“Vienna” Gets Ultrabox After 40 Years As Synth Rock Touchstone [part 2]

ultravox vienna box cover art

six discs is a lot of ground to cover

[…continued from last post]

Let’s continue our examination by delving into disc one of the set; the 2020 remastering of “Vienna” from the original Conny Plank 2-track mixdown. We have already discussed what we think of the music. It’s a classic in our personal canon.What we want to know here is how the mastering of the disc stacks up against the history of the title. Fortunately, I have [as far as I know] every mastering of the title over the last 40 years. At the very least I have six, very differently mastered CDs that we’ll look at in some detail, with all important wave forms and spectral analysis graphs. Starting with the very first CD of the title.

MASTERING


1983

vienna 1983 mastering

The 1983 mastering is not very loud, but has a full dynamic range. Also, the master tape was only three years old. >click for detail<

The baseline 1983 1st remastering for CD is pretty tepid like any other title at the dawn on the CD era when engineers were flying by the seat of their pants and had not worked out just how best to master for this new and very different medium. The dynamic range is all there, but you must really be aggressive with the volume on your playback to get any impact out of it. It sounds thin and a bit brittle. But the album peaks at around -14 dB! So it doesn’t sound bad, just weak. There’s almost sibilance on the vocals…it’s right on the line.

1994

vienna 1994 mastering

The sound had new EQ and compression applied here for more kick. >click for detail<

chrysalis 25 edition of ViennaIn 1994 Chrysalis UK released a special series of 25 significant albums to celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary. These albums came in a unique and sturdy, Chrysalis blue longbox that was sealed with a silver sticker showing the album cover. The Chrysalis logo was embossed into the lid of the longbox. As an Ultravox geek with a policy of buying any Ultravox record that I saw [whether I needed it or not] I knew I had to mail order one of these. I was interested in hearing if the title had been remastered. The original I had for 9 years was really thin, as we saw earlier. The jewel box was solid blue plastic with a small sticker of the cover art on the front cover.

This edition had enhanced bass at the expense of some scant high frequency information that, if you’re my age, you weren’t hearing anyway! Overall, an improved and more balanced mastering. The drums sounded better and the EQ and moderate compression made for a more pleasing overall sound, more vibrant without being uncomfortable to listen to.  It peaks at around -9 dB. I heard what sounded like “cello” synths in the chorus for the first time of listening to “Passing Strangers” [the text track] with phones on. But there were still near-sibilant “esses” in the vocal.

2000

vienna 2000 mastering

The 1st DLX RM with bonus tracks had some hard hard limiting applied. >click for detail<

vienna 20th anniversary CDOuch! The first DLX RM of “Vienna” with B-sides [and the “Vienna” video in QuickTime format] was a budget line release in 2000 and the 20th Anniversary edition with a clear hype sticker. It was the best looking edition of “Vienna” yet. Extreme Voice designed the booklet with photos and full lyrics for the first time. But it’s not the best sounding edition of “Vienna!” Hard limiting has been applied to the sound and those drums are starting to sound like firecrackers. It is too harsh for headphone listening. The sound levels peak here at around -0.5dB. Vocals still showing signs of sibilance.

2008

vienna 2008 mastering

2xCD version with less compression but just as loud at 0 dB. >click for detail<

vienna 2008 mastering

In 2008 the “Definitive Editions” of the Ultravox canon were released in 2xCD sets in O-cards. These had the original album plus a bonus disc of supplemental material. Thorough. But ultimately even louder than the 2000 version, with peaks at 0 dB. Another harsh listen. The EQ here eliminated some of the low end that made the 2000 version more palatable. Mastering was by Steve Rooke @ Abbey Road. The first mastering engineer credited for the work here. I disrespect it when I end up buying DLX RMs for the previously unavailable material and the original album sounds like junk, which is why it’s good to keep your early mastered CDs. Especially in the last 20 years.

2020

vienna 2020 mastering

The Conny Plank mix in its latest mastering was an improvement. >click for detail<

Alchemy Mastering have finally given the music some room to breathe in 2020. Peak average hangs around -6dB and at no point do any peaks come remotely near clipping. More low end has been returned to the music, which for analog, electronic rock music, sounds right to me. The EQ selected had tamed the worst excesses of the sibilance on vocals. A glance at the spectral graph reveals that the high frequency info has been rolled off above 15K, but this was a step back in the right direction for this album. This or the 1994 mastering were the best you can hear of Conny Plank’s production of “Vienna.” But we aren’t finished yet.

