first listen — #Soundsystem

Happy day, Clash-o-philes!

It’s a day of rest, so they say, and I’ve got The Clash’s *Sound System* on my mind–okay, not the big, expensive one, but something that amazon (and others, I figure) are calling 5 Album Studio Set–which is not to be confused with 5 Studio Album Set, which is the same thing, but presently $0.21 more expensive. Nice work, amazon!

Note: this packaging may reference Paul’s inaugural arrival in the states in ’78, when he showed up at JFK carrying nothing more than a carrying case of LPs.

The reviews, of course, are nicely compiled at theclashblog, and Tim provides useful commentary on each commentary. In brief: reviewers are happy to talk about The Clash’s importance (big), the price of the boxset (big), and are having difficulty finding the time to actually listen to the music and–most importantly–to determine whether the remastering by “Tim Young and The Clash” yields new sonic pleasures to those of us who already have the studio albums (either on vinyl, CD, or iTunes). I’m staying away from those reviews for the moment

With that in mind, I sat down with Pete, as good as a listening comrade you could find, and I loaded up the CD carousel with the original discs alongside the new discs and compared a sample of key tracks. We started, of course, from the beginning and the exercise was worth the purchase price. No other recent purchase has compelled me to sit in the sweet spot of stereophonic sound and enjoy music the way we used to.

Why I’m suspicious that some of the reviewers haven’t found the time to actually listen to the discs: the discs are vinyl black, even on the flipside. There’s no room, of course, to discuss the visuals in a 70-word review (see Rolling Stone), but for those of us who were raised on vinyl, it’s an especially nice touch, and an indication I figure of Paul’s impeccable aesthetic sensibility. (Yes, that’s my book there in the image below–more on its fate below.)

clash0001

Of all the LPs, I figure Mick & co. would be tempted to mess with *The Clash* the least. It wasn’t supposed to be an audiophile object: that was the whole point of The Clash in ’77. It did, of course, prevent the release of *The Clash* in the US (CBS deemed the LP “too noisy”) and, largely because of the New York fan base, went on to become the best-selling import LP in the US to date. If you’re interested in repeating this exercise at home, make certain that you’re comparing *The Clash* UK version, rather than the US version, as the tracks on the US release of *The Clash* in 1979 got a different treatment in the final mix.

So, here goes my own interpretive dance about architecture, as E. Costello once noted … The first thing you’ll notice with the new discs is the mix is loud. It proved a challenge bouncing between CDs, simply because the *Sound* version carries extra decibels. “Janie Jones” opens sparingly, of course, with the drums, guitar strum, and Joe’s voice and, on the *Sound* version, the phasing of the vocals is sharper, the bass is a tad warmer, and the drums are sharper in the mix. With “Cheat,” the slight but still noticeable improvements hold sway: Joe’s vocals are a bit sharper, the drums a tad snappier, and it sounds great. With “White Riot,” especially, the proof is in the Yorkshire pudding. Mick’s sweet guitar lick just before the vocals sounds crisper, but it’s the opening chorus that grabbed me anew: the vocals are cleaner and still carry more urgency. The stereo phasing is great, and Terry Chimes could hit those drums damn hard, and it’s clear-as-class-warfare in this mix. (It was also good to compare this version to the US mix, which substitutes a police siren for Joe’s counting off the tempo, and is otherwise now to be regarded as a weird period piece.)

More comparative listening notes to come next week. Even the 5 album set is a big package, and there’s plenty to work through.

I hope a few of you fine readers have had a chance to check out my book, which is now presently without a publisher. If you like the book, and you have some connections to a press that might like to take it over, please be in touch. I appreciate any and all considerations, no matter how small or remote.

Have a delightful and dub-heavy week!

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