huge but not clinical. Instruments have their natural decay and Stipe’s voice has never sounded more affecting. By the time I got to ‘New Test Leper’, I was in bits.

There’s plenty of rhythm too, with ‘So Fast, So Numb’ being elevated to greatness by this rendering. Still raw but less grimy, it is a visceral delight and the backing vocals on the chorus are remarkably present. By the time the percussive elements go up a notch for the second verse, it becomes obvious that this is the sort of release one might use to demo turntables in the future. Honestly, this column tries to avoid hyperbole in pursuit of practical advice and it’s possible we’re still managing that as this pressing really is that good. If you missed it originally, don’t let it pass you by again. More like this, please.

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All of the titles reviewed above were cleaned before playback using the ultrasonic record cleaning machine, Degritter. A full review of its capabilities can be found in a previous column. 

Words: Gareth James (For more vinyl reviews and turntable shots, follow on Twitter)
Photo Credit: Andrea Turner via Pexel (Creative Commons)

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A new Bill to change the payment system for artists

Photo by Jonathan Stewart/PA Kevin Brennan MP has presented a draft of the Copyright (Rights And Remuneration Of Musicians etc) Bill. The document regulates the royalties payments. It suggests performers are paid directly, avoiding intermediate agents on behalf of record labels. The draft outlines a new principle called equitable remuneration that will be applied to […] The post A new Bill to change the payment system for artists appeared first on Louder Than War.

A new Bill to change the payment system for artists

Photo by Jonathan Stewart/PA

Kevin Brennan MP has presented a draft of the Copyright (Rights And Remuneration Of Musicians etc) Bill. The document regulates the royalties payments. It suggests performers are paid directly, avoiding intermediate agents on behalf of record labels.

The draft outlines a new principle called equitable remuneration that will be applied to streaming. The same system has been used for recorded music being broadcast in public spaces. In such cases, performers have the supreme right to get paid at standard rates. The ER payments are made through the collective licensing system.

Brennan stresses that the ER system will relate to artists who have “transferred their making available right concerning a sound recording of the whole or any substantial part of a qualifying performance to the producer of the sound recording”. Thus, the change will not affect DIY performers. However, it inevitably changes the principle of monetization for record labels, both major and independent.

The draft is published here. It will be presented to the UK Parliament next Friday, December 3rd.

The post A new Bill to change the payment system for artists appeared first on Louder Than War.

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