[…continued from last post]
…AND THEN SOME
The first remix of “Sweet Murder,” the “Eek-A-Mix,” is still my favorite one. The band wisely roped in Jamaican DJ Eek-A-Mouse to transform the track from Reggae adjacent to a fully embracing a bouncy liquid skank vibe. Mouse’s distinctive singjay style was similar to a toaster but far more idiosyncratic as his nasally interjections drenched in reverb sounded beamed in from another planet. The wah-wah guitar of Dr. Robert was also doused with effects that took it deep into psychedelia. The pulsating organ riff see-sawing through the song cranked up the tension until the energy built up to the point where the track peaked at 5:22 with an explosion of the horns as they and the percussion populated the drop that also served as the coda of the track.
Then the set was capped off with two tracks that were only released on the 2012 Cherry Red edition of “Animal Magic” which I couldn’t manage to buy [though I tried]. I had been very interested in hearing the original Pete Wilson original version of “Digging Your Scene” that was given a thorough working over by Michael Baker that saw it become a worldwide success.
The thing that I was eager to hear was that the track had live drums on it, as I always felt that the drum machine overdubbed by Baker set the song apart from the rest of the “Animal Magic” sound and vibe. So of course, this was the case, but there were many differences in the original track. The next thing I noticed was that the melody was carried through by the guitars and strings, which were at center stage. In fact, Neville Henry’s sax, was present only in the middle eight and coda! And while the male backing vocals were familiar, there were none of the sweet, high female vocals that gave the hit version such contrast.
As for Dr. Robert’s vocals, the take sounded like it may have been identical, but the staging of them withing the track were completely different. The EQ was lowered in the vocal frequencies to reduce their presence and the reverb acted as a distancing gambit. I liked the instrumental middle eight where the guitar, bass, and strings had a dance to themselves for a few bars. I have to admit, that while I never cared much for the heavy drum machine of the hit version, in other areas, I can see why the changes were made. The sax luxuriating throughout the track was pretty compelling, even as the mid-80s sax event horizon was a very real thing. The difference was that Neville Henry brought his top game to the horn. I wanted to listen to this guy play.
The final track was Pete Wilson’s remix of my favorite cut on the album; “Aeroplane City Love Song,” and I’m guessing that the song was under close consideration for single status with the remix here being perhaps producer Wilson’s response to the game-changing work of Michael Baker in goosing “Digging Your Scene” into hit single status. Because here Wilson employed many of the same techniques that Baker did to make the track feel like a Blow Monkeys radio single.
I loved the string glissando that opened the cut, but one could immediately hear the same thumping drum machine that heralded “Scene” being put to the fore here. Though the congas were still present to humanize the beat. A new factor was the funky clavinet on delay, ping-ponging between the channels like a throwback to “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder. The heavy reverb on Dr. Robert’s vocals diminished him on the song’s soundstage to the tune’s detriment. I have to say that the beat-heavy mix skirted the edges of heavy-handed psychedelia; losing the swing and swagger of the horns that made the album version of the song so arresting to my ears.
One interesting factor on this DLX RM is that the seven tracks out of 47 that were sourced from records instead of master tapes were duly noted on the back cover of the packaging! This was a refreshing act of transparency. Here are the cuts that we might have missed out on had other thinking prevailed.
- Man From Russia (Remix)
- Sweet Murder (Single Version)
- Forbidden Fruit (12″ Version)
- Wicked Ways (Wick-Ed-It Version)
- Superfly (Long Version)
- Don’t Be Scared Of Me (Mix)
- Digging Your Scene (Longer Mix)
After giving these close, attentive headphone listening I have to say that job done with these tracks was excellent. I didn’t hear heavy-handed application of noise reduction that sucks the life out of analog recordings applied here. In fact, some tracks had a split second of disc tone present before the music that was appealingly real. And I didn’t hear any giveaway artifacts on the fade outs either. Clean records were used. Pops and clicks were removed. Only the scantest hint of sibilance could be detected on Dr. Robert’s vocal on “Superfly [Long Version].”
