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Vinyl Archeology #10

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First posted on Mark Is Cranky:

Last Friday, I said that my next CD vs. LP cage match was going to be Billy Bragg & Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue. The event was scheduled for Sunday evening but was preempted by some unexpected weirdness from the Flaming Lips. So last night was the night.

After many listens to Mermaid Avenue (what a great, great record) I selected three tunes that best illustrated the various musical configurations presented: “Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key” (with Natalie Merchant on backing vocals), “Walt Whitman’s Niece” (full band with Bragg on vocals) and “Birds And Ships” (Bragg on acoustic guitar, Merchant on lead vocals).

First up was “Birds And Ships”. The verdict?

Bad pressing.

That’s right. My careful tune selection turned out to be a complete waste of time. This particular LP sounds like crap. It’s either one of the worst analog mastering jobs in the medium’s history or the maybe the press operator had had too much to drink over a long lunch. Muddy midrange, vocal distortion. Blech. It reminds me of some of those Springsteen bootlegs I used to listen to. Just plain ugly. I’ve heard records like this before they’re usually the sad result of abusive treatment: dirty or poorly adjusted equipment, brutish tracking forces, etc. This was a brand spankin’ new album. Good thing this is just a loaner.

Oh well, I’m not shocked by these results…but maybe just a little disappointed. I’ve grown so fond of this record that plans were forming in my head to seek out my own 180 gram copy. I’ve got to do some more investigating, as there’s gotta be others out there who’ve had the same experience.

The liner notes begin: “Mermaid Avenue is the name of the street in Coney Island, Brooklyn, that was home to Woody Guthrie and his wife, Marjorie and their kinds in the years that followed world war II.” This records sounds like it had been left out in the middle of Mermaid Avenue for a week or so.

Stay tuned. The next digital/analog matchup: Trout Mask Replica.

About Mark Saleski

  • Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    Mermaid Avenue is one of my favourite records. Volume II rules also. It’s actualy the record that introduced me properly to Wilco. Being a massiv fan of UNcle Bill, i picked it up purely for his involvement. It really is quite remarkable.