So, hopefully by now you have read my recent review of the pre-release CD of the fine new Flamin' Groovies album, Fantastic Plastic (click here in case you missed it). Record manufacturing production schedules being what they are these days, the notion of staggered release dates for digital and analog varietals is quite common. Fortunately, the good folks pulling the strings for The Flamin' Groovies have made sure I received a vinyl pressing of the new album as soon as it was available. It was worth the wait!
While the CD certainly sounds fine -- and it most certainly sounds better than the included MP3 download, useful for mobile but ultimately inevitably a bit woosh-y sounding -- the vinyl version of Fantastic Plastic delivers the real deal, high fidelity sonic kick of 21st century Flamin' Groovies.
Turn up your amplifier's volume a bit and you'll hear lots of rich drum kit and guitar amplifier tones.... You'll sense the imaging of the band playing in the studio that is really sweet, with drums dead center surrounded by guitars (as the founding fathers of rock 'n roll originally intended). The guitar presence on the vinyl pressing is particularly impressive... Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson's dueling Keith Richards-worthy riffing comes even more alive on the vinyl pressing than the CD, jumping in the night (and day) right out of your speakers. I suspect that the difference in the sound is due to the condensing and inevitable flattening of the sound when the CD master is created (which cuts off at 44.1 kHz and 16-bits). The music you hear from playing the LP version is much more dynamic.
For some perspective on how the album was recorded, its worth recapping my interview last year with producer Joel Jaffe from when I reviewed the preview single "Crazy Macy" (which you can read by clicking here) he told us then: "It was cut live in the big room to capture the excitement of the band's live energy! We cut the song with vintage mics and pre's digitally in ProTools at 24-bit, 96 kHz. We did the vocals on a Neuman U47. We used the live room sound for the drums capturing the room with two U67's mid-field and a stereo room mic 20 feet away. I've always liked real sounds for rock and roll. I also used a classic (Ampex) ATR 102 two-track for tape slap on the vocals for a classic sound as well."
So, the vinyl pressing is definitely the way to go to get the most of the new Flamin' Groovies album, Fantastic Plastic. The bass sounds are much more distinct and round on the LP pressing, which -- by the way, in case you were wondering -- is on thick, dark, heavyweight black vinyl (not sure if it is 150- or 180-gram but either way its not flimsy!). My copy is also well centered, which many of you know by now is an important detail for my enjoyment of music when playing vinyl records.
The difference between LP vs. CD playback is quite noticeable on tracks like the intro to "Let Me Rock," where on the vinyl you can feel the chug of the amplifiers and the air pushing from the kick drum -- its palpable and audible, if you listen closely. When playing the CD you hear a sort of thuddy "thup thup" sound on the kick, while on the vinyl you'll experience a bigger "whomp whomp" (if you will) as the drum beater resonates within the studio's ambiance.
So, some of you may be wondering how this new album stacks up sonics-wise compared to some of the earlier Groovies classics. For comparison sake, I went back and cherry picked some tracks from both my early 70s vinyl pressing (and more recent Norton Records reissue) of their seminal album Teenage Head -- the record which many think out-Stones'd the Rolling Stones for that electric blues rock sound ala Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. Indeed, Fantastic Plastic is right up there in terms of the classic Flamin' Groovies sound and feel. Fantastic Plastic nailed that balance between both eras of the band, blending the power pop feel of the more British-flavored mid-late-70s Chris Wilson / Shake Some Action era with that earlier roots-y Chess Records feel of the original Roy Loney incarnation of the band. Again, much kudos to the band and producer Joel Jaffe -- the hard work is evident and it was no doubt worth the time it took to deliver an album of this caliber.
Twelve-string Electric, 6-string Acoustic and open-tuned Slide Guitars perched side by side in perfect rock 'n roll band harmony, all delivered with a sense of clarity and directness : its all there on Fantastic Plastic. And its so satisfying to hear that sound again paired up with this fine batch of new songs. The new Flamin' Groovies album on vinyl is indeed some fun Fantastic Plastic.
Borrowing a line used to promote The Kinks around 1968: 'God Save The Flamin' Groovies!'