5/5 (Ape House APEBOX002)
[blurb originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]
It’s oh so tempting to start this review with:
“Right now, right now it’s time to… KICK OUT THE JAMS MOTHERFUCKERS!”
But that would be such a cliché. Everyone knows that that’s how they introduce the song “Kick Out the Jams” on the MC5’s debut album, Kick Out the Jams. Have I said “kick out the jams” enough times so far? Well, lucky for you, this album I’m reviewing here is called The Motor City Five, and therefore I won’t need to say “kick out the jams” again for another few paragraphs, I reckon.
This album is one of the first releases on a new label called Run Out Groove, a semi-crowdsourced label that ostensibly lets the consumer pick what they’re going to put out (via voting on their web site), then does a small, “craft” pressing of the winner, limited to however many copies they get pre-orders for. This release, ROGV-003, is limited to 2,668 copies, which can be bought via the above web site (though this one’s already sold out there), online or in-store. I missed out on ordering this one but found one at a local Seattle area plattery. Mine’s number #0989 for those keeping score at home. It’s pressed on high-quality 180-gram audiophile vinyl (clear with subtle red and blue swirls in it) and housed in a heavy duty Stoughton tip-on album cover – this one’s got that reflective silver foil material that’s so cool. (You can see a vague rendition of me hovering above the MC5 in these photos.) Each Run Out Groove release will be a limited edition, and though some will be reissues of existing albums (releases that only came out on CD, for instance), The Motor City Five is a compilation of tracks the MC5 recorded throughout their original run in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Let’s get into more about this specific release, alrighty?
Kind of a shorter version of the CD compilation The Big Bang! Best of the MC5 (from 2000), The Motor City Five is a 12-track, 50 minute compilation with a couple of raw, pre-Elektra singles and then a selection of cuts from their three original albums from 1969 to 1971. Of course you get (you knew it wouldn’t last!) “Kick Out the Jams,” “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa),” plus later cuts like “High School” and “The American Ruse.” It’s a killer collection and a superb way to get into the MC5. Their hard rockin’, garage-y psychedelic goodness spawned many a great rock, punk and/or metal band (Stooges, The Dogs) – if you’ve wondered if all of those genres could co-exist in one band then here’s the proof. Few bands can or will ever stand up next to the MC5 in terms of sheer strength and energy. I never got to see them live but I can assure you that if the live cuts here – from their first album* – are any indicator, holy shit! I’m sure my whole life would’ve changed.
Overall this is an amazing account of one of America’s most kick-ass rock bands and a great start for a new record label (though it is an offshoot of Rhino). Yes, I found a couple of nits to pick – the notes on the insert refer to Detroit’s venerable Grande Ballroom as the “Grand Ballroom,” which wouldn’t really matter except that “Grande” is pronounce “grandie” by the locals – but they’re tiny little nits! Besides, you knew that I would find something to knock. It’s my job! That being said, I hope the quality of Run Out Groove’s future releases stays at this level. If it does and you buy ’em then you’ll be adding some seriously great records to your rack.
5/5 (Run Out Groove ROGV-003, 2017)
(* Their first album was recorded live and is called, ahem, Kick Out the Jams!)
First off, get over to Sugarbush Records right now and order a copy of each of these before they run out. I’ll wait for ya. Okay, now that you’re back: PUGWASH is the best Irish band since The Undertones and one of the best bands of the last two decades, period. Their first two albums, 1999’s Almond Tea and 2002’s Almanac, have been reissued in very limited editions for the first time on (colored) vinyl and they’re stunning! If you haven’t heard of Thomas Walsh’s band it’s not surprising – Pugwash is as obscure here in the States as a hot dog is in Ireland. And it’s hard to understand why, in this Internet/Wikipedia/“Google it!” age, that a cursory search of “power pop,” “Irish rock bands,” or “those guys with the big-hearted, big guy who writes the catchiest tunes this side of 1960s Liverpool” doesn’t serve up the name Pugwash. The band, fronted by Walsh and including his current, more-than-able mates Tosh Flood, Shaun McGee and Joe Fitzgerald, has had a career-spanning “best of” (A Rose in a Garden of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash, 2014) and a further CD released here in the States in recent years, and a new 2017 release on the way. (You can support that release on Kickstarter here.) But this is where it all started.