2020 [Steven Wilson mix]

vienna stev wilson mix 2020

Steven Wilson’s mix has the best mastering you’ll probably hear for this album. >click for detail<

The Steven Wilson 2.0 mix had the most enjoyable mastering of the “Vienna” album out of all of the ones in my Record Cell. It was a warm, rich sounding mix with compression applied with the lightest of touches. Notice that the waveforms peak at about -6 dB, with even the highest peaks just at -3 dB. The wave as shown here has as much dynamic range as the first mastering, but with the added power that the 1983 mastering lacked. A look at the spectral analysis shows that all of the high frequency information that was lost to EQ settings on other masterings was fully present here. And since he had the multitrack to work with, Wilson has [thankfully] de-essed the sibilance. No longer to those consonants cut my ears like a digital knife.


So the history of “Vienna” in mastering for CD closely follows the overall history of mastering for CD at large. The initial, tentative steps to digital were unnecessarily meek at the hands of technicians who had spent their lives mastering for the very different beast of vinyl. The next wave of mastering hit an early peak while pretty much any mastering in the last 25 years could get very harsh as the dynamic range of digital music on CD was compressed down to a fraction of what the medium was capable of holding. And now, in 2020 the tide has turned back to sensible mastering techniques for the first time in a generation. Just in time for CDs to go away!

One thing I found very fascinating about the 1983 through 2008 masterings was that at the end of the track “Passing Strangers” there was strange noise at the end of the track after the music faded out with about noise and hum for about two seconds on each of the versions of that track. Some more pronounced than others, but none bereft of it. It came after the music faded out completely, so there’s no intrinsic reason why it had not been removed until Steven Wilson finally did it on his mix of “Passing Strangers.” I wonder if it was down to the gear/techniques that Plank had used on his mix of the album. And I wonder if it’s there on every track? To be found only with careful headphone listening?

Next: …Steven Wilson 2.0 Mix

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“Vienna” Gets Ultrabox After 40 Years As Synth Rock Touchstone [part 1]

ultravox vienna box cover art

six discs in a slipcase folio

This summer word spread that the fourth album by Ultravox; the one that made their fortune after years of being out of step with the commercial zeitgeist in their first incarnation with John Foxx leading the band, was reaching us in a six disc box which included the album reconfigured in 5.1 surround by Steven Wilson. I have a few SDLX boxes of cherished albums, but this album was one that I encountered in real time for an impact that was catalytic in my formation of musical taste. I loved synthesizers, but I also loved Rock Music. Here was the band that stood at the forefront of both things and had few peers at excelling on both ends of the sometimes mutually exclusive spectrum. After “Vienna” hit the stores in the summer of 1980, there was no shortage of bands dabbling in synthesizers. I maintain that many were already influenced by the previous Ultravox album, which was nothing less than a blueprint for the future development of rock. But many of them had nothing to do with rock music as they were content to plow the synthpop furrow.

PACKAGING


ultravox return to eden 10" cover artThe box was pre-ordered for a change and arrived a week ago. I’ve finally gotten a chance to examine the contents and did my first bit of headphone listening  [rare in my world] and am here to report on my findings. The packaging is sturdy and attractive. Rian Hughes, who designed the actually mind-boggling “Moments From Eden” CD/10″ from the band’s 2nd live tour of Europe in 2011 did the honors here. Hewing closely to the style already established for the album campaign.

The packaging was designed to be similar for the CD or LP packages of the title. Thankfully, This was not one of those “kitchen sink” boxes that made the fans buy both formats at once for max profit. The 4x LP on clear wax was separate from the CD/DVD package. Each version came in a 12′ x 12″ sturdy slipcase folio with room inside for two gatefold sleeves that held vinyl or CDs. In the case of CDs, the first gatefold featured the classic “Vienna” cover art and held the large 12″ x 12″ booklet of liner notes as well as an A4 sized envelope with facsimile contact sheets of photographer Brian Griffin’s proof sheets of the photos of the band members from his photo shoot.

brian griffin photos of ultravox

The photos were printed on glossy card stock to better approximate real contact sheets

The other side of the gate fold folio held the liner notes booklet. The booklet was 20 pages and had input from all of the band members, save for Chris [Allen] Cross, who was unavailable. As a therapist, he may have had other things on his plate this year! Midge Ure wrote the introduction page and in it he recognizes how much that Ultravox were, for all of their synthesizers, a rock band. This was certainly true. The booklet had comments from the band about the recording of many of the songs and I managed to get some new insights even after 40 years of fandom. For example, did you know that the false ending to “Private Lives” with a screeching fake ending was cribbed from a Steppenwolf record? Thus spake Billy Currie!

vienna box booklet

Why not click on this image to zoom in and read these pages?

