Category Archives: Limited Edition

Paul McCartney • McCartney (50th Anniversary Half-Speed Master) [LP]

It’s just about Record Store Day 2020 “Drop 2” (Sat. 9/26/2020) and here we have my main purchase, PAUL McCARTNEY’s McCartney, released for the album’s 50th anniversary. This reissue – coming just three years on from the red vinyl edition – begs the question: How many copies of this (or any) album do we really need? (Which is followed by the companion question: How many times do we have to reconsider the first question?)

Well? Do you already have a copy? On vinyl? How much do you like the album? Do you play it on a regular or even once-in-awhile basis? Let me see: I already have – we’ll call it – a few copies of McCartney on vinyl. (Don’t ask how many copies including CDs…) And yes, I do like the album and play it at least a few times a year. Oh yeah, don’t forget this question that’s crucial to us older (read: 50 and above) dudes: How many more times will I be able to play this before I die, and if it’s not very many, will this new version noticeably enhance my listening experience or would the other copy(ies) I have suffice? Okay, now that we have these rhetorical considerations out of the way (or eating away!), here’s what you need to know about the new half-speed mastered McCartney.

For its 50th anniversary, Macca has decided to issue his first solo album again on vinyl, and this time the mastering really is top notch. Completed at Abbey Road by Miles Showell, who has worked on many Beatles-related projects, the record was cut from a presumably (very) high resolution file that came from the analog master tape.* Many of us would prefer it to be all analog but that kinda thing rarely happens these days, since everyone who still has original masters of their work (or entrusts them to a large conglomerate who hasn’t allowed them to fester or burn while in storage) wants to keep them safe and intact. The thing is, the method for completing a remaster isn’t as important as the care and ears that go into the process. Stay all-analog, go digital, one or the other or both, I don’t really care as long as the people involved have a good idea of what sounds good and achieve that goal. In this case, I think this McCartney sounds better than any other version I know of. (Many people would point to the UK first pressing as the holy grail, but of course, good luck finding one at a reasonable price. I don’t have one.) It was pressed on 180-gram vinyl for a deep groove, which means more info gets transferred to your speakers and therefore your ears, but the half-speed mastering process can tend to weaken the bass frequencies and I do feel like McCartney may be missing the oomph it needs to really knock it out of the park. BUT… what you do hear sounds incredible and the bass – though it may be a bit low in the mix – at least sounds distinctive.

I haven’t even got into the music itself, but I imagine anyone with even a modest interest in McCartney’s solo stuff knows what McCartney is about. It’s about 35 minutes of really good songs, with only a minor clunker factor, all played by Paul himself and joined by Linda Mac on the harmonies. My picks on this LP are “Every Night,” which really should have been a single, the rockin’ “Oo You,” and the gentle ditty “Junk.” Don’t forget “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which wasn’t released as a single in 1970 but instead became a hit when Wings did it on their 1976 live album, Wings Over America. Still – most everyone’s familiar with the song and this version isn’t much different than the band’s. The rest of the songs are primarily snippets, such as opener “The Lovely Linda” and “Valentine Day,” or interesting instrumentals that allowed Macca to flex his muscles and do something beyond what was typically allowed on a Beatles album (not counting The White Album).

This RSD version of McCartney is a limited edition (supposedly 7,000 copies worldwide) so you’d better high-tail it to your indie dealer and grab one before they’re gone or garnering higher prices once they’re made available on the internet. You can go to the Record Store Day website to find your closest dealer. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Capitol/MPL/UMe 602508 464720 0, 2020)

* Here’s what it says on the insert inside: “This half-speed master closely references the 2011 remaster by Steve Rooke and Guy Massey. It was made as a vinyl specific transfer in high resolution and without digital peak limiting for the best possible reproduction.” That tells us this pressing comes from a new lacquer, which was cut from a hi-res digital copy that was struck from (presumably) the original analog master tape.

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Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters • Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters [LP, CD]

Well, it sure is a mighty long title for an eponymous release. TONYA DONELLY AND THE PARKINGTON SISTERS’ new album of cover versions doesn’t have a clever title but it does have an interesting vibe/concept. I must confess a few things at the outset: I was a big fan of Belly, Donelly’s ’90s alternative rock band, back in the day; I was drawn to Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters due to that first confession and the track listing of this release; and, I had no idea who these Parkington Sisters were until I looked ’em up on the internet.