Almond Tea (”as served by Pugwash”) was the band’s debut release, and one of those albums that comes out of nowhere (or in this case, Dublin) with a sound that is at once of its time and of no time. Put out by now defunct Vélo Records, it was Walsh’s first fully realized project after years of making his own demos in a shed out back. This time he and his mates go all out. Their songs sometimes recall ’60s greats like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Beach Boys, plus later heroes ELO and XTC, but none of them are out and out copies. “The Finer Things in Life” (pronounced “tings” in Walsh’s particular Irish accent), a tender yet semi-rockin’ love song, recalls John Lennon with its Rubber Soul meets Double Fantasy melancholy vibe. Further songs are in a more power pop place, like “Two Wrongs” and “Missing the Point.” Throughout Almond Tea you hear references to all kinds of records in your collection.
Walsh’s talent to come up with canny concoctions continues on Almanac, Pugwash’s sophomore release (also originally released by Vélo). More upbeat than its predecessor, the band’s second LP features guitar gems like “Monorail,” “Keep Movin’ On” and “Apples,” among a harvest of other treats straight out of The Big Book of Psychedelic Psunshine Pop. Thomas’s voice is a sonorous one, equal parts nasal and not; his range and note-hitting precision is something lacking in most of today’s lead singers. There’s not a hint of gimmicky affect or studio trickery anywhere. The other band members’ voices help carry Walsh’s to a place that is seldom seen or heard anymore.
Thanks to the folks at Sugarbush Records these early Pugwash albums are available on beautiful, 180 gram colored vinyl LPs. In your choice of two colors each, they are limited to 250 copies per color and rumor is this breed is just about extinct. Considering the original CDs are also an endangered species (they fetch big bucks on Ebay), you might just want to hop to it.
(Also of note: Sugarbush has many fine, limited edition releases available, including some by Seattle psych-pop greats Green Pajamas. Finally, I reviewed Pugwash’s 2015 release, Play This Intimately, right here.)
3.5/5, 4/5 (Almond Tea, Sugarbush SB021; Almanac, Sugarbush SB028)
Britpop heavyweights BLUR landed their first US biggie in 1997 with the eponymous Blur. Twenty years ago this week – another time, another place, at least for me – it was released as the followup to their celebrated (and then rescinded) The Great Escape, the last of their “Life” trilogy (which also included Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife). Blur was a departure, for gone were the new wavey arrangements, the mellotrony goodness and the generally upbeat sound that defined their oeuvre. Here the band were primed and ready to shoot for bear with super distorted guitars, lo-fi production values and an even more overt down vibe. (Not counting “M.O.R.,” which feels at least slightly hopeful.)
The thing that was unexpected to many of us Yanks was how Blur had gone grunge. I’m not talking as grunge as Pearl Jam or even Nirvana, but after their last three albums, which were like finger flicks to the cheek, this one was a punch in the face. The underlying tunes were still quintessentially Blur, sure, but you’d have to be deaf to not hear the difference. Of course, twenty years later, the change feels more cosmetic and not as jarring as it did in ’97. Blur welcomed the band’s newfound American fan base thanks to the ubiquitous “Song 2” (“Woo hoo!”), whose video was played constantly and audio was everywhere there wasn’t a TV monitor. They were, indeed, looking for America (“with its kooky knives and suicides,” as they sang in “Look Inside America”) and they found it. Albarn, Coxon, James & Rowntree found the Promised Land, alright, warts ’n’ all.