The booklet also has full credits for the project, along with photos of the archival tape boxes and mixing notes from the album sessions showing the allotment of instrumentation to the channels. Photos from the Ure and Cross archives figured heavily here. The band were all heavily into photography, though Ure can’t remember ever seeing Currie with a camera in the notes.

foloi 2 gatefold outer cover vienna box

This gatefold held the 6 discs inside

The second gatefold folio had an alternate image to the original cover shot and opened to have a photo grid of the cover shot blown up to a matrix that was randomly in negative form, with six slots to accept the covers of the six discs that had been printed to make them blend into the photo image. Not what I was expecting from seeing the covers of the LP box with variations of the “Vienna” cover for each of the albums.

Vienna disc folio gatefold

Hmm… this sort of recalls the “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” grid look and feel

It’s interesting seeing the “Vienna” cover as a full sized gatefold piece after so many years having only the simple LP sleeve on the racks. The design made common use of the gatefold sleeves and hard slipcase no matter what the format; an efficient design. But this sort of precious keepsake packaging is not really compatible with my lifestyle. I can see myself making a fat 6xCD box for the discs on my racks with the packaging remaining on the racks where the 12″ vinyl lives. I’ve done that for things like the “English Electric” album by OMD and it makes the discs more easily at hand for me. But it is another thing to compulsively design; as if I don’t already have too many things that need my attention.

Next: …Remastering Roulette

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Record Review: The Vapors “Together” UK CD Melts Away The Years Between Albums Two And Three

vapors together cover art

Manmade Soul Ltd and The Vapors Own Records ‎| UK | CD | 2020 | VAPCD3

The Vapors: Together – UK – CD [2020]

  1. Together
  2. Crazy
  3. Sundown River
  4. Real Time
  5. Girl From The Factory
  6. I Don’t Remember
  7. In Babylon
  8. Letter to Hiro [no. 11]
  9. Wonderland
  10. Those Tears
  11. King L
  12. Nuclear Nights

We just reviewed an album by a band that had not released anything since 1990, but there are some bands with even longer legacies apart. I got a delightful surprise regarding The Vapors twice this year. First, when we got news of their new album; their first since 1981 and the demise that year of the band. Then, on my birthday, one of my presents from the stalwart Mr. Ware was a signed CD of said album! Playing this album immediately showed that the band had not let any of their skills atrophy during their years pursuing paths other than that of The Vapors.

As the jaunty title cut immediately made apparent. “Together” was a snappy confection of New Wave pop that took the long view on a lifetime together with a partner from the perspective of …right now. The kids are grown and the times have not been easy but at the end of it all they were still a pair. The lurching stop/start riff that moved this one along was abetted by the bass of Steve Smith and the poppy BVs.

The pre-release track, “Crazy” we’ve talked about before. It’s a driving bit of pop/rock built around a tight, repetitive guitar riff from Ed Bazalgette that was strongly redolent of The Flaming Groovies approach to power pop. Not surprisingly Bazalgette cited that band as one of his big influences on the band bio page on The Vapors website. It fairly leaps off of the track and I’d say that they nailed the feel of that band expertly here.

For a slower tempo change of pace, the sumptuous “Real Time” could hardly be bettered. The gently strummed rhythm guitars pulled us immediately into the song where David Fenton’s measured, low key vocal revealed the paradoxical power of restraint.  He’s barely singing here; practically reciting the lyric, but it all sounded like a smooth riding car in low gear moving effortlessly forward.

While the songs so far had touched upon real life concerns from a definitely adult perspective, the relationships depicted thus far were not as fatalistic as on the haunting “Girl From The Factory.” As Fenton recounted his last meeting with the subject of the song, the constant refrain of “she seemed all right” only served to undercut the terrible loss that had occurred since that fateful time. The details on the lyric were knowing and personal, as if they had been intimate experiences. The Bowie reference had the ring of truth.

