Record Review: John Foxx – Metamatic DLX RM [part 9]

John Foxx in 1980 – the year of Metamatic

[continued from last post]

All of the brief instrumentals were done and disc three concluded with a bevy of demos and alternate takes of familiar material. The demo of “No-One Driving” featured a very Moroderesque synthpulse kicking it into high gear coupled with a dryer, simpler rhythm track. Before the middle eight, everything but the beat drops out for a couple of measures. The four track demo was a little more breakneck than the final album version. If you’ve been listening to this song for 38 years, it’s interesting to hear the differences after hundreds of plays of the LP/7″ remix version.

The early version [read: demo] of “Burning Car previously appeared only on the 2010 “Metatronic” collection but anyone who has not heard it will revel in its heartless, vicious qualities where Foxx seethes with vehement contempt for possibly the only time ever. The shockingly groovy bass synth is the only thing less than harsh here, and when Foxx spits out the word “burn!” instead of the more dispassionate “all right” that the released version sports, you can really believe that he wants to see it burn. I find that I prefer this far less Numan-like version to the one we’ve known for decades.

While having the 1979 alternative version of “Like A Miracle” was shocking enough on disc two, the demo for that one was also here, and the BPM seemed to be much faster for this version. The vibe was still warm and sunny, as opposed to the dour “Metamatic” sound on the album proper, but the arrangement and instrumentation moved along like a peppy example of sterling technopop. What we wouldn’t have given for something that sounded like a less conventional Buggles track without any conventional instrumentation mucking things up.

Then the disc concluded with yet another finished, alternative mix of “No-One Driving.” the biggest difference here seemed to be that the piano was pushed way up in the mix. If one listens carefully, the released version has scant piano hiding in the mix, but it’s subtle. Not so here, for a lusher take on the familiar song. The melody also drops out as in the demo version right before the middle eight, so I’m guessing that this was an interim mix done prior to the final one.

This package is delightful as a Foxx-head who can’t get enough of this material. The album is the 2014 mastering by Joe Caithness. It’s not brickwalled, but it’s moving in that direction. I have screen caps of the waveform of “Underpass” in all of its digital masterings for illustrative purposes so we can discuss the four separate digital masterings of this album. I’ve listened to each of these versions of the song with my AKG headphones on, so you know I’m serious.

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1993 – No mastering engineer credited – 3:56:84
This was the only digital master made by Virgin as they were just about to lose the rights to “Metamatic” after a 15 year period. How Foxx got that reversion clause into his contract was probably due to good management at the time and a desire to have the prestige [and hopefully sales] that he would bring Virgin in his signing negotiation. The 1993 mastering has very dull sound compared to the 2001 mastering. This leads me to suspect that Virgin may have sourced a multi-generational safety copy…or else the mastering engineer was far too liberal with the noise reduction software of the day.

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2001 Chris Thorpe 3:53:76
The Chris Thorpe Edsel remaster was louder than the 1993 version by + 3 db yet it still shies away from any clipping. All the waves stay within the safety zone of 1-2 dB of that  happening. The tape used sounded like an actual multitrack master as there was neormous amounts of detail that was simply missing from the dull 1993 version. The rhythm track bleed on R channel was much more apparent at 0:06 in than 93 master, which almost completely lacks that detail.

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2007 Dallas Simpson 3:57:08
Dallas Simpson has quite a recent history with Foxx, who must like his touch quite a bit. He’s partners with Chris Thorpe and has mastered 41 CDs by John Foxx! The levels on the 2007 Edsel master were -0.5 db from 2001. The sound was still far from brickwalled, but there was nonetheless slightly less detail than 2001 master.

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2014 Joe Caithness 3:56:06
The 2014 master was made for the white vinyl gatefold “Metamatic” LP pressing done for UK RSD that year [which I still need a copy of!] Since that was an LP, I’m guessing that tweaks had to have been made for this CD but in the sonic [and probably actual] end times which we inhabit, perhaps that’s not the case. The sound here was louder than 1993 by +6 db with what looks like some sustained clipping.

The sonics of this album are important, because one of the main reasons why Foxx picked Pathway instead of larger studios he could have used was not only were they close to his home at the time [and cheaper] but that he deliberately wanted to use an eight track studio to get the strongest possible signal on the individual tracks. In analog recording the greater the number of tracks, the lower the signal bandwidth available on the tape. By using eight or less [many tracks don’t use all eight] and not bouncing any tracks, he wanted the most powerful conduit for this analog electronic sound that he could get at the time.

“Metamatic” was a bold statement of intent from an artist who was convinced that not only could he make an album with almost all sound electronically generated, but that he should do so as well. At the time, let it be said that this was a bold sonic statement of an album. It defined a world of “Cold Wave” like nothing else that came before it. Foxx worried that he might have been going too far. But cold and icy is probably a better description of the emotional tenor of the album. Sonically, it’s pretty warm with a rich, round mix that eschews brittleness save for the contrasting “metal beat” of the CR-78 on many of these tracks.

I have purchased “Metamatic” five out of the six times it has been released [like I said, I still need the 2014 white vinyl LP of this] and there’s another LP copy in there since I wore out my 1st LP copy! As long as the releases are as affordable as they have been, I’m fine with that for such an album that’s a standard of electronic pop music like this one is. Foxx moved quickly onward for the rest of his Virgin period lasting until 1985, with nothing sounding remotely similar to any other of his solo albums. But the benchmark of “Metamatic” has stood as the foundational stylistic bedrock of most of the music that Foxx has created since his return to releasing music in 1997. It looms over his modern work like a monolithic tower of intent. It’s right and proper that every few years, it gets the attention of a new mastering with a different complement of subordinate material to delight our ear and eye.

I say eye, because Jonathan Barnbrook’s design work also insures that this is the best looking edition of “Metamatic” yet. Old fans like myself can buy this if they are as compelled as I am, but what I really envy are those ears that might be buying “Metamatic” for the first time in this fulsome form. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, then by all means… click here.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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5 Responses to Record Review: John Foxx – Metamatic DLX RM [part 9]

  1. Echorich says:

    I wouldn’t have thought that a Foxx release would land that close to the borderline in the Loudness Wars…


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – It’s rather perplexing considering that this was a 2014 remaster ostensibly for the vinyl issue, but that’s insane. They had to have remastered it for CD. The two formats are like night and day from a mastering perspective. I should ask Robin Harris for some clarity.


  2. SimonH says:

    Thanks for the mastering comparison, will go back and try the 2001 again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is quite simply an incredible review. Like you, I know the album inside out. Or at least I thought I did!! You have brought to it a whole new understanding and I thank you for that.
    I have recently tried to write my own review, but this leaves me on the starting line. We appreciate it differently though and that’s why its such an incredible album.

    Thanks for taking the time to write so extensively and articulately on something I love.

    I am no audiophile, so what I especially appreciate is an understanding of the sound quality side of things.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      foxxmetamatic – Since you are also known as Birdsong, and administer the official Foxx Forum, as well as write the encyclopedic Translated From Birdsong John Foxx/Ultravox website, I will take this compliment as having a lot of gravitas! Thank you, sir. I am capable of diving deep and doing really long multipart threads here at PPM and as much as I write about the adventures of John Foxx, it’s been eight years dancing around the margins of “Metamatic” [sometimes in Monastic detail] without getting to the heart of the matter. This album, which created a foundation for the entire second half of Foxx’s career once he began releasing music again in 1997. If only I didn’t have to work 8-10 hours a day, and could take my good sweet time to research/write/edit and finally publish more than hasty first drafts, this blog would be amazing. But thanks for your kind words. They are appreciated.


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