So, today I have a 2LP pressing of Blur from 2012 (180 gram, natch) that almost sounds too pristine considering this was Blur’s big fuck you and good night! to the Britpop sound they helped define. I almost think it would’ve served the material better if they’d crammed all 57 minutes onto one record. Bring out less of the snap and more of the crackle! Yet, there’s no denying that it’s an era-capturing album, among the handful of releases that make Blur an important part of my music collection.
4/5 (Food/Parlophone FOODLPX19; 2012 reissue)
Yikes! 40 years ago this week one of rock’s undisputed greatest albums of all time was unleashed on the world. FLEETWOOD MAC‘s Rumours would go on to sell some 45 million copies globally and permanently chisel the band’s name into the figurative stone tablet of rock’s quintessential records.
So much has been written about the band and this seminal album that it’s hard to come up with anything about them that hasn’t already been said. But I have so many memories that are tied up in the band/album that I had to list them for myself just to pick a few poignant ones. I started my first band in 1977 with my pals Mike and Jerry in Cypress, California (Orange County for those keeping score at home). The three of us tried our best to learn songs we liked (“Smoke on the Water,” I believe, was first – and it was all riff and nothing else!) The band soldiered on, and by the time Jerry moved we had added two girl singers, Sharlyn and Dee Dee, and once Mitch replaced Jerry we were 3 guys + 2 girls = teenage Fleetwood Mac. I don’t remember if that was a conscious idea or whether it just happened that way, but indeed it was very handy. How better to reproduce our own versions of “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman”? We had the exact same makeup, because Sharlyn sang and played piano and Dee Dee sang and played guitar. I’m not trying to say we were able to even partially capture what the real Mac was, but we at least had the parts. So there’s that.
Later that year my dad asked me to play a song on the guitar for my great uncle Sam (that was his name, I kid you not). I didn’t know what to play – what guy his age would know any of the songs I could possibly come up with? I didn’t think he’d know “Rocky Raccoon” or “A Horse with No Name,” so after wracking my brain, I read the lyrics to Christine McVie’s “Don’t Stop,” one of the tunes she sings on Rumours with heavy assistance from Lindsey Buckingham. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow / Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here / It’ll be better than before / Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” Oh lord. The thought didn’t dawn on me then, but much later: Was I telling my uncle Sam to just let go? Well, I don’t know how lucid he was at the time (I remember he was in hospice and I played for him sitting in a chair near his bed), but he might have heard it that way. I was just a kid, thought it was a pleasant sounding song, and it was pretty easy to learn. (It helped having the songbook with all the chords!)
Like thousands of kids my age I had photos of the band plastered on my bedroom walls (along with Wings, ELO and Linda Ronstadt), favoring those that had Stevie Nicks in them. Rumours became one of those albums that I can quote without even thinking about it. Despite hearing most of its songs literally thousands of times, it’s an album that I never get tired of.
A year or so ago, while watching the Classic Albums DVD on the making of Rumours with my wife Sarah, I had a weirdly emotional moment. They were discussing how they recorded Christine McVie playing the piano part for “Songbird” in an auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus. At the time I was coming to a reckoning about some personal issues of mine that were making my relationship with my wife difficult. Laying on the couch with my head in her lap, I began crying. Big boys don’t cry. But there I was, 50-something, bawling in Sarah’s lap. Something about that beautiful song. “I feel that when I’m with you, it’s alright… And I love you, I love you, I love you like never before.” I think Christine was trying to tell me something. Listen to me: don’t mess this up. She is your songbird! And Good Lord. The very moment I’m writing this the freaking sun comes out after raining hard all morning. It turns out that Christine, like the songbirds of which she wrote, knew the score.
