Category Archives: Vinyl

R.E.M.-Murmur (1983)

Immortal album-5 out of 5 stars…but you didn’t need me to tell you that did you?

The biggest surprises going straight from Chronic Town to Murmur are the sheer amount of self-assurance present on this debut LP and a sense of disconnected melancholia. Not to mention the murk. Starting this record is diving headfirst into the trestle on the front cover. You get buried in its murkiness.

(Side 1): This album version of “Radio Free Europe” lacks the immediate punch of the original Hib-tone version, but is essential to establishing Murmur‘s odd blend of passion and mysticism. “Pilgrimage” is a two headed cow. “Laughing” is precisely that. “Talk About the Passion” grows on the listener, especially the line “Not every one can carry the weight of the world”. “Moral Kiosk” picks up the pace with…well what exactly is so much more attractive in a Moral Kiosk? Who knows? Freaking great bits of nonsense for 3:32. “Perfect Circle” is absolutely gorgeous. Whatever it does actually mean (if there is one) it generates such a sense of elegiac loss that it breaks you up for the end of Side 1.

(Side 2): “Catapult” is another great song that has no possible defined meaning. “Sitting Still” is one of the best things ever penned. “9-9” is gloriously conversation fear complete with one of the most beautiful guitar sounds ever: Peter Buck’s angry plucking in the verses. “Shaking Through” is the musical equivalent of its title. Literally, that’s what always sprung to my mind. MUSICAL INTERLUDE (remember these? I miss R.E.M.’s) “We Walk” is a marvelous semi-march about something. Then you have those combustion sounds occurring marvelously throughout. They’re actually slowed balls on a pool table. “West of the Fields” is a great song that the band had recently re-discovered on their Accelerate tour. This closer has a real sense of menace that foreshadows the dirges of “Oddfellows Local 151” and “I Remember California” but with a great back beat and a truly knockout bridge section that I’m still trying to decipher.  “The animals. How strange. (or housetrained?) and I got nothing else…..but neither does Michael…. 😉

The production team of Mitch Easter and Don Dixon recorded and mixed the band just as they wanted to sound. It’s this particular brew of folk, punk, geekiness, silliness, melancholy, pretension that comes across with an eager desire to be played repeatedly. This is why we fell in love with their sound.

These early albums are such polished versions of their best live-polished tunes. With R.E.M. it has always been about the whole sound-not just the poem or story set up by the lyrics. You yourself have to make up your own interpretation. It’s your responsibility not the band’s.

EDITIONS: Let me say this, if there was any album to ever get on its original vinyl LP…this would be it. Murmur was one of my first ever vinyl purchases (To be exact-Wax n’ Facts in Atlanta many many years ago.) and when I bought the standard CD later on I was stunned to hear differences. Even to my young untrained ears something was missing. What was missing was depth, dynamics, punchiness, bass, high end-all the life and murk I had so adored was just stripped away.

First CD I ever got rid of. Gladly.

In 1992, all the IRS era albums were released in Europe with bonus tracks as “the Vintage Years” collection. These bonus tracks are compiled from B-sides and live recordings that are mostly available elsewhere-especially on the R.E.M. In the Attic compilation which is essentially all of the bonuses on one disc. (Save for a few still randomly on some of these reissues.)

In 1995, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs released their editions of both Murmur and Reckoning on 24 carat Gold CD and LP. Their mastering used the original master tapes with no messing about. The resulting releases had a tremendous increase in the bass and low end. They said that they were stunned as much as we were. They just put in the source and simply were bowled over by how much had not been in the original release.

To give an example of how much additional low end and bass are present in the MFSL editions, simply play Murmur with the bass knob turned up all the way. It’s really that substantial. Personally I’m not really a fan of it, but am glad it’s out there. (If this much additional information is turned up in MFSL’s upcoming vinyl reissue of Lifes Rich Pageant then I will be beyond happy. That is an album which needs a bit more detail.)

The original IRS LP went through two different editions. The first was no# 70614 in 1983. Later in early 1984 the second edition no#70014 was pressed due to a higher demand for the album. The albums are identical except for the catalog number. Both are Sterling cuts pressed on translucent brown virgin vinyl. (Again, it might be Quiex vinyl but I’m not sure.)