“So I walked her home, we counted stars
And she said something ’bout life on Mars
But I didn’t know if she meant Bowie or not
Cos she really loved him a lot” – “Girl From The Factory”

The backing vocals and acoustic guitars lent it all an aura of folk music, which is what it was as it reported on a tragedy in song form. At the song’s end Fenton was even breaking down in sobs and they used that in the song.

The guitars this album had been all over the stylistic map. From the punky riffs of “Crazy” to acoustics on “Girl From The Factory” and now “I Don’t Remember” was drenched in wah-wah effects that were all new to The Vapors palette. There was a willingness to do whatever it took to get the songs across here, and while some staked out new territories others were call-backs to the early New Wave of their past.

“In Babylon” featured subtle synth percussion effects of the sorts that were used lightly on “Magnets” as opposed to the more orthodox “New Clear Days.” The lyrics were built for today with pithy proclamations like this one.

“But it’s the same old story
Someone’s singing our song
Land of hope and glory
For the rich and the strong” – “In Babylon”

It was certainly apparent that all of those years spent in law had not atrophied Fenton’s songwriting muscles any. He was always a thoughtful, mature songwriter for his age back then and time has not chipped away at his abilities any for the years spent away from music. “Those Tears” was as dignified and vulnerable a song of breakup and the hope of reconciliation as one could ever hope to hear. The driving rocker “King L” was on closer inspection, a fascinating [and surprising] tribute to the great Leonard Cohen; a now absent inspiration to songwriters everywhere. The Hank Marvin inspired solo from Bazalgette in the middle eight was quite tasty and a creative counterpoint to the otherwise urgent number. Fascinatingly, none of it sounded a whit like any Leonard Cohen song; making this a vivid and cliché-free tribute as well as a fantastic injection of adrenaline near the album’s end.


What a pleasure it was to hear The Vapors reconvene nearly 40 years later to make such engaging music that felt of a successful piece with their early work. And fans of “New Clear Days” and “Magnets” would find much to enjoy here. It helped that Fenton was always a strong songwriter with a mature outlook, as songs like “News At Ten” clearly showed ages ago. They had tried to reunite almost twenty years earlier, but the members were scattered far and wide back then. So it was second time lucky, with Steve Smith, Ed Bazalgette, and David Fenton able to pick up their instruments in 2016. Original drummer Howard Smith was a new father in 2016, so drums were the province of Michael Bowes this time. Fenton’s son Daniel also contributed [and fills in live when Bazalgette is off directing]. The production was by Steve Levine and almost all I’d ever heard from him were the tepid Culture Club hits, but a look at his CV on Discogs revealed that he produced a couple of tracks on The Creatures brilliant “Anima Animus!”  The sound here was warm, simple and direct, with scant technological filigree getting in the way of the songs and performances. It sounded like music, not software. The mastering by Tony Cousins was excellent with light compression giving a little punch while keeping the dynamic range open.

The Vapors were poised to continue on their live promotion when the album was released and the band had set up a 40th anniversary tour for “New Clear Days” but that’s pushed out until next year at this time; which feels a bit optimistic at this point, in all candor.

‘New Clear Days’ 40th 41st Anniversary Tour | UK | 2021

1 Oct | Club Academy, Manchester
2 Oct | Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
15 Oct | Under The Bridge, London
16 Oct | Patterns, Brighton
21 Oct | The Cluny, Newcastle
22 Oct | Oran Mor, Glasgow
23 Oct | Liquid Room, Edinburgh
29 Oct | Thekla, Bristol

Given that 2020 has not seen the band caught up in a whirlwind of touring and promotion, we can take solace in the news that David Fenton has instead found the time ideal for writing some more songs. We can hope that there might be an album #4 one day.

– 30 –

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Record Review: It’s Immaterial Album Shimmers After Almost 30 Years Tucked Away In A Closet [part 3]

whitehead + campbell

L-R: Whitehead + Campbell ©2020 Moira Kenney

[…continued from last post]

We just reviewed an album with a song titled “Tell Me Why” and here’s another one already in our queue. The songs could not be more different. Only the ubiquitous early 90s shuffle beat points back to this song’s origins. The abstract synths gently pulling us into the song were out of the Callum Malcolm playbook and redolent of the sound he brought as producer to The Blue Nile. But the matter-of-fact, conversational tone of John Campbell was always a very different kettle of fish to the more heart wrenching approach of Paul Buchanan. But a listen to the lyrics here showed that though his manner and delivery differed from Buchanan, his words were recounting a time when “you heart stays out all night” and aiming to repair the damage from a straying. The big difference came down to the reserve that Campbell brought to the mic.

