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Listening Report: The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset, Record Store Day Limited Edition E.P.

Mark Smotroff rises to a challenge…

I only bought one record on the mini Record Store Day (RSD) last month: a 12-inch, 45 RPM, extended play (aka “E.P.”) release by The Kinks celebrating the 55th Anniversary of their classic song “Waterloo Sunset.”  This Waterloo Sunset EP is a unique creature in The Kinks’ katalogue, an interesting half-album (if you will) featuring cover art based on a rare, four-song French E.P. from the period. However, the that record has been expanded with two additional tracks. The RSD edition was more expensive than I’d hoped but as it was my only purchase — and since it was The Kinks, one of my all time favorite British Invasion-era bands — I went for it.  I have no buyer’s remorse…  

The first thing I sensed when I heard the Waterloo Sunset EP was that it sounded really very good and surprisingly “big.” I’m not sure what sources were used to make it — probably digital — and I don’t know if it was dramatically re-equalized in the creation of this new disc master.  But whatever it is, the record certainly sounds quite fine. Actually, it sounds excellent for Kinks releases from this period in general (more on that in a moment).  

I was, however, surprised last week however to read someone’s comment on a social media platform complaining about the sound quality of this E.P. Again, my only nit was that this is a relatively expensive disc, even though it was manufactured in Sweden. But I didn’t for a moment think it sounded bad at all.  

The Kinks’ original French four-song Waterloo Sunset EP

Intrigued, I decided to do a little bit of sleuthing, conducting some loose and informal Kinks komparison-kontrasting to like-tracks I have on other vinyl sources.  

And thus this review was born! 

Two tracks on Side Two of the E.P. come from The Kinks’ fabulous Face To Face album: “Holiday In Waikiki” and “Little Miss Queen Of Darkness.”  Comparing the new Waterloo Sunset EP versions to my near mint original 1966 US pressing on Reprise Records, the new edition certainly sounds fuller and less compressed. 

Kinks producer Shel Talmy’s mixes have always felt quite compressed to begin with and the US editions tended to add their own constrictive twists mastering-wise for the American market back in the day. 

I then broke out the version of Face To Face that was included in The Kinks: The Mono Collection boxed set to compare the tracks within. Brighter than the U.S. original Mono, those songs still pale in comparison to the new E.P.  (This reminds me that I really need to get more original UK pressings of the Kinks mid-late 1960’s albums on Pye Records one of these days, records which are still hard to find in the U.S. and usually expensive when you do come across them in stores or online).

For the next kompare-kontrast test of the title track — “Waterloo Sunset,” a #2 hit in England and Top 10 in Europe and Australia/New Zealand, according to the wiki — I first put on the version from the black album compilation within The Kinks: The Mono Collection which is eponymously-titled The Kinks. This collection was originally issued in 1970 only in the UK, featuring singles and rarities in Mono. (note: In 1972 in the US, Reprise Records issued its own black-colored album called The Kink Kronikles, but that was a very different Stereophonic-leaning animal, despite some overlapping tracks). The song sounded good but not as rich as the E.P. version.

I then put on “Waterloo Sunset” from its original album Something Else By the Kinks, also from The Kinks: The Mono Collection. Curiously, this sounded a bit better than the version on the prior compilation, but I’m not sure why: perhaps it featured a different mix or perhaps the tape sources used for creating this particular album were in better shape. It is also worth noting that the song on that album is at the end of the album and thus usually gets a bit more compressed given the nature of disc mastering (hold on to this thought for a moment). 

All that said, “Waterloo Sunset” sounded pretty good there but still not as full bodied as the E.P.

THEN… i broke out my original UK Pye Records edition of that kompilation of Kinks hits in Mono (again, the black album titled The Kinks). On this album, “Waterloo Sunset” opens Side Three of the two-disc set and the song sounds much more open than the reissue version in the The Kinks: The Mono Collection boxed set. The acoustic guitar is fuller and the bass more prominent. 

Just for yuks — and before going back to the EP — I put on my original US pressing of Something Else By the Kinks album which is Stereo. “Waterloo Sunset” there sounds nice there but I admit the overall mix feels relatively tepid compared to the punchier Mono incarnation. 

Now, after all that exploration, I returned back to the new 45 RPM edition where the recording of “Waterloo Sunset” appears immediately much louder than any of the 33 1/3 versions I was playing. But its not just volume pushed up here:  more of the actual recording is being revealed, I suspect.  Pete Quaife’s bass guitar and Mick Avory’s drums in particular now stand out much more. Ray Davies’ strummy acoustic guitar chimes while Dave Davies’ signature electric guitar hook-riffs rip and roar. 

So, there you have it. The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset EP may even be the best sounding versions of these songs on vinyl I’ve heard to date. 

Of course, all this makes me hope for new and improved Mono (and Stereo) remasters of all of The Kinks’ albums in a fidelity approaching or surpassing this E.P. I don’t think expecting a high level of love and care for making these albums sound as good as possible is too much to ask for. These are some of the most important popular musics of the last 60 years by one of the most influential of British artists. If The Beatles could put forth a super premium bar-setting effort for their Beatles In Mono boxed set, so can — and should — The Kinks.

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