❉ We Are Cult appreciate a good reissue. Here, we give you the lowdown on some recent noteworthy vinyl reissues.
Vinyl has made its comeback, and regardless of whatever dire future prognosis some knive-sharpeners have for the format, the last couple of years have been banner ones for reissues of classic titles on LP record. As a former used-record shop manager, I’m practically obliged to adore records, although I remain firmly aware of its flaws, especially faults with bad pressings such as surface noise and warps on new pressings. Although there are some who seem to think the more crackle, the more “authentic” the sound of the record, I can firmly tell you this is not the case. A fine new pressing will have very few surface crackles remaining after a quick run through a record cleaning machine. Poor vinyl and bad pressing can make the “noise floor” of an LP quickly rise to unacceptable levels for me.
The capsule reviews I’ll present in this column will generally assume that you’re already familiar with the LP’s content, and are more interested in knowing if the new version is worth purchasing. Each will conclude with a quick score of the mastering and pressing quality. If I’ve had to exchange the LP for a new copy because the first was too distractingly defective, that will also be mentioned. I’m not going to get into whether something is analog- or digitally sourced, unless the record truly sounds like crap because of the master that was used. What it all comes down to is how the record sounds to my ears.
YES – 2016 Tour Editions (April, May, and June 2016)
A popular move these days seems to be reissuing classic albums to coincide with a band’s current tour. As Yes hit the road this year focusing on playing material from three specific albums, we got brand-new versions of them as a result. The gifted Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio remastered both ‘Fragile’ and ‘Drama’, and the results are stellar versions that possibly surpass originals. ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, however, duplicates a European mastering from a couple of years ago and doesn’t generate the same level of excitement. It’s competent but brings nothing new to the table except for a lack of surface noise.
❉ Drama –MASTERING: 5/5. PRESSING: 5/5. WORTH BUYING? Yes to Yes.
❉ Fragile – MASTERING: 5/5. PRESSING: 3/5, with a few more pressed-in pops than I’d like. WORTH BUYING? Yes, and not just because you’ve probably never heard it on vinyl without distortion on the inner tracks.
❉ Tales from Topographic Oceans – MASTERING: 3/5. PRESSING: 5/5. WORTH BUYING? As this album is a bit of a curate’s egg, only if you want to replace a crackly original.
DAVID BOWIE – Changesonebowie (May 2016, Rhino/Parlophone)
This reissue of Bowie’s classic first greatest hits collection was the debut for the new mastering of several tracks that feature in September’s box set ‘Who Can I Be Now?’. There have now been so many different masterings of Bowie’s work that no one can seem to agree on exactly what any of the songs should sound like!
In any event, this is a solid reissue, if perhaps lacking in the kind of excitement a great vinyl mastering can provide.
MASTERING: 4/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING? If you feel you need it, it’s a good way to go.
PRINCE – Prince (June 2016, Rhino US)
Another Kevin Gray cut, this easily beats a US original of Prince’s self-titled second album, with solid bass and crystal clarity, but not succumbing to the thin quality of sound that plagues original Prince vinyl. A hugely fun listen.
MASTERING: 5/5. PRESSING: 5/5. WORTH BUYING? Hell yes.
PINK FLOYD – First four albums (June 2016, Sony/Pink Floyd Records US)
Absolutely superb set of reissues mastered by Bernie Grundman, squeezing every bit of dynamics possible out of over 40-year-old master tapes. Although maybe first pressings of ‘Piper’ and ‘Saucerful’ may be slightly punchier, you are not going to ever find originals on such quiet vinyl. This is, simply, the best version of ‘More’ that has ever been released, with the bizarre low volume of Cymbaline as compared to the rest of the album corrected after decades. And ‘Ummagumma’ has been improved to the point where I actually enjoy the studio sides, which is a huge accomplishment.
❉ The Piper at the Gates of Dawn – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 5/5.
❉ A Saucerful of Secrets – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 5/5.
❉ More – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 5/5.
❉ Ummagumma – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 4/5 (some slight noise on side 3). WORTH BUYING? Oh yeah. All of them.
BLACK SABBATH – The End Tour Editions (August 2016, Rhino)
This could have been the ultimate set of Sabbath reissues: The first eight albums, all featuring Ozzy Osborne, all on colored vinyl, all remastered to the same quality as the double-LP versions of the first three albums released earlier this year. And, indeed, the exact same pressings of the classic first three albums – ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Paranoid’, and ‘Master of Reality’ – are available here in possibly the best-sounding editions since the originals on the UK Vertigo label. Things go off the rails badly with ‘Black Sabbath Vol. 4’, however, with a a mastering that’s had No-Noise applied to the point where all the tape hiss has been removed from Changes, where it was an integral part of the recording’s atmosphere. Elsewhere mid-range has been sucked out to the point where the album sounds like an entirely different mix … a sub-par one. Something weird and wrong happened with ‘Vol. 4’. Things improve with ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ and ‘Sabotage’, although the latter seems to have its bass boosted slightly. I like its sound, but some Sabs fans don’t care for it. ‘Never Say Die’ is fine, but the treble-frenzied ‘Technical Ecstasy’ is still a bit of a mess, with Dirty Women sounding so harsh that its last couple of minutes sound like they’re being pumped through an overloaded AM transistor radio. To be fair, this issue exists on the original pressing as well, but it likely could have been tamed for the reissue with some judicious EQ. All in all, a mixed bag.
❉ Black Sabbath – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING? On Sunday or any day.
❉ Paranoid – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING? Iron Man says yes.
❉ Master of Reality – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING? Really, yes.
❉ Black Sabbath Vol. 4 – MASTERING 2/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING: Only if you have no other option. I recommend the 2010 Rhino issue cut by Chris Bellman instead.
❉ Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – MASTERING 4/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING? It’s not bad, but don’t break your neck getting to the store.
❉ Sabotage – MASTERING 5/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING? To me, yes. I love this version. Others may not agree.
❉ Technical Ecstasy – MASTERING 3/5. PRESSING 4/5. WORTH BUYING? It’s an OK record, but originals shouldn’t be hard to find and will likely sound better.
❉ Never Say Die – MASTERING 4/5. PRESSING 5/5. WORTH BUYING? Another OK record, and this is a good version. Only you can decide if you need it.
❉ Next month: David Bowie’s ‘Who Can I Be Now?’ box set, and the next set of Pink Floyd reissues.