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Taking Brian Eno’s 2017 vinyl reissues by strategy

  • Here Come The Warm Jets (1973) is Brian Eno’s first solo album. I picked up a used vinyl copy at Berlin’s The Record Store in January 2017. An original UK pressing on Island. €20. A Pro-Ject VCS record cleaning machine took care of most of the surface noise and Here Come The Warm Jets now sounds almost as good as the day it was pressed. Almost.

    For anyone wanting to get in on the Eno ‘early years’ vinyl action, know that chance is your best hope. Despite the occasional “unofficial” pressing (read: bootleg), Here Come The Warm Jets has been out of print on vinyl since the early eighties. So too have follow up, 1974’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), 1975’s genre-bending Another Green World (which many fans favour as his Eno’s finest hour) and, this commentator’s pick, 1977’s Before And After Science, after which Eno effectively walked away from making art/glam/rock music.

    Fans jonesing for vinyl copies of one or all of these classics should mark August 4th in their diaries – on this day UMC (Universal)/EMI will release fresh reissues, remastered at ‘half speed’ by Miles Showell at Abbey Road studios and pressed to 180gm vinyl. Expect to pay around £30 per album.

    These four Eno releases are the result of the famed London studio’s half-speed mastering initiative announced in early 2016; one that led to Peter Gabriel’s catalogue being reissued as half-speed masters later that year, also by Universal.

    From the Independent’s coverage: “The process involves the original master tape being played back at 16 2/3 RPM, precisely half its recorded speed, while the cutting lathe is similarly turned at half the desired playback speed.”

    The small print on each Eno reissue’s record jacket tells us a little more: “This record was cut using a specialist technique known as half-speed mastering. This artisan process results in cuts that have superior high frequency response (treble) and solid and stable stereo images. In short, a very high quality master that helps to create a very high quality record.” 

    The implication here is that our turntable and hifi system should be up to the task.

    Each of these Eno re-issues will also include a voucher to download the album in an (as yet) unspecified format. If the Peter Gabriel reissues are anything to go by we can expect 24bit/96kHz PCM. Nice – not least because these same four albums haven’t seen a digital remaster since 2004.

    This begs a couple of questions: were those same hi-res PCM files used to cut these re-pressings? And if so, will our original pressings sound better? This answer to this hinges on the quality of the remastering job.

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume that these reissues sound quite a bit better than the originals. Add to cart and buy now? Not so fast.

    Also from the record jacket: “In addition to this. We have released this album as a double 45 RPM half-speed mastered edition. This is the ultimate for high quality reproduction as the faster the replay speed of the record, the higher the potential quality. Also, the shorter side times allow the level recorded to the master lacquer discs to be increased thereby improving the signal to noise ratio.”

    Better sound quality but at what cost? As many a vinyl-head will tell you, it’s not just vinyl’s sound quality that draws them in but the experience: the sleeve art, dropping the record on the platter, lowering the needle and actively listening.

    In its original incarnation, the first side of Another Green World ends with the title track retreating oh-so slowly into the distance and then the run-out groove. To ask us to flip the record midway through effectively what was once Side A, at the end of “St. Elmo’s Fire”, flips a middle finger at the listening experience.

    Ditto Before And After Science. Side A ends with the Talking Heads’ referencing “Kings Lead Hat”. Getting out of one’s seat to turn/change the record three times throughout its 40 minute duration isn’t just annoying, it’s unfaithful to the original’s listening experience. Pauses between sides and their timing are important. (A very ‘Brian Eno’ thing to note).

    It may well sound better but the forthcoming 45rpm 2LP vinyl reissue of Here Come The Warm Jets will not offer the same listening experience as the original single LP. Side A does not come to a close with “Baby’s On Fire”.

    For those who put the listening experience ahead of sound quality, there is hope.

    In December 2016, the aforementioned Peter Gabriel reissues made the jump from 45rpm doubles to considerably more affordable 33rpm single LP versions: I, II, III, IV and So were returned to their original form — two sides of vinyl (down from four). Likewise, Up and Us, which showed up as five (?!) sides of vinyl at 45rpm, were collapsed back to four sides at 33rpm.

    Let’s hope these Brian Eno reissues get the same 33rpm single LP treatment down the line so that we might access these half speed remasters without the experiential compromise. After all, the 45rpm pressings are limited editions.

    Further information: Brian Eno Net

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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