Donelly was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist with Belly, who put out one excellent album, Star, and a very good album, King, plus a host of compelling singles for 4AD Records (or Sire here in the States). The Parkington Sisters are Rose, Sara and Ariel (plus sometimes Lydia; I mean, she’s always a sister of theirs but not always in the group), and have been putting out light pop/indie music together since 2010. Donelly was approached by American Laundromat Records to make a covers album and decided that these Parkington Sisters would bring the right vocal and instrumental vibe to whatever songs got chosen, and so, here we are.

This 9-song excursion into other people’s music opens with a moody, violin-heavy version of The Go•Go’s album cut, “Automatic.” Already knowing that song gave me the idea that this might be an interesting album, with the songs included being mostly cunning and not cloying choices. (I’m very glad they didn’t go for “We Got the Beat”!) That’s followed by a Leonard Cohen tune I’m not very familiar with (actually, most of them fall in that category), “Dance Me to the End of Love.” Others are covers of songs by Echo & The Bunnymen (“Ocean Rain”), Crowded House (“Devil You Know”) and Mary Margaret O’Hara (“You Will Be Loved Again”). The ones I was more interested in were “Let Me Roll It,” first done by Paul McCartney & Wings on Band On The Run (1973), a more uptempo and electric tune than most of this album – and though it’s not one of Wings’ most obvious songs, it’s ultimately a safe – but enjoyable – choice. Two other covers I felt were definitely obvious choices. One is “Kid” by the Pretenders, though Donelly’s reasoning for choosing it makes sense: “[It] was [considered] actually on the heels of a conversation that we’d been having about children.” I initially would’ve gone for a Chrissie Hynde tune with a little more balls but then that wouldn’t have fit this lighter-vibed album (imagine “Tattooed Love Boys” with violins!). The other is The Kinks’ “Days,” a Ray Davies tune that is probably his most-covered song and definitely a no-brainer. I think Donelly could have given “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” or “See My Friends” a real go, though she’s the kind of singer who’s not going to cover a song if it doesn’t have a personal meaning to her, so maybe my choice doesn’t speak to her the way her choice does. What do I know? I’m just a rock critic. Finally, I do like the version of the Mike Nesmith song, “Different Drum,” first done and made into a hit by Linda Ronstadt when she was still with The Stone Poneys. It is kinda soft, true, but it’s a sweet song and it’s nice that Tanya and the Parkingtons wanted to pay tribute to Ronstadt.

American Laundromat is covering all the bases by offering this album in a variety of colored vinyl versions, as well as on CD and even cassette. You’ll have to go to the website to figure out what is still available and where.

Overall, Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters is a nice album, with light fare that’ll be great to put on at dinner and serve as enjoyable background music. That’s not meant to be a “dis,” just that, once you’ve given it a first listen it’s not gonna be a go-to album when you wanna rock out. Put it on when you want to relax, however, and it’ll be just fine. – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (American Laundromat ALR-0051, 2020)

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L7 • Smell the Magic [LP, CD]

These days I feel like I could start every review here on NuDisc.net with something like “Jeez! It was 30 years ago… boy, do I feel old!” And it was, indeed, three decades ago that L7’s Smell the Magic was unleashed upon the rock world. But unlike much of what we cover here, this one isn’t a record that I ever owned (neither on vinyl nor CD) or got into heavily so I can’t talk about it like it’s figured that greatly in my life. This is one I thought might be worth checking out again to see if my tastes had changed. Have they? Have I? Let’s see.