These days when I put on Rumours I listen to a pressing of the album that was done at 45rpm on two records. It’s an audiophile edition that came out in 2009, pressed on 180-gram vinyl and designed to bring out more of the nuances in the music that can get lost in lesser, shoddy pressings. And, indeed, you get more of the shimmer of the voices, more of the crystalline timbre of Buckingham’s underrated guitar playing and even more of John McVie’s killer bass lines and Mick Fleetwood’s kick ’n’ snare than on other editions. If you can find this pressing, and you’re not worn out by the continued ubiquity of this record, you should get a copy. That’s not to say that the 2CD reissue and the later box set aren’t worthy of your attention, as they both have many of the demo and live versions of the songs that give you a better idea of what it took to bring this baby to life and what it sounds like live. You can go your own way – pick the version that works best for you. All I know is, in one form or another, for me Rumours is going to be there until the end.
5/5 (Reprise 9362-49793-4; originally issued 1977, this version 2009)
Part II, in which I wrap up the story of Joe’s Garage – Frank Zappa’s 1979 3LP masterpiece.
Joe’s Garage, Acts 2 & 3
Act 1 of Joe’s Garage showed FRANK ZAPPA at his most adolescent. Dirty words and all, this one record release was basically a showcase for the more casual listener. It has lots of funny bits, real solid hooks and catchy songs that you couldn’t help but want to sing along with, though you might wince at singing something like “Catholic girls / with the tiny little moustache… With a tongue like a cow / she could make you go ‘wow’!” The subject matter – young Joe and his induction to the world of rock ’n’ roll – could be one of those After School Specials from the ’70s if it weren’t for the salty language and references to venereal diseases and the like.
Fast forward only a couple of months from early September ’79 and Zappa releases Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III, a 2-record set that continues where Act I left off. Instead of featuring songs that advanced the plot of Joe’s Garage, this lengthy, melancholy set focused on extended excursions into FZ’s guitar soloing. Which is to say, this is the one for those who are primarily interested in how Frank could develop a solo, from a possibly stark beginning to a meaty middle and on to its satisfying conclusion. “Watermelon in Easter Hay” is a great example, a 9-minute instrumental that displays one of the man’s greatest gifts. There are songs you can sing along to, like “Stick It Out,” but the man and the band’s musicality is what’s mostly to be enjoyed here. The plot is secondary, and though you do get to find out what happens to Joe, it is best explained in the libretto that expands on the themes of free will, free speech, the drawbacks of big government and the evils of Big Brother that the author dared explore.
It must have been daunting to the execs at Zappa’s new record label (they gave him his own imprint, called Zappa Records, at PolyGram earlier that year): did they really want to put out a three-record set that could very well lose money as the artist’s first release on their dollar? Well, I’m not sure how it originally went down when Zappa presented the work to the label suits, but we do know that the album was split into two releases (keeping it greasy so it’d go down easy?). The first record served as a good beginning and the second, 2LP set wrapped up the story. Sadly, the Acts II & III release suffered on its own (if you didn’t buy the first one you were highly unlikely to buy this – and you certainly would have no idea WTF was going on), but when, in 1987, the three records were first put together in one set, the whole shebang made a lot more sense. Thematically, musically, plotwise, it turned out that Joe’s Garage wasn’t nearly as indecipherable as The Who’s Tommy after all. (It actually took a poke at Tommy with the line “see the chrome, feel the chrome, touch the chrome, heal the chrome” [from “Stick It Out”]!)
Joe’s Garage, Acts 1, 2 & 3, finally, puts all of what made Frank Zappa so amazing (his guitar playing, witty lyric writing, clever song arranging) into one enormous but approachable package. The sound of the records is gorgeous, the songs on the records are among FZ’s finest and the physical format, in all its double-gatefold glory, is like the icing on a very tasty cock… err, CAKE!