“Up On The Roof” was a heartfelt song of remembrance with a rare hint of electric guitar on an album that was primarily acoustic among the delicate washes of synths. The band made a rare call back to their signature song with “The Gift Of Rain” sporting the most urgent and mototik beat here, as Campbell recounted a car journey of a fundamentally different kind to the one in “Driving Away From Home.” The chorus here even paid heed to the differences between the songs.

“Sweet journey home
Along the northern highways
Sweet memories carry me home” – “The Gift Of Rain”

The tentative piano notes that began “I Can’t Sleep” were a perfect evocation of tapping your partner on the shoulder as Campbell said “wake up… wake up, Francine.” Relating how the heat in that night put the notion of a night’s sleep off the table. No, this was the time for a swim to cool down. The sustained string patches suspended time as the ambient harmonics took the song off of the pop path to something a little more abstract. Sounding much like the acoustics beneath the pier at the song’s Jackson Sound. The song was as much an environmental as an emotional portrait and the breakdown in the coda seemed to want to go on forever… until the song surprised with a quick fade.

More motorik  rhythmic urgency was found on “In My Dreams” along with subtle, jazzy, acoustic guitar licks. The swelling sustained string chords were a perfect evocation of the rising sun of the song’s chorus. The shimmering synths leading into the chorus added just the right amount of necessary tension to the ultimately languid vibe of the song.

The closing “How Can I Tell You” presented a scenario that seemed like an admission of guilt for a wrong committed that the French woman [Moira Kenney] on the phone with the singer had no knowledge of yet. She interjected “what have you done?” in French throughout the song as a spoken interlude and rhythmic device. As the song progressed, the mention of a promise broken by the call itself advanced to protestations of innocence and a de-escalation of the unnamed action to something less than a sin. Ultimately, the singer rationalized their action by repeating that they only ever did it once on the outro. Having sought confession, they were ready to move on as the french horn synths in the outro brought the gentle song to its closure.


I found it interesting that these songs from the early 90s were unfinished, which leads me to suspect that all of the vocals here were recent for a consistent tone. The band had their work cut out to find a way to get the [obsolete] tapes from almost 30 years ago read successfully. I suspect that had this been finished by 1993, the result would have been closer to a seamless continuation of the vibe the band was exploring on “Song.” By linking up with original producer Callum Malcolm [who accompanied Whitehead and Campbell] and recording in Castlesound Studio, that meant that the sonic footprint of the album adhered close to the imperial Blue Nile sound.

Of course, feel is one thing. It’s Immaterial approached the emotional content of their music in a very different way to The Blue Nile. The band proffered a more dryly dispassionate, conversational tone to their music that was intimate without the more grandiose tone that Paul Buchanan aimed for. But the overriding factor that I feel had the biggest effect on this album, was the fact that it was re-worked and finished contemporaneously. This allowed the band to reflect their current headspace, and it made for an album that was ultimately a half-step away from the vibe on “Song.”

“House For Sale” was a slightly poppier, less abstract album, where the gentle, mid tempo songs and performances could nestle close to the sort of vibe that China Crisis also explored. In that context, especially with Gary Daly inviting Mr. Campbell to perform on his recent solo album, and with the appearance here of CC’s engineer Mark Pythian,  any similarities to that other Liverpudlian band were heightened here,  but ultimately, the emotional tone here was more shadowy and nuanced. Lacking the winsome quality that Mr. Daly usually brought to the music of China Crisis.

The new sessions recorded contemporaneously in Liverpool at Elevator Studios and engineered by Tom Roach were ultimately produced by the band. Bringing a 90s state of mind into the present for a mixed approach. I wonder if the lyrics were even written 30 years ago. Even if they were, I can imagine the accumulated weight of half a lifetime lived since then would inevitably lead to changes. Possibly drastic ones.

