Written by 4:23 am Audiophile Music

Eno Still Sounds Best on Vinyl

Mark Smotroff listens to Brian Eno, past and present…



AR-801 Live Collectors Edition.jpg

We Are
The 801’s…

I recently picked up a spectacular reissue of 801 Live, the amazing one off concert
album from the mid-70s featuring Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno
backed by a stellar band including the great Simon Philips on drums. How did I
miss this reissue when it came out in 2009? In these days of Interwebs-driven
information overload and shoe-string budget marketing efforts, easily…

Ah well, at least I found it now and I am very
pleased. This edition is a lovingly prepared, gatefold-covered, high quality
180-gram LP pressing put out on Manzanera’s own boutique label — Expression
Records — replete with great photos, memorabilia and detailed liner notes by
the band members. In it, they recount the period leading up to the handful of
concerts that made up this (essentially) one-off recording. Whether you as a
fan decide to file this under Phil Manzandera (whose band it was, technically)
or Eno (who’s solo material they do quite a bit of) is up to you. But the fact
is you need to own this album in SOME form if only to hear the stunning version
of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

This LP set restores the original LP running order
— there were some additional songs recorded not included in the original
single LP edition, but issued on some CD reissues over the years (apparently,
from what I’ve read on forums and such, to the dismay of some fans who found
the sound quality change jarring). I am fine with this original presentation
since it indeeds flows very well both as an album listening experience and
concert document.

AR-Eno.jpg

This collection includes a second disc featuring
rehearsal performances from August 23rd 1976, recorded at Shepparton
Studios. This made it all the easier for
me to replace my original UK pressing (which was in far from perfect
condition). The cover art on this one is arguably better than the original
since it is now in a nice thick textured cardboard sleeve instead of the flimsy
oaktag of the period.

If you can’t find this in your favorite store, you
might have to order this one from Phil Manzanera’s website, but it will be
worth it.

Another
LP World…

About 10 years ago there was much hoopla
surrounding a reissue series of Brian Eno’s solo recordings including a spiffy
box set and such. I didn’t spring for it at the time because, while the CDs
were apparently made using Sony’s DSD (Direct Stream Digital) process, they
were issued as standard “red book” compact discs (16-bit, 44.1 kHz)
and thus all the fancy algorithmic alchemy achieved in the DSD process doesn’t
really benefit the listener all that much since it must be converted to
standard PCM stereo at CD resolution.

Still, the digipack design on these Eno reissue
CDs were quite nice — pressed in Holland, complete with nice plastic slip case
covers to protect the lovely artwork — so I’ve been picking them up used
lately to replace my 80s-era CDs. I recently found a copy of my favorite Eno
album, Another Green World, at a
reasonable price so I gave it a shot (I’d given my EG CD copy to my friend
Milton).
 

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So how does it sound? Meh. It certainly sounds
better than my old CD. But I was disappointed to find that it didn’t sound even
remotely better than my late 70s or mid-80s blue label U.S. pressed Island
Records LP version. The LP has a whole lot more going on in the mid range and
bass frequencies, resulting in a experience that just jumps out of the
speakers. From the opening funky bass lines of “Sky Saw” through to
the hushed ambiance of “Spirits Drifting” at the end, the LP is
warmer and more engaging.

I’ll keep this CD for now. However, when I find a
better LP pressing upgrade (hopefully an original UK press) I will give my
current LP to my buddy Milton who hopefully will enjoy that even more than the
old EG CD.  

That’s what friends are for, right?

 

Mark Smotroff is a
freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in
marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video
games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T
and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine,
Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine
and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs have been
used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and
documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written.
www.smotroff.com

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