4.5/5 (Zappa Records ZR3861-1, 2016)
As this was originally released in 1979 in two parts, I will be reviewing the late 2016 vinyl reissue in a similar fashion…
Joe’s Garage, Act I
First of all, let’s just say that if you’re one of those who “don’t know where to start” when trying to “get into” FRANK ZAPPA, then Joe’s Garage is a great place to start – if you’re not easily offended by puerile, pimply-faced humor. If, on the other hand, even the mention of things such as “ninnies,” “wet t-shirt nights” or (especially) “cock” have you immediately in the car headed for church, then steer clear of this one. In fact, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by staying away from Frank Zappa entirely. That’s not to say that everything he does mentions naughty bits or contains vulgar language, but it’s easier for me to issue a blanket danger! then to try and detail what’s safe for you and what’s not. Now then…
Joe’s Garage, Act I was released in September 1979. I was 16 and had recently moved to Seattle with my sister and parents from Southern California and was entering 11th grade. I had a general idea who Zappa was but didn’t know any of his music and knew no one who had any to check out. (This was waaaaaayyy pre-internet, kids.) All I knew is he was a great guitarist and he once had a band called The Mothers. (Back then, for you youngsters who don’t know, mother was short for the slang term motherfucker.) Well, I met a guy at my new high school who was really into Frank so we were both excited to plunk down the bucks for Joe’s Garage and plop that baby onto the record player. We had no idea what we were in for! We were just kids, fer cryin’ out loud!
This record is a true concept album, detailing the story of a young American male succumbing to the horrors and overall nastiness of a career in music. Joe, our hero, forms a band, gets signed to a record deal, meets groupies, contacts venereal disease (look it up, kids), and eventually – as detailed in the then forthcoming but not-yet-announced second volume – finds himself being “reprogrammed” by some crazed religious zealots (think Scientology). Musically, Joe’s Garage is a great intro to Zappa and his world because it contains everything that made up the man’s musical DNA: great guitar playing, humor, a love for doo wop, and an intricate yet (often) approachable sense to what makes good music. The band on this record was well-suited to the material, including Ike Willis on vocals (now, that mother could sing!), Warren Cuccurullo on guitar, Peter Wolf and Tommy Mars on keys, and various others on the rest. Zappa himself plays guitar, does some of the singing, and plays the role of narrator in the character of The Central Scrutinizer. It’s a role uniquely suited to FZ, as he later became the rock world’s mouthpiece and champion of free speech in the ’80s. (You may remember he testified in front of Congress during the days of Tipper Gore’s PMRC and their modern day witch hunt to persecute and prosecute musicians whose art used “bad language” that was surely going to mess up the minds of our impressionable youths.) Somehow ol’ Frank knew where America was headed and tried to head us off at the pass with his tale of how IT’S NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S BUSINESS TO DECIDE WHAT IT THINKS IS “BAD” FOR ITS CONSTITUENTS.
Errr, uhhh…… anyway, well, one of Frank’s greatest strengths was his ability to delegate. If he felt someone was better suited to sing a particular song, for instance, he’d have that someone sing it. Ike Willis is a monster on this record, singing a majority of the leads with soulful, expressive tone that really comes to the fore on “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up,” a slow R&B-slash-reggae groove that closes out Act I. He also grabs you by the nuts on “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”, a painful look at what VD can do to a fella. Yikes! I don’t EVER want my balls to feel like a pair of maracas!
Ummm, where was I? Oh yeah. The Zappa Records reissue on vinyl is well worth the money, putting all three records together in one deluxe, double-gatefold package that includes a booklet libretto. The records were remastered from the original analog master tape safety copy by mastering great Bernie Grundman and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Pallas in Germany. Though I don’t have the original vinyl or first CD pressing anymore, I can tell you with confidence that this vinyl reissue is miles better than those and even better than the very good sounding 2012 CD reissue. I’ll wrap up the story of Joe in Part II.