If you’ve ever been captured by the gentle, introverted pull of this band then I strongly recommend bringing any ardor for their unique musical presence up to date with a purchase of their third album, which has taken a long, and circuitous path to reach our grateful, 2020 ears. I can hope that there might be another album in the offering in less than half a lifetime from this compelling duo.

post-punk monk buy button

– 30 –

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Record Review: It’s Immaterial Album Shimmers After Almost 30 Years Tucked Away In A Closet [part 2]

it's immaterial - house for salew cover art

It’s Immaterial | UK | CD | 2020 | IICD001

It’s Immaterial: House For Sale – UK – CD [2020]

  1. Summer Rain
  2. Kind Words
  3. Just North of here
  4. Downriver
  5. Tell Me Why
  6. Up On The Roof
  7. The Gift Of Rain
  8. I Can’t Sleep
  9. In My Dreams
  10. How Can I Tell You

[…continued from last post]
The evanescent beauty of “Summer Rain” started the album on a wistful note with a rising string patch under which the crystalline synth loops replicated the feel of rain itself. The spacious vibe that Callum Malcolm dealt in was present in all of these songs. With airy arrangements that never overpowered, except through subtlety. Almost below the threshold of perception were curiously funky synth figures if we listened carefully. Long time China Crisis stalwart Mark Pythian guested here on keys and the vibe would not be out of place for those of a China Crisis persuasion. The subtle acoustic guitar got a chance to have some spotlight in the middle eight on this song of delicate remembrance.

“Kind Words” was a sly samba that proffered vocalist John Campbell in a surprising Lothario role singing a duet of embittered romantic fallout with Eva Peterson as the wronged woman [left with two kids] who upbraids the evasive Campbell role as he swings by [probably not in the best of intentions] to see what he can get away with as the lady sends him packing in spite of his perfunctory overtures of recompense. A surprising “too little, too late” scenario of a heel’s comeuppance for this normally prosaic band.

jarvis whtehead + john campbell

Jarvis Whtehead + John Campbell

Then the album delivered a quintessential It’s Immaterial moment for the third song. “Just North of Here” began with scintillating strings and a tentative piano before the gentle rhythms began and Mr. Campbell dropped the listeners into a potentially dangerous scenario with agitated strangers [possibly given to fits] in a restaurant asking unanswerable, metaphysical questions. Specifically, “where’s heaven?”

Campbells’ classic matter-of-fact delivery was the sort of conversational, intimate performance that no one did better than this band. I loved how the narrator’s relating of this surprising event led to his extended reverie about a fishing trip where, indeed, he  found as close to heaven as he’d ever known; the possible street person he had encountered in the restaurant now forgotten. A red herring of a song opening gambit as he waxed further eloquent on the wonder of that fishing trip that had, in retrospect, made such an impression on the narrator.

The gentle rhythm under the sustained strings and a three note sampled string hook. The song formed was a Mobius loop of longing and beauty that gently pulled the listener in to calm and reassure them that heaven was indeed attainable, if we opened ourselves to the possibilities. By the song’s end, the narrator was ready to leave the restaurant, put his boots on, and go north of town and just disappear…with the last word repeated twice on the fade out.

The abstract synth that sounded like a sampled horn, given an envelope that altered it’s attack and decay considerably, was a continual presence in the epic “Downriver.” The subtle beat of a tom hit and finger snaps grounded the verse structure of the song. The chorus had the tempo matched by a completely different rhythm programming as the song seemed to be woven from two different takes of the same song. The EQ and vibe of the verse being more spacious and abstract, with the chorus structure sounding more compressed. The deep synth bass that occasionally figured in the deep end of this river was eventually outlasted by that almost random sampled horn synth pulling us through the song gently.

Next: …Sleepless Nights + Yet More Rain

 

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Record Review: It’s Immaterial Album Shimmers After Almost 30 Years Tucked Away In A Closet [part 1]

jarvis whitehead and john campbell

L-R: Jarvis Whitehead + John Campbell of It’s Immaterial

At the very least, It’s Immaterial can be said to have a public profile that comes with having a top 20 British single in the quixotic “Driving Away From Home.” That song was a  high point of the bathetic and gauche mid-80s; it was utterly beholden to no one but itself and was a breath of fresh air for all of us to revel in. However briefly. Alas, the loving public were easy to lose interest in such an idiosyncratic pleasure; preferring novel spectacles of dubious merit to such gentle probing into what makes us human.

Their second album, “Song,” was barely released out into the wilds in 1990. Without the catalogs I relied on, I would not have gotten a copy. The band had worked closely with producer Callum Malcolm on that album at his Castlesound studios, so there was a lot of imperial period Blue Nile [of which Malcolm was certainly an architect of] in the album’s DNA. Of all of the other bands trying for that achingly beautiful and paradoxical “intimate grandeur” in their waxings, only It’s Immaterial came close to that goal with the breathtaking spaciousness of The Blue Nile, but in service to their much more intimate and almost conversational music. The band had gamely begun a third album in 1992, but the collapse of their label among other things, led to the tapes being tabled.

