It’s the time of year for saving money!
I finally had some spare change around and decided to spring for a copy of an album I already own on LP, CD and Blu-ray Disc. Oranges & Lemons by XTC was one of the finest releases of 1989 if not the finest, finding our heroes from England delivering joys that followed naturally after the success of 1986’s Todd Rundgren produced masterwork, Skylarking, and the two surprise hits issued under the alias The Dukes Of Stratosphear.
Back in the day, I didn’t take it for granted that this album was going to be as great as it was after Skylarking. Even though the band was well into their career, it would have been easy (and understandable) for the group to suffer a sort of “sophomore slump” after that album. I mean, just stop and consider how many great recordings they made from Drums & Wires onward — that is quite a trajectory! But the group rose to the challenge and crafted a worthy follow up that went beyond in some ways.
When Oranges & Lemons was released, I initially bought it on CD (domestic US) which I liked. I later found a UK CD which I liked better still. I eventually found the fancy Mobile Fidelity edition CD. I also have an original US vinyl pressing on Geffen Records. Save for the vinyl, all those earlier editions I pretty much purged when the CD-plus-Blu-ray-Disc set was released, featuring not only remastered Stereo versions of the album but also a wonderful multi-channel surround sound mix. I reviewed that version back in 2015 (which you can click here to read if you’d like to catch up on what the fuss is about). That out-of-print set is obviously a bit on the collectible side already as it is going for some heady coin on Discogs!
So… I hope my XTC fan-boy card won’t be revoked because I held off on buying this reissue of Oranges & Lemons on vinyl for some months now (I’ve followed a similar path for Drums & Wires and Black Sea). I just didn’t feel I really “needed” the vinyl reissue. But I kept hearing rapturous reports about it from XTC fans on social media so I decided to finally spring for it.
So what is different this time around. Well… simply comparing oranges to oranges (bad pun intended), the new edition makes the old U.S. pressing sound like it was mastered off a rather harsh, compressed tape of the album. As we have learned from XTC’s remasters of its other albums — pretty much everything from Skylarking onward — those master tapes sounded a lot better than the CDs and vinyl editions back in the day led us to believe. Were they compressed more in the vinyl disc mastering process? Possibly. Were the CDs mastered poorly back in the day? Perhaps. Was there some inadequate digital processing along the way?
I could speculate but I won’t waste the energy. I’ll just report that if you like your XTC on vinyl, you owe it to yourself to get this new remaster of Oranges & Lemons. Especially if all you have is the original US vinyl or a CD, there is much more detail and presence of the band performing in the studio. Little details like the guitar “stings” in the chorus of “Cynical Days” just jump out more vividly. Pat Mastelotto’s drums sound quite huge and distinct on this new version. All the vocals are richer and warmer. Actually, overall the whole album sounds warmer, richer and rounder compared to the US vinyl edition.
For those wondering, yes, the 200 gram black vinyl is very quiet and well centered. All is well on that front…
The cover art on the new Oranges & Lemons is also not only improved over the original, but it is different! Significantly different, actually. The printing is far superior over the original Geffen edition — all the colors pop better! — and the artwork is even expanded a bit (the oranges and lemons in the lower left of the cover now bleed outside the confines of the border and wrap around the edge of the gatefold spine. The back cover is a completely different photo from the sessions too and I prefer how the tracks are listed on the cover stacked vs. sideways like the CD edition.
All in all, I am super glad got the Oranges & Lemons reissue. As much as I love the Blu-ray edition — which includes the original mix in 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity as well as the new Steven Wilson Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound remixes — it is nice to have the album on vinyl, which is probably closer to how Andy Partridge and the band originally envisioned it in the first place. This is a welcome addition to my collection.