I compared to some of my needle drops [I began digitizing my complete Blow Monkeys collection last year] which have yet to be denoised, and I found the tracks on this disc to be representative of the high end of what I normally achieve. In short; let’s be thankful that the decision was made to include these tracks even without master tapes in hand. our listening is richer for it.
The next area of interest was the mastering quality. I found these masters to be compressed though shy of what I would typify as brickwalling. Let’s compare four different masterings of “Digging Your Scene” for comparison and contrast.
The 1986 mastering was nicely done. I have no real complaints with that as the peaks sit comfortable at -3 dB below saturation. Compression was added to make the song “pop” on the radio [though FM broadcasters usually compress even further for broadcast]. The next mastering I have of this track was from the 1989 “Choices” single collection in a German pressing. The tale of the wave there was rather astounding!
Just three years later, the “Choices” compilation showed a very meekly mastered version of “Digging Your Scene.” With peaks barely scraping -6 dB from saturation, the mastering engineer could have been a little less cautions. It looks as if a bit of compression should have been applied there! I’m actually wondering if the LP mastering tape might have been used with a flat transfer here, but things changed significantly for the next mastering from 1996.
The next mastering was from the 1996 compilation, “For The Record” where the track has been normalized at a peak of 0 dB with compression applied though not quite problematically. If you look closely at the left channel on the bottom, it appeared that the left channel only was decreased in volume by 1 dB as it looks like a bit of clipping [maybe 5-8% of the wave] occurred only in that channel. But lowering volume doesn’t make the clipping go away. At that point it’s there no matter how loud it is.
For the latest mastering we can see telltale clipping of the waveform [but only on the right channel as shown on top] throughout maybe 15% of its breadth here. Making the 2023 mastering almost a mirror image of the 1996 mastering. Just louder. Overall the sound here was not the worst I’ve heard, but it could have been better. I’m assuming the main album tracks were all comparable as I’ve not examined each track. The other discs were interestingly, all over the place as if multiple hands with differing ideas of mastering were on the wheels at different times.
“The Man From Russia [Remix]” was a favorite track so I looked closely at that. It looked like the cut had been brickwalled and then trimmed by -2 dB in another attempt to undue the damage in a way that doesn’t really work. Once sound is clipped, it has distortion in it no matter how loud the wave is made afterward. One point of the packaging to this set was that no mastering or engineering credits were given. There were furthermore, no reissue credits of any variety listed, though I applaud the thorough curation of the tracks here. So at this point my mind imagines interns given free reign. It all could have turned out much worse, but it also could have been even better.
“Animal Magic” was the first “big campaign” by The Blow Monkeys where the foundations for the rest of their career were laid down in ways that acknowledged the progress made while the drum machines and samplers that really didn’t fit on the album were outliers for the album that would follow. Where the band gave in utterly to the then-prevalent Jam + Lewis aesthetic topping the charts.
But here, they were mostly relegated to the plethora of 12″ remixes where the full breadth of material released on both sides of the Atlantic were duly complied into this authoritative set. I have just a single track on the US promo 12″ of “Wicked Ways” that I have which is not on this set; “It’s Not Unusual [Live].” But that cut was included on the DLX RM of the more appropriate “Limping For A Generation” DLX RM of 2012. That was a case of the US label lagging behind and trying to catch up.
This period of the band was a tsunami of remixes and singles in one territory, but not others. And it was delightful to have the entire campaign from either side of The Atlantic in a neat, tidy, and above all…affordable package. This makes the second time to the job on “Animal Magic” and they have managed to add two more discs to cover everything. This makes the first three albums given the DLX RM treatment. This second one under the fullest possible scrutiny this second time. I would like to think that “Whoops! There Goes The Neighbourhood”  and especially the prescient “Springtime For The World”  could also yield multi-disc collections with every mix and rarity accounted for in a packed full package, but as those albums were not sellers at the level of “Animal Magic” or “She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter” this remains to be seen. But a man can dream.
I’m with you! Once you’ve done three SDLX/RM type releases, you really gotta bite the bullet and give the whole catalog the treatment …
chasinvictoria – Especially if the not particularly successful [but fantastic] debut album has already gotten swept up in the love!