A guide to some of the month's most notable physical releases...

In the two months since the first of these columns appeared, record shop shelving has bulged under the weight of quite remarkable numbers of reissues campaigns and deluxe editions.

As the dark nights draw in and the solace of a spinning turntable offers respite from incessant rain, Just Played has sifted the dynamic discs from the multi-coloured frisbees to find out where you should be directing your disposable income during your next trip to a record shop.

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Freshly Pressed

Having delayed an over-priced, overly-ambitious and needlessly complicated anniversary vinyl boxset of ‘Mezzanine’ for so long that the originally intended release date had its own anniversary, Massive Attack wisely took the decision to strip the concept for parts and flog the interesting bit on its own.

‘Massive Attack vs Mad Professor II’ offers up some deliciously dubbed out takes on one of the Nineties’ defining albums along with versions of non-album tracks ‘Superpredators’ (here referred to as ‘Metal Banshee’) and ‘Wire’. The bright pink vinyl does not disappoint, with a beautifully defined bottom end and a silent background that allows the listener to get lost in the Mad Professor’s magic.

Packaging is pretty basic, but probably to be expected after losing its parent box and booklet.

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The brothers Gallagher offered up an album and EP between them.

Liam’s second solo effort ‘Why Me? Why Not.’ sounds pleasingly raucous thanks to a vinyl mastering that breathes where digital versions struggle and it’s also worth noting that the ongoing obsession with needless 180g pressings has been eschewed with no loss of fidelity. Nifty gatefold too.

Noel, meanwhile, delivers his latest EP, ‘This Is The Place’, with a title track inspired by poet Tony Walsh and a few more enjoyably eccentric sonic experimentations. Side B, as with the previous release, is padded with superfluous remixes. Not the best value in terms of pounds per track, but a fine sounding release.

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Ruddy-faced anthem merchants Keane won’t win any awards for the artwork of ‘Cause And Effect’, but don’t let that put you off the actually rather lovely music found within.

Having slowly lost their way after initial success with 2004’s ‘Hopes and Fears’, itself on the receiving end of a decent vinyl reissue in 2017, a sabbatical and not overwhelmingly successful solo career for Tom Chaplin have resulted in a refreshed and renewed band remembering what it was that made people like them in the first place.

Clash received a black copy, although there’s a pink variant out there for people who prefer to stare at records rather than play them, which served the music well. The nimble bassline of strident single ‘Love Too Much’ is rendered invitingly.

The ever-dependable Erased Tapes concluded Nils Frahm’s ‘Encores’ series with the cryptically titled ‘Encores 3’ on 12”. The packaging is wilfully minimalist, continuing the textured sleeve of his last full album ‘All Melody’, from which this project sprung. All three tracks are predictably beguiling and the vinyl quiet enough that you don’t find each serene wave being blighted by a belligerent pop or unintentionally percussive tick.

Fans of the 5” shiny bird-scarers can get all three EPs collected digitally, but it’s much less aesthetically pleasing. Meanwhile, the clear vinyl edition of Charli XCX’s ‘Charli’ will certainly benefit your turntable of choice, both by glimmering on the platter and elevating the remarkable rhythm of this exceptionally crafted pop record to greater heights than the rather oppressive digital mastering you’ll encounter on your streaming service of choice.

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The double vinyl gatefold pressing of Michael Kiwanuka’s ‘Kiwanuka’ concludes the new release highlights for this column, with its distinctive cover art benefiting from the space that the physical format affords.

Treated to a higher quality pressing than his first two records, this latest sounds quite magical. Dynamic range is intact and the effortless presence of the rhythm section is a joy to behold. It’s a spellbinding album in any format, but it feels made for vinyl and comes alive over its four meticulous sides.

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Going Round Again

Some labels make a lot of noise about vinyl being a premium product and then dish up coloured gimmicks that look much better than they sound. Others take the whole process very seriously indeed and provide fans with intelligently curated and carefully assembled items that celebrate wonderful music.

In amongst those reissue demons can be found the increasingly impressive Cherry Red Records, who recently delivered double vinyl editions of four prime-era Dinosaur Jr titles, from 1991’s ‘Green Mind’ through to 1997’s ‘Hand It Over’.

Sleevenotes from Keith Cameron offer substantial context for every record and the bonus material included on the second discs of each title is of genuine interest, including rare tracks from different territories and Peel sessions that document a live band in visceral form.

1992’s ‘Where You Been’ and 1994’s ‘Without A Sound’ are arguably the best two collections although it’s hard to imagine anyone who enjoys one of these model reissues not quickly acquiring the others.

They’re not cheap, but the price reflects the care that’s gone into them.

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The twenty-fifth anniversary of Pulp’s ‘His ‘N’ Hers’ has been marked by a double vinyl reissue featuring a remaster via Abbey Road by band member Steve Mackey and Geoff Pesche.