L7’s second big release – though it was initially a 6-song EP on vinyl – the record was also their second for Sub Pop, who had already put out a singles club 7″ of “Shove” b/w “Packin’ a Rod” (both on this release). At the time I didn’t pay much attention to their records because L7 was more rawk than I typically went. Sure, I was into punk of the British variety (and some US stuff like X and Ramones), but this branch of it was more sludgy, dare-I-say grungy (before the term was coined and overused) than I got into. Basically, slower rhythms and screamy vocals kinda turned me off. Over the years my intake of music has broadened on all fronts, though, and so, just like I have developed quite a taste for jazz and dub, I have also taken to some harder indie rock. What’s great about doing this is that Smell the Magic is practically like a new release to me. I’m not listening to it and remembering who I was seeing at the time, where I worked, or what drama I may have been going through. So I’m hearing the band’s smart ass, humorous stuff like “Fast and Frightening” and “(Right On) Thru” and digging the words, maybe because I’m not getting stuck on the basic, simple arrangements. OR: Maybe it’s just because, after years of therapy (!), I don’t automatically freak out when it sounds like someone’s yelling at me!

For the 30th Anniversary version, initial 12″ copies – or as Sub Pop calls them, Loser Editions – of Smell the Magic are on clear-with-orange/blue/grey-swirl vinyl (and Amoeba Music and Easy Street Records have a clear blue version) and CD, “remastered [doesn’t say by whom] for maximum impact.” As stated earlier, I don’t have an original copy so I can’t vouch for that claim!

L7’s energy is great, the recordings are what you’d expect for a raw indie release, and Smell the Magic is a nine song, thirty minute blast of good hard rock. Or sludge punk. I don’t know, what would you call it? Regardless, it’s a great way to bust thru the bull shit and enjoy something simpler and primal-er. How does that sound? – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Sub Pop SP 1379, 2020)

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Robyn Hitchcock • The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities [CD, DD]

ROBYN HITCHCOCK ought to pay me for reviewing as much of his music as I do. (Seriously: look at all this!) I guess you could say I’m a fan. And that’s why The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities warrants both my possession and dissection. Limited to 1000 copies on CD only, this ten song release is sort of a companion to 2014’s The Man Upstairs. The idea then was to record half Hitchcock originals and half cover songs, “a kind of Judy Collins 1965-era album.” Well, I’m not a fan of that folksinger’s, but since it’s always interesting to hear how Robyn hears some of his favorite songs, the concept is a good one. And in this current age of DIY, a good idea. (You can get it on CD or as a digital download on Robyn’s Bandcamp page.)

These, being demos, aren’t as ornate as the ones Upstairs, but that doesn’t matter much. Hitchcock plays mostly guitar, with few overdubs (most being backing or doubling vocals) in a cozy atmosphere. Naturally I’m really into his version of “Arnold Layne,” one of the great early Pink Floyd tunes penned by the “mad genius” Syd Barrett and practically purpose-built for Robyn Hitchcock. I’m not as fond of the Nick Drake tune “River Man” (though I now know where ’90s UK band The Lilac Time got their name) or Dylan’s “Born in Time,” but I like the Townes Van Zandt tune, “The Tower Song.” Of Robyn’s own tunes, a few of them really strike a chord at this moment in time: “All Love and No Peace,” “Recalling the Truth” and especially “The Threat of Freedom.” I’m glad they saved this stuff!

The Man Upstairs was a good record, with stellar versions of The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” and so this serving of the demos that led to that Joe Boyd-produced outing makes a great companion piece. The Man Downstairs may not make it into your collection, physically (if it’s sold out by the time you read this), but you’ll still be able to conjure his presence via download. Downstairs download. I like it. – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Tiny Ghost [no cat. #], 2020)

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Pretenders • Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 [LP]

Once released as an LP sent to radio stations only as a promotional item to help sell the band’s debut album, Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 is PRETENDERS at their livest best. The show was recorded on March 23 of that year just a few months after Pretenders was released to critical acclaim. Already the band was touring the USA, and within a year or so they’d released a stop-gap EP and then their second full length, the imaginitively-titled Pretenders II. To say things seemed to be happening for them is an understatement – and yet that momentum came to a pretty swift halt soon after. The stories have been told elsewhere of how guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon went down the well-traveled drug death road that so many rockers have, so let’s just say there’s no telling what the band would have done had the original lineup stayed intact. Not that the Pretenders didn’t end up achieving a pretty solid career…

