Written by 11:16 am Audiophile Music, Analog, Audiophile, Audiophile News, Vinyl

Listening Report: XTC’s Lost Masterpiece Mummer Restored & Remastered On 200g Vinyl

Mark Smotroff explores a favorite album many mistakenly overlook…

I admit I probably have a preternatural appreciation for Mummer by XTC, a recording which came out at a crucial crossroads period in my life in 1983. I was just out of college and by the time this was released I was starting to panic about the realities of not yet having a job, living again at home with my parents with uncertainties of career direction and my personal life. I was also writing my own music and had a strong desire to start a band (which I did, but that is another story).  

Inferior original 1983 cover art for Mummer

Mummer became a vital part of the soundtrack of my life at that time. Immersing myself in this album helped seal many wounds. I was also still feeling a bit sad as just a year prior in college we were supposed to have XTC perform at our school (I was on the concert board too, so I was extra excited about this show). Of course, that never happened as the tour was cancelled due to Andy Partridge’s unfortunate health issues which he had to address. 

For me, suddenly XTC was further placed into the same space as The Beatles as far as bands I would never get to see live. Mummer‘s release amidst the sticky heat of Summer that year fit both the times and my mindset perfectly. Looking back, it encapsulated my life and feelings at that moment in time: simultaneously edgy and melodic, quirky and reassuring, forward-looking and backward-glancing, frightened and fearless, eager and hungry.  

The rejected superior cover design for Mummer, now restored.

Lines like “I should be singing but in liberation, Feel like a ship with no rudder” (from “Me And The Wind”) resonated deeply.

I waited to hear Mummer on radio and hoped that maybe my friends would be in to it. But, that never really happened. We didn’t even have cable yet at home then so I couldn’t see if the early MTV was playing their videos. Fortunately, some of the local music shops I frequented were into XTC so I snapped up the import singles as soon as I could find them. 

“Wonderland” picture disc as issued in the UK

Beyond all the admittedly personal connection, why do I still love Mummer so much after all these year?  In addition to the fact that there are great songs and lyrics here, I have come to realize that in some ways the album was a sort of an encapsulated take on what the band had done on its breakthrough hit album English Settlement. Albeit with some new twists and turns added in to keep things fresh, this album leaves me with that same sense of satisfaction knowing I’ve been listening to music that is somehow important in the grand scheme of things (at least as far a popular music goes).  

Still, I have remained perplexed as to why Mummer didn’t resonate with the public as much as their other releases. These songs are great!  What was the problem? At the end of the day what is important is that we now have a fine new remastered LP to experience. Yet, it does raise a more technical question, in my mind at least:  I am wondering if the way the original recording was presented to the public was somehow compromised. 

I enjoyed my imported UK pressing of Mummer when it came out but even then I felt that it sounded a little reined in compared to the rich acoustic-electric cinemascopic sparkle of English Settlement. I wondered if someone along the way felt it needed to be compressed further, perhaps in the disc mastering process?  Did Virgin over do it in hopes for radio play?  

We’ll probably never know but one thing is for sure: the new remastered version of Mummer sounds wonderful, revealing all manner of details that were clouded by the original mastering.  The thick dark black 200 gram vinyl pressings are excellent, quiet and well centered. The album features restored and far superior original cover art that had been rejected back in the day and relegated to the inner-sleeve design.

This original inner sleeve image was supposed to be the back cover of Mummer and is now restored

Listen to the transition from “Beating of Hearts” into “Wonderland” and immerse yourself in the deep and more ambient sounding forest sounds there. Listen for the cymbal and keyboard textures which pop out of the mix more exotically than before. Listen for the birds tweeting and flittering throughout the song (which were there, just not as apparent).

“Love On A Farmboy’s Wages” wallet styled double disc EP as issued in the UK

“Love On A Farmboy’s Wages” is lushly perky, the acoustic guitars complementing each other gorgeously. I love the increased depth apparent on the percussion (particularly the bridge). “Ladybird” benefits tremendously from the new mastering, allowing you to more clearly hear and feel the brushes as they skitter, pitter and patter across the drum heads. The stereo separation here is a night and day improvement over the original vinyl — you can hear them there but you don’t feel that sense of studio presence, of the brushes moving in air and interacting as they hit the skins. In cruder terms, its the difference between hearing simple scratching versus the actual percussive textures the brushes create. Colin Moulding’s bass sounds much richer and resonant here on the new Mummer vinyl. 

“Great Fire” issued as a 12″ EP and 7″ single in the UK

“Great Fire” is no doubt a very dense production — there is a lot going on here! — but to my ear the mix always sounded far too compressed, like it wanted to explode out of the speakers and burn down the house but couldn’t quite. This new version sounds brighter and rounder, with more instrumental details leaping forth, making the ELO-riding-the-Marrakesh-express sort of vibe all the more apparent. The strings now jump out of the speakers — especially the plucked solo section — and Andy’s overdubbed responses (“hearrrrt”) on the final choruses are much more clear and audible.  

“Deliver Us From The Elements” has always been a challenge to reproduce coming at the end of a fairly dense side of music but this new version is the most detailed I’ve heard to date (I can’t wait to hear this one in 5.1 surround sound some day!). 

There is a neat doubling-type slap effect going at points in the drums during the verses (particularly noticeable on the kick drum) on “In Loving Memory Of A Name” which I never really heard before on my original vinyl. Audiophiles take note: this song may be a good demo disc for showing off your Hi Fi systems — listen how those drums come in now on the intro and at the bridge / break section in the middle. They sound huge! Listen for the whispered response vocals, now more apparent toward the end of the song. 

On “Me & The Wind” you can more clearly hear Andy Partridge’s low doubled vocals and Colin Moulding’s fluid jazzy bass playing flows like a river’s rapids.

It is worth pointing out that Mummer now sounds really fabulous when played up loud. Another test for me when listening to a remastered album is whether the recording holds up when heard quietly and loudly. This edition sounds terrific both ways. 

But really, this is one you’ll want to play loud… 

Mummer in its newly remastered form delivers the healthy shot of Funk Pop A Roll  I always dreamed about for this under-appreciated classic from our beloved Swindon heroes.  What are you waiting for? Turn it up!

A little bonus sticker found on the cover of the new remaster Mummer, perhaps VF stands for “very fine…”
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