My journey into the half-speed mastered, 45 RPM series of reissues by pop and ambient music pioneer / legend Brian Eno started out positively enough. After some trouble actually locating the initially much-in-demand LPs -- mastered at Abbey Road Studios and pressed on high quality 180-gram black vinyl in Germany -- I did get my hands on copies. They were popular and sold out quickly in the stores. In fact, I reviewed this new version of my favorite Eno album, Another Green World at that time and was quite pleased with the results (click here for that review). I was almost as pleased with Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy but there were indeed some problems, albeit minor (click here for that review). As I checked around with friends I started hearing rumbles of problems with some of the pressings.
Accordingly, I grew a little gun-shy of the rumored bad warps, non-fill and even drop outs on the master tapes used. So my other new Eno albums just sat here for months and months waiting to be opened and played. Well, I finally got over it and cracked open my last two in the series so thought I'd report back on my results.
My copy of Here Come The Warm Jets is mostly perfect. The records are well centered and quiet. And, the one anomaly I noticed visually on the first track, "Needle In The Camel's Eye" -- the tell-tale dotted in-groove marks of non-fill pressing -- is not audible on my turntable. So, there were no "pfffts" or pops apparent on this one, thankfully. This recording benefits kindly from the 45 RPM half-speed mastering with nice definition and detailing (I can hear more of the presence of drums in the studio and the interlocking guitar layers are very distinct here). Probably the only thing that is a bit of a negative with the two-LP presentation of this music is that you lose the dramatic impact of the manic finale to "Dead Finks don't talk" slamming into the haunting intro to "Some of them are Old." Fortunately, they kept the crucial sequence between "The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch" and "Baby's On Fire." So other than that I'm good with this one.
Before And After Science didn't faire quite as well. The problems were really all on Side Four as there is some significant surface noise on the quiet intro to "By This River" and that is a big drag. And, one of the other things I'd heard complaints about on this reissue series -- drop outs -- is briefly apparent on that last side. It passes very quickly (so I don't even remember the exact song) but it was there (and no, I didn't have time to compare /contrast with other versions this time 'round). More problematic for me was surface noise distortion at the very end of the otherwise beautiful "Spider and I."
Oh well, I guess all of this doesn't matter ultimately as (from what I've been told from some record stores) these half-speed mastered albums are apparently out of print even though you can still find them for sale in some outlets. So if you do go for them, set your expectations accordingly. That said, there are now standard single-disc editions of these albums available (I do not own these so I have no idea how those sound).
For me, until we get these seminal Brian Eno recordings on high resolution Blu-ray Disc (or some other super resolution format to come) some of these half speed versions will suffice as go-to best incarnations to date. And of course you can always listen to them in CD quality on Tidal. Click here for Before and After Science and here for Here Comes The Warm Jets.
The music here is ultimately what matters and whatever way you listen, Eno's first four albums are pop music milestones.