In 2008, Murmur was released as a Deluxe Edition with brand new remastering and a bonus live show from the era. It was also quietly released as a remastered 180 gram LP. The remastering was essentially a balance between the original mix and MFSL sound. Unfortunately both the remaster and live show suffered from compression for the current market. (Search: Loudness War) I already had the live show on a bootleg copy and to my ears it actually sounds better than the official version. This was the first in a series of reissues for all the IRS albums, and unfortunately all have suffered from brickwalling compression-most notably on Fables of the Reconstruction.

To end on, I still play air guitar/drums to this record. I can’t help it.

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R.E.M.-Chronic Town (1982)

Immortal EP-5 out of 5 stars

Ahh..here we go. This is an EP which took everything that was established in music…and simply threw it out the window. This is just a recording of four guys who decided, “hey what the heck let’s do what we want” with all the reckless abandon of a record store clerk. (Oh wait, Peter Buck was one. Go figure. 😉

What Chronic Town does so well is convey this sense of dreamlike mesmerism. Although the band name was just picked at random out of a dictionary, it fits like nothing else could. Sure, at this point R.E.M. was playing anywhere they could and earning all of the wondrous perks of constant low-end touring, but their early recordings have this odd dichotomy between jangling, punchy rhythms and almost a hibernation trance. It’s as if we’re all falling into REM sleep while listening to these records. Or maybe I’ve just put way too much thought into these things and should shut up and review the record.

For the record: I don’t claim to understand or know what Michael Stipe is meaning or saying. It’s just better that way. Don’t try it otherwise, you’ll end up missing the song and making your head hurt.

(Side 1) CHRONIC TOWN:If the opening of “Wolves, Lower” doesn’t grab you in any way…then I have no hope for you at all. “Gardening at Night” has an almost detached feeling, as the vocals have a slight echo which further displaces them from the punchy instrumental. (I think I might like the different vocal mix a bit more.) “Carnival of Sorts” is a semi-ode to hoboes jumping boxcars. And for some reason you kinda want to dance about.

(Side 2) POSTER TORN: “1,000,000” features more unintelligbleisms with the repeated refrain “I could live a million years” jumping out at the ears as the only really clear line you can make out. “Stumble” is about stumbling through the yard….and teeth…sorta.

In essence what you hold in your hands is the band discovering recording, the studio and its uses, effects, and in a sense what their recorded output should or would be. Here they were free to experiment and discover exactly what they wanted to do on a record. So they stumbled through the yard some more. The hiss at the opening of “Wolves” is mirrored by the hiss at the end of “Stumble” so that your journey is circular and you end where you began with maybe some further glimpse into what the hell it all means. Or not.

Doesn't Peter look nice and creepy?

Note: never try to clarify early period R.E.M. lyrics with internet searches. You spend your time either laughing or being pissed at what people come up with.

EDITIONS: you get a choice between CD, Cassette and LP. I first heard the cassette after picking it up in a cheapy bin. And let’s move on because if there’s anything I hate it’s bad EQ’d tapes….the CD edition is contained on the CD release of Dead Letter Office. And while it may be the easiest way to obtain these tracks, you get no CT artwork and lose all of the punchiness and depth that makes this recording so special. Skip it.

So…moving on to LP. My favored copy is the original IRS label pressing. There were three versions, one is the very original with custom gargoyle labels and then the second more mass produced issue with just the standard silver IRS label. The third has no barcode on the back, IRS labels and is on regular black vinyl. The second one is what I have and they seem to be the same pressing, just different labels. The first two are pressed on translucent brown vinyl (Just hold it up to the light to see what I mean!). It may be Quiex vinyl, but no one’s ever confirmed it. However, it plays dead quiet and is one of the best sounding LPs I own. (Along with all the other IRS R.E.M. albums)

There was a new pressing for Record Store Day a few years back on clear blue vinyl. It’s a faithful reproduction, but both the artwork and sound lose detail from the original. It’s a nice collectible, but just save your $ and go for the original. (Check your local record shop or ebay, they usually turn up in the $10-15 range)

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Filed under Immortal albums, Music, Music Review, R.E.M., Uncategorized, Vinyl

INXS: Self-titled (1980)

Imagine a New Wave album from Australia. You’d think that’s all this would be and that you’d only get through a few minutes.

Wrong.