It doesn’t sound overly different from previous versions, although the slightly excessive brightness has been dialled back a bit and spreading the music over four sides certainly does no harm. A white vinyl variant is available for a limited period, if that’s your sort of thing.

In association with the recently re-booted HMV, Universal offer up another two colourful represses from U2’s sizeable catalogue. The cream edition of ‘October’ sounds solid and features a 16 page lyric booklet, but the real star is an orange take on the excellent 2018 remaster which was a significant improvement on the original 1997 pressing with which Clash compared it. On the high street for a limited time only.

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Also back in the racks, is Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man’s utterly beguiling ‘Out Of Season’ whose incredibly scarce 2002 original release was bootlegged prior to a third-party reissue in 2011, which is itself now pretty rare. The 2019 version sounds superior to that previous reissue, most notably with regard to Gibbons’ vocals. You’ll want to make sure you get a silent copy though, given the delicate nature of the music within.

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Another quarter-century nostalgia-trip is prompted by the latest in the R.E.M. reissue campaign, arriving at 1994’s ‘Monster’. A glam-inspired record about identity, loss and swagger, it has a curious position in the band’s catalogue. It pleased plenty of the hardcore but scared off many of the recent converts drawn in by ‘Losing My Religion’ and ‘Everybody Hurts’.

The 2LP set is the desirable vinyl option, offering a pin-drop silent pressing of the original mix remastered with very pleasing dynamics and a second disc containing original producer Scott Litt’s new remix. This latter take foregrounds vocals, tinkers with defining features and has a good go at rewriting history and righting some perceived wrongs. Litt always felt there was more he could have done with the tapes and the 2019 mix is sure to divide opinion. The joy of it – and it’s largely very entertaining on another immaculate disc – is that nothing is lost, paired as it is with the original for those who want things as they were.

Originals are incredibly rare and not often to be found in mint condition. After a shoddily pressed remaster of ‘Automatic For The People’ in 2017, this is a real step up and highly recommended.

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In the first Just Played column, we mentioned a Music On Vinyl reissue of the debut Moloko effort which they have since followed it with ‘I Am Not A Doctor’ and other titles will follow. This double white vinyl edition comes in a beautifully rendered tri-fold sleeve with crisp artwork and vivid colours. Having loved an original CD copy when it first came out back in 1998, this presentation of the record is heartening.

While it might not have been top of anyone’s ‘must have’ re-release list, this outing serves as a reminder of what timeless and original music was coming from the duo at that point. ‘Sing It Back’ appears in its twitchily minimalist original form, the Boris Dlugosch remix appended to their next album ‘Things To Make And Do’, which Music On Vinyl are releasing imminently. If it continues the standard set by the first two reissues, it’ll be a third triumph in a row.

The sheer volume of David Bowie reissues in recent years can make even the most loyal fan a little wary, but October saw the first vinyl pressing of 2009’s ‘VH1 Storytellers’ album.

This set, recorded in 1999 during the promotion of that year’s ‘Hours’, features some often playful renderings of classics like ‘Word On A Wing’ and ‘China Girl’ alongside vibrant readings of what were then the recent singles ‘Thursday’s Child’, ‘Seven’ and ‘Survive’. In addition, the Shirley Bassey story that prefaces an excerpt of ‘Rebel Rebel’ is told with adept comic timing. 

Does the vinyl release add anything to the CD/DVD original? Well, it includes the bonus tracks that previously didn’t make the CD and the soundstage is hugely involving with a bottom end that could raze a teetering garage. While you might be right to avoid the seventeenth anniversary picture disc fripperies, this double LP set had Clash grinning from ear to ear and is well worth seeking out.

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Just as this column was taking shape, a number of multi-disc reissues descended on our turntable and they warrant a mention. Firstly, Nirvana’s lauded ‘MTV Unplugged’ album has been expanded to a double, with the original set now spread across three vinyl sides and sounding better than ever with five rehearsal tracks on the fourth.

They’re an interesting listen, but this release’s primary function, to these ears, is to offer excellent audio for main record.

The meticulous Super Furry Animals reissue campaign from BMG has reached 1999’s ‘Guerrilla’ and the new double LP set replicates the pop-up fun of the original gatefold sleeve, but improves on the audio quality of that Creation Records pressing by some distance.

Rather than the using the CD resolution master that was deployed twenty years ago, this edition has been remastered from the original tapes and delivers a balanced presentation which allows Gruff Rhys’ vocals to float atop a compelling soundstage.

Full marks for their solution to including the previously CD-only bonus track ‘Citizen’s Band’ too. We’ll leave you to discover how in your own time.

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Finally, the aforementioned Cherry Red have somehow managed to sculpt a splatter vinyl edition of The Fall’s ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ that sounds pretty impeccable, despite that particular variant tending to suffer with sonic issues.

Finally spreading this legendary album across four sides as only one reissue has previously done, it offers separation that, say, the 2016 Superior Viaduct version didn’t come close to achieving.

