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!

my favorite US rocknroll rebels, pt. II

Thanks for checking out more of my musings on a handful of bands–and writers–that truly matter. I’m thinking today about Rob Sheffield’s Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, which is quite smart, and organizes each wide-ranging chapter around a specific song. In one of the smartest bits I’ve read about Paul McCartney, he suggests that he and his mates’ fandom for Sir Paul entailed considerably more danger than their devotion to Keith Richards, for example. Yes, Mr. R. needed the occasional blood transfusion to keep his parts in order, but Rob remained confident that he and his mates were never at risk of adopting Mr. Richards’ more dissolute habits. McCartney, though, through his devotion to Linda, was capable of making some terrible songs, and was apparently undaunted by how terrible they were–proving how blind love can be. That condition, Sheffield figures, was fully in reach, and that inspired in his friends and himself a real sense of terror.

Like so many good things in the eighties, The Replacements came late to Stockton. Based upon two record reviews and my catching “Bastards of Young” once, maybe twice, on the radio, I purchased Tim (1985) just after its release. (On the same trip to Tower Records, I also picked up Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey (1985)–both on vinyl, of course.) Up to that point, few bands represented desire writ large quite like Duran Duran. The clothes, the hair, the voice, the bass lines—and the videos! This band and their handlers knew what to do with MtV, Night Flight, and other video programs, and they had some great pop tunes, too. Still, in terms of my adolescence, Duran Duran was my Keith Richards. I had little chance of cavorting with models on schooners, or of chasing them through the rain forest, or of photographing them in the boxing ring (!?!). Enter The Replacements.

After viewing Color Me Obsessed, I was in touch with an English ex-pat now residing in San Diego who missed the flannel wave of the early to mid-1980s. I wondered how those records would stand up to initial listenings, and steered him to Let It Be, Tim, and All Shook Down. (Have you heard the remastered versions of these albums? Are they a real improvement? I’d love to know.) I then cued up Sorry Ma, I Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981), and the opening a capella line of “Customer”–“I’minlovewithagirlbutI’mnothingbutacustomer!”–and realized that Paul Westerberg was my Paul McCartney: Westerberg’s rendition of the “Hello-I-love-you-won’t-you-tell-me-your-name” variety of adolescent desire, along with the raucous accompaniment by Mars, Stinson, and Stinson, allowed me to make sense of those tumultuous years.  (The bookend to “Customer” was Tim’sKiss Me on the Bus”–“On the bus, that’s where we’re ridin’ / On the bus, O.K., don’t say hi, then”–and, in the ensuing years, these tunes inspired the fortitude I deployed to make the acquaintances of a cashier and two fellow Muni riders.) If The Clash set the bar for making aesthetically effective and politically effective music, few bands could touch The Replacements on the topics of adolescent (male) desire, power, and everyday life.

In the next post, I will get back to the documentary itself, which–like The Replacements–is endearing with a hint of sloppiness.