4.5/5 (Zappa Records ZR3861-1, 2016)
We heard “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” on the radio yesterday and so today I pulled out the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to give it a listen. The 1973 classic by Elton John still remains his greatest accomplishment, and in 2014 – a year late in celebrating the album’s 40th anniversary – the two-record set was reissued as both a deluxe CD box set and an amazingly great sounding 2LP set. I picked up both at the time but this vinyl edition is one you ought to hunt down. Issued on special yellow vinyl for the first 1700 copies (peculiar amount, don’t you think?), GYBR is pressed on 180-gram vinyl in the EU and benefits from a beautiful mastering job courtesy of legend Doug Sax and Robert Hadley at The Mastering Lab. The instruments come through nice and clear, without hiss and high-end sizzle (as you might hear on percussion such as shakers or high hats) and with solid bass (for the era – they didn’t mix it as loud back then as we do now). The album cover is as it was for the original US pressing, in a triple gatefold configuration with all the song lyrics, cool illustrations for each song and pictures of the band members. You can still find this pressing in stores or online, though I imagine the colored vinyl is out of stock, and if you’re as big a fan of this album as I am, you should pick it up.
Now on to my big observation. Back in the ’70s, for double albums, they pressed the sets with sides one and four on the first record and sides two and three on the second, so if you had a record changer you could stack the records and have the sides play in the correct order. (For you younger folk, record one/side one plays first, then record two/side two drops and plays next; you then take the records off the spindle and flip them over together, put them back on and then record two/side three plays, followed by record one/side four. Brilliant, huh?) Sometime in the ’80s they started putting sides one/two and three/four together, as record changer use had fallen by the wayside and it wouldn’t make sense to split the sides the way they used to. Nowadays those old two record sets are novel because of their side pairings. But I got to thinking: I wonder if sides one and four are my favorites from GYBR because they were paired together on the same record and I was too lazy back then to shuttle the records to and fro to play them in the right order, meaning the songs on sides two and three were played less often because they were on the other record, or if I prefer sides one and four because they have the best songs on them. I mean, “Dirty Little Girl,” “Grey Seal,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey” and the title track are all great songs and they all appear on sides two and three. But the aforementioned “Funeral for a Friend,” as well as “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Roy Rogers” and “Harmony” are all on sides one or four…
Perhaps you think I have too much time on my hands. And perhaps you’re right.
5/5 (Mercury/Universal Music [originally MCA])
Please enjoy Elton John lip syncing the title track on Top of the Pops from 1973:
Some have called it the greatest live album, ever. Some think it’s completely overrated. And then some of us just plain think it’s pretty awesome. Originally, The Who‘s Live at Leeds was issued in 1970 as a short, single record. A supremely truncated representation of the band’s heralded live shows of the time, it nevertheless was widely considered to be a great live record. Well, now – 46 years later! – you can have the entire concert on vinyl, and it’s a pretty sweet package.
First issued in its entirety in 2001, then again in 2010 with more between-songs dialog included and the songs in the origial set list order (as part of an over-the-top “super deluxe edition”), the February 14, 1970 concert has finally been released in the fashion it deserves. This vinyl album, which uses the 2001 “remix,” was half-speed mastered at Abbey Road Studio and comes in a tri-gatefold cover, with printed inner sleeves and pretty lengthy (though incomplete) liner notes. I put remix in “quotes” because the credits indicate it has been done, but don’t say whether it is a new mix or the same from 2001, and who knows whether that was really a remix or just the first time the entire concert had been mixed in one go. With The Who and their many re-releases the credits can be confusing! As for the liner notes, each song is discussed – except the entire Tommy set! Yet, the inclusion of the Tommy songs is a big part of why having the entire concert is so important to us rock enthusiasts. You could say they ran out of room but you’d be wrong; there’s plenty of room. (I bet they lifted the notes out of the 2001 release, which had Tommy taken out of its spot in the set and relegated by itself to the second disc.) So, who knows?!
Half-speed mastering is another thing. Some believe it is the salvation of vinyl, some think it’s a gimmick, and then some of us realize there are times when it appears to be a boon and others when it may very well be a bust. Those against it believe the high frequencies benefit from the process but the lows are lessened. (Basically, half speed mastering means the tape is played at half speed and the master is made at half speed, which supposedly lets more information make it into the groove. When you play the resulting record at the proper speed, you are arguably getting more out of your speakers. But even that’s not necessarily so, since your speakers may muddy up the sound from having more information thrown at them!) (I’m so glad I’m not as snobby a hifi enthusiast as some think I am! It’s tiring!) For what it’s worth, you can learn more about Universal’s half speed mastering at their special site.