Anyway, for Record Store Day 2020 (Drop 1), Sire/Warner Bros. has issued that for-broadcast-only concert on a real cool clear/red vinyl LP that comes in a clear PVC cover*. The 11-song set list is made up primarily of tracks from the band’s first album, so you’ll hear “Precious,” “Kid,” “Mystery Achievement” and “Tattooed Love Boys,” for instance, and early versions of “Talk of the Town” and “Cuban Slide.” Recording-wise, Live! At The Paradise Theater is of a quality I’d call “better than soundboard,” as in it’s lacking some shimmer in the high end and could stand a little more bottom, but otherwise much better than if you’d taped it from the radio back in the day. Of course, big time (real?) Pretenders fans would have looked for a copy of the original promo release, but those are fairly rare and not exactly on the cheap side. So now RSD comes to the rescue – or to the delight of those who had no idea this item ever existed at all. I don’t tend to listen to live albums all that regularly, but this one I’ll put on more frequently than, say, this RSD’s live Bowie release (the 1974 tour recording, reviewed here). If you’ve been trying to hunt down that original release, it is time for you to stop all of your sobbing and grab one of these.

3.5/5 (Sire RCV1 114, 2020)   * Do yourself a favor and keep the record itself in a regular paper or audiophile sleeve; over time records get baked into PVC sleeves and become unplayable.

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David Bowie • I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74) [2LP, CD]

DAVID BOWIE’s camp has been regularly issuing and reissuing some of the man’s concerts for Record Store Day and other events so you gotta wonder how close to the bottom of the barrel they’re getting. Will one bad apple spoil the rest of ’em? I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74) might just be one of those (possibly) offending apples.

These “legendary,” “mythical” concerts were what basically amounts to Bowie rejigging his band mid-tour – originally dubbed the Diamond Dogs Tour – with additional performers, and changing the arrangements to reflect, I guess, what he was hearing in his head. He dialed up the soul and dialed back the rock – and that is either gonna be a real plus for you (like, if you’re a big fan of Young Americans, recorded soon after) or a let down (like if you prefer David’s rockier, Ziggy-er side). For me, firmly in the latter category, it’s not as great as I had hoped it’d be. I much prefer Cracked Actor (Live in Los Angeles ’74) (issued for RSD 2017, see my review here) for its crunchy arrangements. Here we have near-cheesy keyboards (sorry, Mike Garson, ’cause I generally like your playing) and an at-times caterwauling sax (courtesy of David Sanborn) that sounds pretty dated (think of the theme song for Saturday Night Live). Ugh. On the other hand, I do like the covers medley of “Foot Stompin’/I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” with its “Fame”-style guitar stabs. But that sax. You’re killin’ me, Sanborn!

I’m Only Dancing also suffers from a hoarse-voiced Bowie and the recording’s mediocre sound quality. It sounds better than your typical bootleg of the era, for sure, so this is probably an improvement in that regard. Design-wise, this package is miles better than its mid ’70s counterpart, with graphics adapted from the tour program that was available at the shows. The 2LP and 2CD sets are both Record Store Day exclusives so they’re going to go fast. Whether you want to make the trip to your local vinyl emporium is up to you – though you should go and support your local regardless of your interest in this year’s Bowie release. You’ll be able to either pick up a copy of this or something else that’ll float your boat. Let’s not forget, no matter what any of us critics say about any particular DB product, it’s still gonna be better than your average album. It’s Bowie! – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Parlophone DBRSDLP 2020, 2020)

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The Kinks • The Kink Kronikles [2LP]

The Kink Kronikles is one of my favorite kompilations of any of those in my kollection. In 1972 THE KINKS had recently moved on from their original US record label, Reprise, to the hopefully greener pastures of RCA Records, so the wise guys in their former A&R department decided to put together a kollect… okay, I’m gonna stop with the “’k’ in place of ‘c’ thing” now… collection of a bunch of great singles and pair them with tracks – primarily B-sides – that they hadn’t yet released on album on this bounteous 2LP set, which has just been re-released for Record Store Day 2020.