<insert 20+ year gap…>

It was on the old OMD forum back in 2012 [or 2014?] that some fans had posted that It’s Immaterial had been posting a few songs on Soundcloud. I expressed interest but grabbing files off of the internet, even when offered by the musicians, is nothing I have much interest in doing, so I quite frankly forgot about it. Then the band re-emerged on Pledge Music in 2016 with a campaign for “House For Sale,” their third album at last.

<insert 4 year gap…>

Of course, the collapse of Pledge Music meant that many projects like that one were left high and dry. I heard nothing about the particulars, but apparently half of their funding had disappeared; making them one of the luckier acts, from what I’ve read! What I had no idea of at the time, was that there was a second crowd-sourcing appeal that I had heard nothing of [maybe it was on FaceBoot – that would explain why]. This was also successful, and at a certain point I was contacted directly by the band telling me that as a pledger, I would soon have a copy once it was replicated and sent. Needless to say, I was astounded at this news from the blue! I’d heard nothing since I had pledged, four years earlier. I replied to Mr. Campbell that I’d be happy to pay again for the album but he assured me that it was indeed paid for and no further action was needed. I was astonished by this level of commitment by the artist to their pledge equally, to their fans. It’s a rare thing in this fallen world to see such integrity to a commitment. So now we have it and have been listening to it for a few days now. What’s it like? Well, we’ve run out of time today, so join us on the next day’s posting.

Next: …A Beautiful Wormhole

 

 

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Record Review: Berlin – Pleasure Victim DLX RM US CD – Another Rubellan Triumph [part 3]

berlin - sex cover art

Geffen Records ‎| US | 7″ | 1983 | 7-29747

[…continued from last post]
What took this CD remaster up to the highest level of interest were the well considered bonus tracks included here, doubling the number of tracks on the disc. Earlier CDs had always included the 12″ remix of “Sex [I’m A…]” but Rubellan Remasters really took this disc to amazing places. This time we got to heard the 7″ remix of “Sex [I’m A…] and the 3:30 edit was surprisingly, a drier mix with less reverb on Teri Nunn’s vocals. It’s still less than optimal listening, but I can’t deny it’s less obnoxious for its brevity. Not hearing Ms. Nunn deadpanning “I’m a slut” can’t be anything but good.

Better still, the US single’s B-side, the pixilated “Tell Me Why” was remixed in a tighter version that dove right into the high energy vibe and never let up after frantic drum fill kicking the song off. A wetter mix this time, with more reverb and synth hooks ping ponging from the left to right channel. Ms. Nunn’s BVs were mixed higher here and I have to say that I preferred the shorter single mix to the album version. The slightly dubby middle section was another rethink that I enjoyed hearing. If I can’t have the 1981 recording, then this was still great to have on the shiny silver disc. The mix here was actually 20 seconds longer than on the 7″ [which I have] due to the master having been faded early for the 7″ release in 1983.

berlin the metro spanish cover artIf I thought the 7″ remix of “Tell Me Why” was ace, then finally hearing the European remix of “The Metro” was a revelation. I’ve wanted this single for ages but the 7″ and 12″ versions were too rich for my blood this far on the marketplace. The 12″ extended remix is still a three figure disc. In the last year, it’s been possible to buy the Spanish/Dutch 7″ remix of “The Metro” for less than $40 [after shipping] but I’m so glad I waited for this CD instead. There’s little chance that whatever I would have sourced would have sounded any where as clean as this version, mastered from tape.

The mix here was profound. The slickness of the track was doubled with new EQ and effects. The handclaps were wetter yet it sounded like noise gating had been applied to them for a bracing effect. The drum track was beefed up considerably. Chorus had been applied to Nunn’s vocals. The uncredited mix showed how a track can be transformed dramatically with the right hands at the desk. Inasmuch as I was now loving “The Metro” the single remix had made a great thing that much better. “Pleasure Victim’s” origins had been a low budget indie recording that had been picked up by a major label once their success turned Geffen heads. It shad ported a d.i.y. production by the band’s drummer, Daniel Van Patten. The flatter original mix was now relegated to second class status.