Despite all the hoo-haa, I gotta say I really like this release. The Who were, indeed, at the top of their game in 1970, as evidenced by this album, the Hull concert from the previous night (included on the 2010 Leeds release and then separately), the official-but-posthumous Live at the Isle of Wight concert from later that year, and the many bootlegs of other shows from that era. Whether you’re a Tommy fan or not, it’s historically enlightening to hear it performed in near-entirety around the time of its debut. The fact of the matter is, you can skip the Tommy bits if they make you want to go to the mirror, boy, and smash it up. As for the half speed mastering, it’s impossible to judge whether or not it makes a difference since the entire show has never come out on vinyl before, and the 1970 album is from the original mix of the six tracks that made it to release then. I can say this: it sounds about as blistering as you’d hope. It’s kind of a hassle to deal with six sides of vinyl (as opposed to just two compact discs), and it’s weird (but unavoidable) that a couple of the side breaks are in the middle of between-song dialog. But the presentation is top notch (despite no discussion of Tommy in the notes) and the price is pretty reasonable (currently listed at $43 on Universal’s site) for a 3LP, audiophile, 180-gram set. I mean, there’s no… ahem… substitute for vinyl!
Mobile Fidelity entered the world of audiophile vinyl back in the late ’70s with their “half speed mastered” pressings of popular rock, jazz and classical albums. These days they don’t mention the half speed bit, but they do note their “Gain 2 Ultra Analog System,” which is their current technology for bringing to us “the most accurate sonic reproductions possible.” Their recent issue of Elvis Costello & The Attractions‘ 1981 LP, Trust, is on the platter today.
Strangely, this album was issued out of sequence. MoFi started releasing EC’s albums in their current Original Master Recording™ format a few years ago in their original chronological order, starting with ’77’s My Aim Is True and running all the way up through ’84’s Goodbye Cruel World, but skipping Trust until now. I actually wrote the company about this when they went straight from Almost Blue to Imperial Bedroom – WTF? – and their answer was your typical non-committal reply. Regardless, it’s here now and I’m really enjoying it. By 1981 Costello had mastered his then strong suit of writing clever, biting lyrics and the Attractions had honed their ability to communicate his songs with power and sometimes restraint to a fine point. Trust, produced by Nick Lowe with Roger Bechirian, contains great songs that cover all of Costello’s categories: hard power pop like “From a Whisper to a Scream,” film noir like leadoff track “Clubland,” and solo piano courtesy of Steve Nieve on “Shot with His Own Gun.” As always up until that point, the rhythm section of non-brothers Pete Thomas (drums) and Bruce Thomas (bass) serves the songs so well it’s pretty amazing that the songs don’t get credited to the whole band. Oh, don’t get Elvis started on that! (I’m curious if he addresses any of this in his new autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.) I think, despite favoring Armed Forces for years as my favorite EC&A album, that Trust actually covers more ground.
This reissue, as noted above, is a Mobile Fidelity release and as you might expect should sound better than the original. Once again, I don’t have a first-issue US or UK vinyl version to compare it to, but it’s a sure bet that this MoFi release is miles better than the original 1981 Columbia (US) pressing. It’s definitely better than the early 2000s Rhino CD, with a wide soundscape that allows all the different elements to sparkle and stand out – occasionally a little too much, like with the cymbals and high-hats of “New Lace Sleeves” or “Lovers Walk,” though those toned down after repeated listening. Thomas’ drums explode on the songs where they should, as does Thomas’ bass, which represents some of his best playing ever. I hope you’ll, ummmm, trust me when I say this is a classic album and should be in your collection.
4/5 (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)