One of the smarter things the label ever did was to draft rock critic and Kinks fan John Mendelsohn to not only compile the tracks, but annotate the package. What he put together, selection-wise, is an exemplary survey of what made the band so great. And his liner notes, which take up the entire inside of the gatefold cover, are an illustration of the fine art of putting someone on a pedestal and trying to knock them off of it at the same time. Mendelsohn’s twisted love of The Kinks is no secret (he later even penned a book about them), and neither was his sarcastic yet spot-on writing about rock music. They don’t make ’em like him anymore.

Remaining in Reprise’s catalog for many years, The Kink Kronikles was a valued 2LP set for the group’s hardcore US fans despite it being compiled and released without any input from the band. This, certainly, had been par for the course at Reprise. Just like The Beatles, The Stones and The Who – and pretty much all of the British bands – The Kinks had had their albums sliced ’n’ diced at will by the powers-that-had-been because those bozos presumably thought they knew better what would fly in the good ol’ US of A than their counterparts in the UK. And by that, I mean, you know, “We’ll cut a few songs from this 14-track album, take the tracks from some of the singles – hell! – even include a coupla tracks that were on the last album and bang! We got another way to make money off of these funny sounding English guys who probably won’t be around next year anyway.” The thing is, this compilation had so many sought after songs on it – lots of rare B-sides and songs lopped off their UK LPs – that the album became a pretty good seller, quite likely even cannibalizing sales of RCA’s current releases of new Kinks material (’71’s Muswell Hillbillies and ’72’s Everybody’s in Show-Biz).

I don’t have an original copy of The Kink Kronikles to compare this new Record Store Day version to, but it sounds pretty phenomenal, cats. Besides that, the collection itself is a great mix of familiar and obscure tracks. Sure, you get “Victoria,” “Days,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Lola” and “Sunny Afternoon,” but you also get once-super-hard to find goodies like “She’s Got Everything,” “Big Black Smoke,” “Mr. Pleasant,” “Berkeley Mews” and the then-unreleased “Did You See His Name?” There are 28 tracks here and they’re all worthwhile. Yes, today in 2020 they’ve pretty much all been added to the appropriate reissues of the band’s original albums, so if you’ve got the multi-CD sets of Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur or whatever, you have a good number of what’s here. But that’s no reason to pass on this limited edition, red vinyl reissue that’ll probably be deleted before you can say “Kinks reunion” for the umpteenth time. – Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (Sanctuary BMGCAT436DLP, 2020)

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Paul McCartney • Flaming Pie [3LP, 2CD]

PAUL McCARTNEY’s Archive Series is now ten years old. In 2010 he started releasing deluxe packages of his non-Beatles work with perhaps his greatest post-Fabs album, Band on the Run. Here we are in 2020 and Macca’s reissued Flaming Pie, the 1997 solo outing that was hailed as his best since 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, which was hailed as his best since… probably Band on the Run. At the time of Flaming Pie’s release we were all glad that he’d put out something that surpassed his previous studio album, 1992’s so-so On the Ground, which wasn’t bad but not nearly as good as the aforementioned Flowers. As his Archive Series has matured, so has the way McCartney and his business associates have packaged the man’s legacy.

This time, the various formats of the campaign include the customary, flagship “deluxe” box set (usually a number of CDs, a DVD or two, and a handful of books, posters and other memorabilia recreations) – in this case, 5 CDs, 2 DVDs, some books and other stuff – followed by a 3LP box set (consisting of the original album spread across two records and a third LP with various demos), a standard 2LP release (just the album tracks), and a 2CD set featuring the original album on disc one and a generously populated (21 tracks) disc of demos, etc.* Because Flaming Pie came out in the mid ’90s and vinyl hadn’t yet begun its comeback, the 14-track, 54-minute album was primarily a CD release, though it came out in limited quantities in the UK and USA on single-record vinyl that was both rare and not of a very high-fidelity nature. (The more time per side of vinyl, the lesser the quality of the audio.) This time it was decided to spread it out over two records – a wise choice – and the half-speed mastering job is amazingly good. The 3LP box set features this 2LP album (in a gatefold cover) along with a single bonus LP (in a standard record cover, and pressed in standard fashion) both housed in a slipcase complete with Japanese-style “OBI” strip. The slipcase’s cover is very minimalist and is quite tasteful, allowing the actual album’s cover to carry the release’s identity as it originally had (albeit with the title written in bright red rather than black, as it is/was on the current 2LP/initial 1LP release). An almost-dozen tracks make up that bonus LP, being “home recordings” and demos of eleven of the album’s 14 tracks. They make up a nice “alt” version of the album.

