Sunday, July 25, 2010

April 7, 2009: More Music, More Music, More Music, More Music…

There is no album I have purchased more times than The Who Sell Out. I first bought it exactly 20 years ago as a poorly-mastered vinyl two-fer coupled with A Quick One. Next I got it in its poorly-mastered first edition CD form released in 1988. In 1995 I bought the first proper CD remastering of the album, a disc rife with bonus tracks and terrific liner notes. Unfortunately, the mastering was too bright and a pair of overzealous engineers monkeyed with the mix, nearly rendering the lead guitar riff of “Odorono” inaudible, weakening the guitar solo of “Our Love Was”, and inserting a rough advert for Rotosound Strings between “Relax” and ‘Silas Stingy”. Two years ago I purchased a vintage original-pressing (Decca: DL 74950) at a record fair. Despite the pops and snaps typical of vintage vinyl, this was probably the best version of the album I owned. However, I think I’ve now trumped it with what I hope to be the last copy of The Who Sell Out I will ever buy. UK Polydor has just issued a double-disc deluxe edition of The Who Sell Out, and it’s a pretty impressive package. Smartly, the folks in charge have used the original mix of the album, while also remastering it to eliminate the dullness and noise of the 1988 CD release without losing the bottom. My only knock is that sometimes there's too much bottom and the rhythm section distorts, making the disc a bit uncomfortable to listen to with headphones. But the high-end details are crisp and clear, such as the bracing percussion and multiple guitars on "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand".

The first disc contains the stereo mix of the album along with a glut of 16 bonus tracks (although a number of these are brief adverts). While some of the slightly non-contemporary bonus tracks from the 1995 edition have been eliminated (“Glow Girl” and “Melancholia”, both of which were recorded after the release of Sell Out, are absent), there is a nice number of tracks that have either only been previously available on bootlegs (the heavy instrumental “Sodding About”) or, as far as I know, have not been available at all (a cleaner, though less powerful, remake of “Rael 1 & 2” recorded after the original version had been tossed in the trash by a cleaning person at Talentmasters Studio; a hyperactive studio version of “Summertime Blues” that differs from the one included on the expanded version of Odds and Sods). A stereo take of “Glittering Girl” sounds far less like a demo than the previously released mono version; the guitars and bass are as formidable as anything on the proper album, and Townshend’s thin vocals are filled out with ample supporting harmonies from Daltrey and Entwistle… a real find!. Just as interesting is the inclusion of a few legit Radio London commercials not recorded by the Who.

Disc two begins with the mono mix, which is rawer and fuller than the stereo version (as is usually the case with mono mixes), although I still prefer to hear the record with all due separation. Still, it is interesting to hear the mono mixes of “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand”, with its more pronounced “shaky” effects on the final chorus, and “Our Love Was”, which features a totally different guitar solo and more up-front drums and bass. Intense reverb is laid on Pete’s vocals during the bridge of “Relax”, and “I Can See For Miles” is even more devastating in mono.

10 more bonus tracks cap off disc two, although some of these are just alternate mono mixes of songs like “Someone’s Coming” (which sounds surprisingly heavy in mono) and “Jaguar” (which already sounded pretty heavy). Unissued mono versions of “Our Love Was” (which does not fade out), “Tattoo”, “Rael” (which contains the extended opening verse first heard on the Thirty Years of Maximum R&B box set), and “I Can See For Miles” (which has a more naked Daltrey lead vocal) are also present. Elsewhere there is an extended version of the “Premier Drums” advert, which displays Keith Moon’s crazed soloing in all its rumbling glory, and a fascinating demo of “Relax” that reveals Townshend’s infatuation with Mose Allison. Finally, two secret bonus tracks are hidden at the tail end of the unissued mono mix of “Rael”: an isolated track of the trippy backwards instrumentation from “Armenia City in the Sky” and a fabulous real advert for “Great Shakes” ice-cream sodas. Overall, my guess is that the alternate versions of “Rael” and “Glittering Girl” and the “Relax” demo will most thrill collectors.

The packaging is pretty descent, although there isn’t a great wealth of “unseen photos” in the 28-page booklet, as is advertised on a sticker attached to the plastic slipcase. Disappointingly, the essay by Dave Marsh is basically recycled from the 1995 remix. A lengthier (and contemporary) piece by Andy Neill is far better, even if it offers few revelations. Too bad contemporary interviews with Townshend and Daltrey weren’t conducted. Apparently, certain copies of the disc include reproductions of the psychedelic poster included with the original US release back in 1967, but mine didn’t have it. Motherfuckers.

So the question is: if you’re like me and you’ve already bought The Who Sell Out more times than you care to admit, is it worth buying yet again? Considering how inadequate the previously issued CD versions are, I’m giving it a big “yes.” If you’re an American record-buyer, you’ll have to find the album on as the album is not being issued in America (supposedly due to some sort of policy involving royalty rates in the US). The album has also been released in Japan in something called SHM-CD format. Amazon Japan has this to say about the SHM-CD: “The SHM-CD [Super High Material CD] format features enhanced audio quality through the use of a special polycarbonate plastic. Using a process developed by JVC and Universal Music Japan discovered through the joint companies' research into LCD display manufacturing SHM-CDs feature improved transparency on the data side of the disc allowing for more accurate reading of CD data by the CD player laser head. SHM-CD format CDs are fully compatible with standard CD players.” Hmmm, sounds interesting, but at 4,200 yen (about 42 US dollars), I’m taking a pass… at least until I'm ready to buy The Who Sell Out for the sixth time…
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