What is contained on INXS’s debut album is really a blueprint or loose formation of what their sound later became on their breakthrough records in the later 80’s. While not the most daring or inventive of albums it;s really one that grooves to the end with no real filler. It’s a formative album plain and simple. The things fans came to love begin to take shape and the amount of their later sound present is surprising. Sadly, this is one of the successful 80’s acts that fell by the commercial wayside needlessly.

A good, solid 3.0 out of 5. Recommended for big INXS fans who are wanting more. Casual listeners should try other INXS albums first.

Edition: The album is now out of print. My review copy was a stock US ATCO pressed LP that was nice and punchy in the right places. I don’t think the single CD release from 1990 will beat it.

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Album review-JET Get Born (2003)

Album: Get Born

Artist: Jet

Editions reviewed: CD, Rhino 180 gram vinyl

The key word for this record is “fun”. Jet was heavily criticized for perhaps lifting too much of their sound from other bands-everyone from the Stones, AC/DC, Iggy Pop,  and the list goes on.

But what art is completely original? The thing to do when listening to this album is to simply chuck all of that out the window. Once that has been achieved, take a look at Get Born.

The album consistently rocks and holds up even in the almost obligatory ballads. The hit singles “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and “Cold Hard Bitch” aren’t the only uptempo tracks. Sequencing ins pretty well split between these and the slower moodier pieces. These convalesce into the penultimate track “Lazy Gun” which then leads into the simple closer “Timothy”.

Unfortunately, this seems like a direction that the band wasn’t interested in following. The harder edge of this album was absent on their later efforts Shine On and Shaka Rock. I actually saw them play with The Vines in support of this album, and they rocked even harder. It would be nice to see a more heartfelt followup to Get Born.

The original CD wasn’t really anything to write home about. The mastering is up front, compressed and not very detailed. The Rhino vinyl I found on Amazon.com improves in these areas to a small degree. The detail has been increased, and there is more breathing room for the music. The vinyl itself is 180 gram heavyweight, and comes packaged in a card stock sleeve inside the jacket. There was a limited vinyl release in the UK at the time of the album’s release. That particular edition is pressed on two white LPs and is said to have much better sound fidelity and mastering than either of these. Currently it is out of print, so the Rhino is the way to go to hear this album. Both CD and Vinyl are just above $10, so the vinyl is an easy recommendation.

And did I mention that Billy Preston plays on this album?

At the end of the day a strong 3.5 out of 5. Recommended as an Essential 2000’s album.

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Foo Fighters Wasting Light Review

I had been looking forward to this release for many months as it had all the hallmarks of what could be a great rock album. Pat Smear returning to the band, Krist Novoselic guesting, Butch Vig producing, and even being recorded on analog tape in Dave Grohl’s garage. Wasting Light doesn’t disappoint on any of these, but it isn’t the Foo’s best album to date as some have claimed.

What it is is simply a rock album in 2011. Whoa, let’s think about that for a minute. An actual rock album? Now? What the…? If you don’t believe me just check out “White Limo” or its hysterical VHS-filmed video

Unfortunately some of the dreaded Foo album curse appears (On almost every Foo album the tracks 3/4s of the way through are a bit filler-y, here it’s Side C) Still, it rocks hard.

Comparing the CD and Vinyl release isn’t as different as you would think. The CD is actually pretty well done for a modern release. I had hoped that the all-analog in the garage concept would have carried over to all stages of the mastering, but  for a 2011 release it sounds unbelievably good. There is air and depth around the recordings and you can hear how all the instruments were cut together, especially the drums. All in all, not bad. A great CD for today that should have been a bit better.

Then we come to the vinyl release.

A few simple words. 180gram. 2LP. 45RPM.

I was just kidding about the CD and Vinyl being similar. The vinyl freaking rocks! Wow. Opening this puppy up presented full artwork, dead quiet and clean vinyl, heavy sleeves with the albums themselves in a separate rice paper plain sleeve. This has to go down as a the single best brand new vinyl release I have ever come across when it comes to how the media is protected and displayed.

Getting these on the platter is so much fun that you really don’t want to take them off again. the side breaks are well done and fitting.

The definitive way to hear/experience this album and a steal at under $20.

Wasting Light gets a strong 3.75 out of 5 stars. Highly Recommended.

The Album carries a Ziggy-style “Please Play at Maximum Volume” statement. Please comply with this.

More Foo Fighters reviews to come.

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