If you go for the 2CD reissue of Flaming Pie, you’ll get a high-value set with 21 bonus tracks (comprising disc two) that’ll be great for your ears and your wallet. The tracks on the 3LP bonus record are all there, as are more slices of alternative Pie and some of the B-sides that were originally released with the album’s singles (“Young Boy,” “Beautiful Night” and “The World Tonight”). Being that this is a digitally mastered set, you might expect it to sound a little less warm compared to the vinyl and it probably does; I have always had a hard time A/B’ing formats due to having to switch back and forth between them and trying to compensate for the typical difference in volume between CD and vinyl. I think both the 3LP and 2CD sets sound surprisingly good and they both make me want to really savor Flaming Pie today the way I never really did back in ’97. Wanna get into the deluxe edition?

Well, I haven’t yet sprung for that. As it currently costs beyond $200, it’s outside of my budget for now. What I can tell you is that it is clearly a gluttonous serving of Flaming Pie, with: an oven-full (two CDs) of the aforementioned demos and home recordings; a CD with an item called “The Ballad of the Skeletons” featuring McCartney with Allen Ginsburg, Lenny Kaye and Philip Glass (what a trio!) and a more-or-less complete episode of Oobu Joobu (a syndicated radio series McCartney hosted in the ’90s); a CD with a tour of, and samples of the instruments Paul keeps at his Hog Hill Mill recording studio (including the mellotron The Beatles made massive use of back in the day); and two DVDs with a documentary of the making of the album (called In the World Tonight), videos for the album’s singles, a few EPKs (electronic press kits) and even an interview with David Frost. AND a bunch of bespoke books and other ingredients to pad out the box and the price of it. Phew! Sure, 200-ish bucks might not seem so much for all of this, but keep in mind: like most baked items, it’s highly unlikely you’ll want to enjoy all of this more than once, so you gotta really consider what kind of monetary outlay you’re willing to make for such a rare, probably-to-be-enjoyed-once treat.

And THAT’s where that * asterisk way up above in paragraph two comes in! Because: There is an even grander version of Flaming Pie available, the Collector’s Edition. Limited to 3,000 units worldwide, it contains everything in the Deluxe Edition plus the 3LP vinyl set, half a dozen art prints featuring the album cover and other Linda McCartney photos, a Flaming Pie plectrum (what we guitarists in the USA call a pick), even more printed ephemera, and the ability to download the album at 24-bit/96kHz HD resolution. (And probably some other stuff that I was unable to make out from the various editions’ ingredients lists!) This all comes in a box that is “.6 of a metre long by about half of a meter wide” (according to Paul Sinclair in his unboxing video over at my favorite music site, SuperDeluxeEdition) – don’t ask me what it weighs ’cause, not only can I definitely not afford this version, but there’s no weight info anywhere on the web that I can find! Apparently, though, this one’s gonna set you back a good $400+ (not including a highly likely hefty shipping price). If you’re salivating heavily right now, here’s some comfort for ya: it’s probably already sold out by now so if you didn’t already know about it and order it you’re not gonna get a taste of this one any time soon.

Did you wanna hear about the music? Well, as mentioned way back at the start of this review, Flaming Pie was a critically acclaimed release that many considered to be a collection of classic McCartney styles. From the rocking songs like the title track, “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy,” to the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” that he wrote and played with Steve Miller, to the poppy, slightly melancholy sounding “The Song We Were Singing,” and a number of other flavors that you expect from Paul, this one’s got songs to recommend to just about every kind of Macca fan. But, unlike on many of his other releases, nearly all of these songs sound like McCartney in top form. None of it sounds phoned in. So, musically, it’s definitely worth looking into, either for the first time or once again. Now, naturally, I have some minor issues with the release, but this time – you lucky devils! – there’s nothing worth bothering to bitch about. And that means you can go enjoy yourself some Flaming Pie without having to think about me while doing so. That’s my gift to you. Go ahead – have a slice. – Marsh Gooch

