There’s a lot wrong with the world just now, so this grumble somehow feels very insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but still……
It’s now seven months since I retired from full-time employment, and with COVID playing havoc with my plans to see the world, I’ve instead stayed at home and devoted time and money to music, all of which has led me to painfully admit my anorak tendencies do actually extend to me being described, accurately, with an awful word.
I’ll admit to it if, for no other reason that a chunk of my redundancy payment has been utilised to go out and find vinyl copies of some of my most cherished CDs. It’s not that I’ve gone really daft as there are some prices I simply won’t pay – the two Paul Quinn & The Independent Group albums being prime examples – but I have been tempted by a few sellers on Discogs to pay decent sums of money for original pressings of albums such as Seamonsters by The Wedding Present, which I only highlight as at £40, it’s the most I’ve ever spent on a second-hand album unseen, trusting the description of the seller – and it proved to be well worth it as it was in Near Mint condition and the sound was way superior to the CD that I’ve had for nearly 30 years.
Talking of TWP – and this where I will finally get to the point highlighted in the title of today’s posting – I’ve long wanted a copy of Bizarro on vinyl, but there’s never really been a copy on-line that fully caught my attention in terms of asking price and condition. Instead, I ended up picking up a brand-new re-press that was issued for National Album Day on 20 October 2020 at a cost of £20. It was like the old days as I returned back home from the record shop, the heart beating that little bit quicker and the anticipation levels increasing with every step. One of my all-time favourite albums…..on vinyl….at last.
It came, like so many others nowadays, shrinkwrapped, which meant that it was only when I took the vinyl out of the inner sleeve did I discover it was a fairly light piece of plastic. I knew beforehand it wasn’t a heavy 180-gram press but it was still a surprise to find myself holding something so flimsy.
I placed it down carefully on the turntable and lifted the needle into the groove. The opening notes of Brassneck came out of the speakers. And they came out very quietly.
This couldn’t be right could it? Vinyl is supposed to be much superior to CD but this was an occasion when I had to turn the volume button up to ensure it could be heard. There was also a further sense of disappointment as the sounds coming out of the speaker were nothing special – there was certainly no discernable differences in the bass or the treble. All in all, it felt really cheap, especially when compared to what I has experience from the second-hand copy of Seamonsters.
And it’s not just Bizarro that I’ve had a poor experience with vinyl in recent weeks. Debut by Bjork was another disappointing piece of vinyl that sounded as it had just been transferred straight from the CD rather than from the original masters. Likewise, the copy of Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Oh, and just after typing all this up, I’ve come on to add that the album I’ve just listened to, Beautiful Ones 1992-2018, a newly released 2 x vinyl LP featuring twenty-one singles by Suede as another example of a record that is a shoddy cut/press requiring the volume button to be turned way up high.
Not every vinyl for CD replacement has turned out that way. Paul’s Boutique by The Beasties Boys is a Rolls Royce of a cut with all sorts of things being experienced in a new way, and likewise the 3 x LP re-release of OK Computer in which Radiohead seemingly took direct control of the process and ensured the vinyl would benefit from being mastered and pressed to the highest standard. It’s against the sound of those records that I judge any re-issued vinyl.
It’s not just the re-issues that are causing grief with a number of brand new albums also being poorly pressed, cut, or mastered. One of my favourite albums of the year is The Prettiest Curse by Hinds but I’ve had to rely on the download copy to put on the i-pod as the vinyl version suffers from what feels like a very muffled sound, with few peaks or troughs when looked at through the Audacity programme which I use to convert vinyl to mp3 format for different purposes, including the blog.
There is, however, one different thing that’s even more annoying, and that’s taking a brand new record out of its shrink-wrap, knowing that this will be its first-ever play, and discovering it hisses, crackles or pops – or possibly even all three. Such as this:-
This is the second track on Side B of the new and very fine album by the frontman of The National. It’s a beautifully produced record, with the deft touch of Booker T Jones bringing out a real richness in Matt’s voice. It’s a slow-to-mid-paced album, one in which you get the feeling every single note matters, no matter how far back it has been put in the mix. There were absolutely no issues when listening to Side A. I didn’t initially pick anything up when listening to Side B but then again, its first track is one of the louder songs. I was horrified by the introductory crackles for song two, and more so from the fact they were louder at the end of the track. And yup, they got increasingly worse through tracks 3-5.
I’ve had this happen quite a few times these past few months. I do now give every brand new record a clean before but it doesn’t really help all that much. One of the major bugbears is that I have tried to support independent record stores all across the UK in recent months and so a number of the purchases have been made online and delivered by post, meaning I can’t easily return them and so have to accept poorer quality than I wanted.
I did, however, buy the Matt Berninger album from a shop in Glasgow and I’ll be looking to return it for a replacement copy. Wish me luck!
Incidentally, it’s not just albums I’m finding issues with. My copy of the new and magnificent Arab Strap 7″ single isn’t all that great in terms of crackling all the way through, but particularly at the end, and it was bought from what is regarded as Glasgow’s premier record store. But I’m not taking it back as this particular store had a number of copies in which the sleeve was signed by Aidan and Malcolm – at least I’ve the consolation of it being one of those rare new pieces of vinyl which comes with a download.
I’ll stop there – there’s another post rattling around my head about how different sellers on Discogs choose to grade their vinyl. I’ve had some very poor experiences on things that were supposed to be Very Good+ that turned out to be almost unplayable. Having said that, the vast majority of transactions have been very satisfactory, with the occasional real gem landing in my lap from sellers who have been very conservative with their gradings.
Such as the two sides of this 7″:-
or this 12″:-
Two pieces of vinyl which date from 1981 and 1987 respectively, with neither remotely showing their age in any shape or form, including the wonderfulness of the songs.