Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Old faces, new records

At the dusty end of of the year, it's usually a spartan offering of new releases that will generally be long forgotten by the end of year, in polls that themselves will be written in early November and often with a Goldfish view of the years music.

2016 kicked off with the beautifully packaged Blackstar from David Bowie, followed almost immediately by his untimely passing. It's impossible not to listen to this album without one ear in the grave and if any musician was going to make his own mortality an artistic statement it would be Bowie. I can't think of another performer with the breadth and commitment to his work than David, on his final album with the black on black printed font, a stunning book and the record itself neatly but securely behind a cut out star, this is a fitting farewell to us all, albeit with the suitable humour somewhere between Spinal Tap and  Disaster Area. 

The music is stark and moving without any overt sentimentality, this is by far my favourite Bowie album since nineteen eighty something.

It's been over twenty years since Britpop and twenty since Kula Shaker joined it's ranks. After the first two albums; both of which I still love very much, like many other sailors of the good ship Dadrock, Kula Shaker went down by the end of the decade, their buoyancy not aided by front man Crispian Mills making some foolish and ill thought out comments regarding Hitler. Having resurfaced in the mid 2000's and released several new albums, I made a pretty easy prediction about the new release K 2.0 - It'll have some sitar on it. Getting it on the turntable my guess was instantly confirmed, however the Deep Purple vibe has been replaced with a Ronnie Lane / Dylan one, which in itself is no bad thing. So while it's missing the great organ playing of Jay Darlington and in my view isn't as strong as thier first two albums, this is still a fine and worthy record to add to the collection.

The sight of another new live Who release in the record rack brings about mixed feelings. Does a record of Pete & Rodger's appearance in Hyde Park last year really add anything new to the Who cannon? Apart from those who were there who would want it, who is buying this stuff? Clearly people like me! Whilst there is nothing new or even vaguely outside of the park, the inclusion of "Pictures Of Lily" & "I Can See For Miles" make the set list partially enticing (just). 

What is clear from the outset is that both Pete & Rodger were on form that day and the sound is fairly accurate, lovingly reproduced on yet another Abbey Road Half Speed Mastered release, although live sound of bands today is another moan for another day. The only clunker is Pino's buried in the mix bass solo on My Generation. It's not an essential Who purchase, but with the inclusion of a DVD this is a fairly good value triple LP version of The Who's last gasps.

Spring is on it's way and with it two red hot releases are available for pre-order from State Records. The first being Thee Jezebels follow up to last years fine single and it's a 4 track EP. The second is The Galileo 7 Cruel Bird, available on purple vinyl. Get your orders in now at

Monday, 8 February 2016

Pet Sounds as Brian Intended

Analogue Productions Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys As Brian Intended


While I’ve recently lamented over some huge holes in mono re-issues, The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” has one of the most thorough re-issue program of any album ever. So why are Beach Boys fans slavering at the thought of another batch from Analogue Productions?

Released back in the spring of 1966, Brian Wilson cites The Beatles “Rubber Soul” as an inspiration and a call to arms to write what he described as “sophisticated feeling music”. With The Beach Boys band on the road, Brian Wilson worked with lyricist Tony Asher to create songs that sent a seismic shock across the world of pop. At the epicentre, the rest of the band upon returning from tour were worried that such a departure would be too radical, despite these reservations they threw themselves into the project and worked hard embellishing & augmenting the songsThe album’s backing tracks were recorded on a 4 track recorder, which was then “bounced down” to one track on an 8 track recorder, from which other tracks were recorded & bounced down.  Due to Brian being deaf in one ear, He only produced a mono mix of the album with which Capitol also created an electronically reproduced stereo version for the much larger American stereo market. In 1997 Mark Linett would create the first genuine stereo version from the various tapes that were at his disposal, however due to technical reasons there were some variations over the original mix. Linett’s remix is highly regarded and is certainly worth having, but I feel there is a certain “photo-shopping the Sistine Chapel” feel to it. Mixing is as much a valid part of the artistic process as any other so I’m happy to stick with Wilson’s vision rather than what is admittedly a very good approximation of it. 

My original copy is from 1966 on the Capitol label that was pressed at EMI’s Hayes factory. I always thought that the lack of clarity & bass of Wilson’s multi-layered masterpiece was due to poor masters supplied from US Capitol; however I’m assured by several people that the US version sounds pretty much the same, along with the 2008 vinyl re-issue. 

About 4 years ago someone put me on to the infamous “two-fer” version.  Released as a bonus LP with “Carl & The Passions” 72 Album “So Tough”, it has long been regarded by Beach Boys aficionados as the finest sounding version. I picked up a clean copy soon after and they were right on the money.


So when I read the news that Analogue Productions were going to re-release limited editions of the Beach Boys catalogue, my ears certainly pricked up and now Pet Sounds has arrived it’s time to see if it was worth the wait. 

The high quality record sleeve comes in the Stoughton tip-on jackets & is to American Records what Garrod & Lofthouse are to British ones, the inner sleeve is a high quality “rice paper” style and the record is a quality pressed 200 gram beauty. 

Getting the record on the turntable I’m stunned by how much detail you can hear and the clarity of Wilson’s lavish mix, along with bass that I never thought was there.  At many points throughout the album I’m convinced that I’m listening to a stereo mix, the gold standard of great separation and recording expertise. The first song recorded for the album Sloop John B was the only one that initially was put down on three track and subsequently treated to more bounce downthan most of the others. Like every track on this re-issue, it sounds better than ever. An often repeated myth about “Sloop” is that Capitol forced Wilson to include this song on Pet Sounds. Beach Boys historian Brad Elliott points to the fact that Wilson had this song included from the outset and it being on the LP was completely his choice. Analogue Productions Pet Sounds is sourced from the original master tapes and produced with the attention to detail throughout the whole record manufacturing process that simply wasn’t a commercial option 50 years ago. This is such a great improvement on the original release, I’m forced to use the word “lush” in describing the sonic package. More importantly the emotions that Brian wanted to load this music with, gushes forth even more than I did in those previous sentences. Being able to connect with music takes many elements, dynamics is certainly one of them and itself a big looser to current “brick-walled” limiting. When the timpani bursts in on “I’m Waiting For The Day” you should feel it’s entry dynamically, rather than it being another sound. Trust Me, on this re-issue you feel it. “God Only Knows” is moving in any format but I’m moved literally to tears hearing it on this album, Brian’s aim of making a “feelings” album has been achieved in this household. 



Full marks to Analogue Productions on this package, I will certainly be upgrading other Beach Boys albums this year.



Due to the limited run of this version, it’s not available at your usual run of the mill outlets, for example Amazon are still selling the 2008 Capitol version. 

2016 Analogue Productions version available From:  Acoustic Sounds -


For a more detailed read about the making of this album, Brad Elliott’s liner notes for the 1999 Mono/stereo CD re-release are here:

This 1999 CD release is a very good version of the Mono/Stereo mixes which can be picked up for sub £5, there is a more recent Mono version on gold HD CD from Audio Fidelity (2009) that is supposed to be superior, but be prepared to dig a lot deeper - £30 and upwards.