The changes wrought to “Masquerade” on single remix weren’t so dramatic. But the mix also benefited from greater sonic depth as well. The mix was richer and deeper than the album mix without being substantially changed in sound. The 12″ mix of “Sex [I’m A…]” was here. more space in the mix with some looping in the long intro. The dubbed out break featured the hateful “I’m a slut” line for emphasis as the track dubbed out for a few measures with just the drum beat left. Before the moans of Nunn and Crawford appeared to make my flesh crawl. New rhythm guitar licks in the mix cannot even begin to make up for that unwelcome addition. I really hate music that tries to force me into the role of voyeur. The only slight hint of charm in the whole 8:10 occurred at the very end where a brief ad lib of Ms. Nunn was added saying “[guffaws] I think we hit orgasm.”

berlin p the metro dutch 12" cover artIf I preferred the 7″ remix of “The Metro” the 6:21 extended remix, which was released in The Netherlands, Spain, and the Philippines [?] was a feast for the ears. The song still sounded better and had extensive new instrumental sections fleshing it out as well as a dubby percussion section based on the enhanced handclaps. The new ending was also a treat. It sounded like it could be mixed with Depeche Mode’s “New Life” fairly effortlessly.

berlin dancing in berlin cover artThe “Masquerade” 7:22 was a gift meant just for me. The extended remix was only ever released on the Japanese only remix CD “Dancing In Berlin” in 1987 and that one was always too pricey for my budget. Heck, I didn’t even find out about it until the advent of Discogs.com. I might have ordered it in 1987 if I had ever seen it in an import catalog. I had the money and inclination back then. Hearing it now, I still can’t believe that there wasn’t maybe even a US promo 12″ of this one, like there was for “Sex [I’m A].”

The extended remix was a pure, 1982 old-school 12″ version with several minutes of instrumental buildup before Ms. Nunn entered the song with that melody worth a million dollars. The mix was finer, as on the 7″ but it was the differences in the arrangement that made this especially sweet. Where the normal mix of the song would normally end, there was another minute or two left in the song for some new surprises. I especially liked how the synths faded out to make room for an unexpected guitar solo that if it was on the original mix, had been buried to subliminal levels. Then the synth tracks rejoined in time for a reveal of the session cold studio ending instead of a fade. Sweet!


It’s been a delight seeing Rubellan Remasters take albums I am big fans of like the Visage releases, and take them to their ultimate expression since none of the previous stewards of the titles cared enough to do so. The label can make a classic like “Visage” or “The Anvil” gleam like a platinum god on a pedestal goes without saying. But I’m almost more impressed with what they have done with what I [wrongly] considered at best a workmanlike product with serious flaws in “Pleasure Victim,” and turn it into a thoroughbred winner in ways I had not anticipated.

It’s true that my antipathy for just one song had colored my memory of this album unjustly. Blinding me to its many merits. I’d always held a torch for “Masquerade,” which is still my favorite Berlin song, but by being exposed to this album now, I can see I’ve been a bloody fool to discount a track like “The Metro” which I now [smacks forehead] can plainly see as classic material. In spite of the fact that I was perhaps the only one in the room who looked askance at such an admission for, uh… 37 years? I can now see this sitting nicely on the shelf with “Information” and appreciate the advances in production and songwriting [with one exception].

Of course it’s the thorough and detailed addition of seven bonus tracks, three of which I had never heard before that  make this CD compulsory. That they were superb remixes of the two best songs on the album sure didn’t hurt any. While I had asked Scott Davies about the possibility of including the 1981 1st M.A.O. version of “Tell Me Why,” one of my holy grail records, I get it that it was from the band’s indie period and therefore not party to UMG’s archive of Berlin masters. The inclusion of amazing remixes that were only available in foreign territories more than made up for that understandable omission. And of course, all of the cuts were given a mastering that sounded fantastic with full-bodied dynamic range that has made me a willing pleasure victim for the last two weeks.

This CD will be one of the label’s top sellers, and as of tomorrow it will be distributed widely beyond the label’s webstore in numerous places. You may even see it in the racks of a store that dares to stock the Hipster Kryptonite® that we love so well here! My suggestion? If any of this calls out to you, buy it now. This disc will sell out its initial run within weeks. Then more will be pressed and the cycle will repeat until the license has passed. And then copies of this will exchange hands for large figures. Why wait for the heartbreak? Just hit that button and buy it now from the label itself [max karma, of course!] and prepare to be amazed.

post-punk monk buy button

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