4.75/5 (Capitol/MPL/UMe [various catalog numbers], 2020)

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R.E.M. • In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 [2LP]

It’s easy for us old school R.E.M. fans to dismiss the post-IRS Records era of the band. Those fabled times were unique in our music experience: Band comes out of nowhere – that is, Athens Georgia – and takes over the college radio airwaves, steadily builds a fanbase with their amazing records and compelling yet elusive videos (you had to look pretty hard to find them at first), and eventually signs to a major label. It’s also easy to say, “they were better before they sold out,” but of course, most of us also realize that R.E.M. didn’t actually do that, since their label switch was on their own terms. Still, I definitely prefer the albums up through Document over the Green-and-on elpees. I certainly didn’t stop buying their albums, though, but aside from Automatic for the People, I’d rate the post-1988 albums lower than those before that.

One listen to In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 tells you that Buck/Mills/Stipe(/Berry) & Co. didn’t really lose the plot – they just matured and morphed into a different monster. Their sonic palette got bigger, better, engulfing the scruffy, indie R.E.M. they once were. In this later personae the band gave us epics like “Man on the Moon,” “The Great Beyond” and “Everybody Hurts,” as well as burners like “Bad Day” and the absolutely gorgeous “At My Most Beautiful.” Even the band doesn’t quite know how to sum it all up; Peter Buck wrote the liner notes to each song and he himself is frequently unsure what the songs mean or where they came from. But one thing is sure: R.E.M. weren’t even close to finished having something to say when the ink on the Warner Bros. Records contract had dried.

In Time was first released in 2003, available in a few different formats (including vinyl), but the 2LP version was hard to find. It’s now been reissued by Craft Recordings in a standard double black vinyl version and a blue colored set offered exclusively by Barnes & Noble. The mastering job on this reissue was done well, and it’s nice to have the 18 songs spread over two records. But I do have a minor issue with B&N’s colored vinyl: the transparent blue could’ve been matched better to the color of the blue moon on the cover. It plays and sounds lush, though, so don’t pay too much attention to that part of my critique. The takeaway from this review is that R.E.M. were one of the great American bands of the ‘80s and In Time is the perfect summation of their latter days.

4/5 (Craft Recordings CR00166, 2003/2019)

 

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Devo • Turn Around: B-Sides & More (1978-1984) [LP]

Limited to just 3,256 copies, the latest Run Out Groove release is a collection of semi-rarities from Akron’s finest, DEVO. Turn Around: B-Sides & More (1978-1984) features fifteen tracks on one slice of tomato red marbled vinyl and is something for the devotee who must have everything. I say this because most of the tracks here will be on the hardcore Devo collector’s record shelf and so this limited edition release would be superfluous if it weren’t for the album’s own likely future rarity.

About half of the tracks on Turn Around are B-sides, such as the title track, “Social Fools,” “Penetration in the Centrefold” and “Growing Pains.” A bunch more are remixes, either for single release or as extended mixes, such as “Snowball (Remix),” “Through Being Cool (Dance Velocity)” and my favorite, “That’s Good [extended version].” And then there’s “Working in a Coal Mine,” which is here presumably because it was originally released as a bonus 7″ single that came with the New Traditionalists vinyl album. It’s not very rare, at least not like “Mecha-Mania Boy,” which was the B-side to “Jerkin’ Back and Forth” and is new to me. (I’m not as hardcore as some Devo fans, for sure.)

Turn Around’s fifteen tracks make for an enjoyable listen, yes, and though it’s running time may seem a bit long for a one record set, the mastering job is good and the record itself was pressed at Record Industry in the Netherlands. Mine’s got some surface noise between tracks but that will presumably wear away after a few listens. The cover is definitely of a 1980 vibe, with a painting that looks like something from a 1930s WPA billboard (not counting the energy domes) and was “adopted for commercial release,” whatever that means. To purchase Turn Around – paraphrasing from “Nu-tra Speaks” – “…is not like spending money, but rather it is an investment in the future and a blow against the empire.” Or something.

3/5 (Run Out Groove ROGV-043, 2019)

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