A third disc appends bonus tracks including a contemporary session for the venerable superfan, John Peel. Throw in a bonus 7” and this is a very accomplished set which neatly accompanies the release of Paul Hanley’s book about it, ‘Have A Bleedin’ Guess’.

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Earlier this year, music journalist, broadcaster and all round vinyl guru Pete Paphides launched his own record label, Needle Mythology. The initial pair of releases were Stephen Duffy’s ‘I Love My Friends’ and Ian Broudie’s criminally overlooked solo album ‘Tales Told’. Both were perfect examples of how to do quality reissues, with beautifully constructed sleeves, bonus tracks and silent, well-mastered pressings.

The third release continues this very high standard, as Paphides curates a career-spanning anthology of Tanita Tikaram’s music which aims to dispel any lazy assumptions made about her based on her 1980s debut.

A yearning, folk-infused set, it will find Tikaram many new fans and it sounds righteously good. One upon which to take a punt, even if you’re buying completely blind. Trust us.

The Artist Formerly Known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince has been the subject of a purple vinyl (naturally) reissue campaign by Sony, which recently reached the mid-Nineties.

Originally a promo tape from Paris Fashion Week 1995 and reissued on the same format for this year’s Record Store Day, ‘The Versace Experience – Prelude 2 Gold’ is an enjoyable curio with sound quality that is considerably improved from the poorly regarded RSD cassette, but the least exciting of the latest trio of titles.

‘Chaos And Disorder’, however, is ripe for a revival and the rock-soul hybrid at its heart makes for a genuinely fascinating listening in contrast to the conventional lionising of his, ahem, purple patch in the Eighties.

An expanded reissue of ‘1999’ is due in late November, but those wanting a decadent multi-disc vinyl box could receive instant gratification by picking up the 6LP set of ‘Emancipation’ which has spent more time on Clash’s turntable than you might anticipate from its unwieldy girth. Is it without its creative flaws? Of course not. But well mastered, well pressed discs capturing a musician in exploratory and unshackled form are a joy.

Relatively good value for the amount of music and vinyl contained within, it was exceptionally close to being the vinyl release of the month.

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Abbey Road (but not THE Abbey Road yet)

The work of mastering engineer Miles Showell will be somewhere in your racks if you have more than a couple of dozen records. His familiar scrawl in the runout groove has been added to countless records over his thirty five year career to date and in recent times his half-speed approach has been thrust into the spotlight via a series of special releases.

Whether fresh cuts of Brian Eno’s seminal Seventies work or takes on more recent records like Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ or the Scissor Sisters’ debut without anything like the level of compression used in their original CD releases, his approach has resulted in some very fine records indeed.

The latest titles to emerge include Scott Walker’s ‘Scott 4’, Dusty Springfield’s ‘Dusty In Memphis’ and the self-titled debut by The Specials. Showell approaches each title differently, trying to offer clarity and presence that might have otherwise been unachievable prior to the half-speed method.

While it necessitates a digital step in the mastering in order to best prepare the sound for the limitations of the format that some audiophiles will find unconscionable, the ability to tame the excessive brightness of the vocals on ‘Scott 4’ makes for a much less fatiguing listen and the strut of the band on ‘Dusty In Memphis’ is infectiously strident.

However, just edging these other two for sonic performance is a 2x45rpm rendering of ‘The Specials’. A record that has never lacked character or presence, it commands the room in this new form. ‘A Message To You Rudy’ and ‘Blank Expression’ had Clash experiencing a little moist-eyed euphoria.

The packaging is neatly done, but it’s the sound that makes these titles worth a purchase.

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Snap, Crackle and Pop

Each month, we highlight releases where the vinyl pressings leave a little to be desired. This time around, we turn our attention to ‘i,i’ by Bon Iver and The Lilac Time’s ‘Return To Us’.

The former took several attempts to get an even passable copy, with the first one featuring the kind of gouge that makes you question the quality control of certain record pressing plants.

The Lilac Time, meanwhile, have returned with a stellar set of songs that just happened to be poorly served by a purple vinyl pressing that features more unwelcome noise than a whole episode of the Dave Berry breakfast show on Absolute Radio.

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Boxing Clever

There remains something utterly joyous about opening up a new item from The Beatles and the 3LP deluxe box set of ‘Abbey Road’ is no exception.

The Giles Martin 2019 mix is a very different beast on vinyl compared to its streaming and CD counterpart. The changes have split opinion but the mastering and cut are exemplary. ‘Here Comes The Sun’ is a beguiling, shimmering delight, while the menacing ascent in the second half of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is as nuanced as it has ever sounded.

The packaging is fairly straightforward but beautifully finished, with a lift off lid and a sample of some of the sleeve notes from the super deluxe edition. The bonus demo tracks don’t necessarily demand the sonic character of vinyl but sound triumphant nonetheless.

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At The Front Of The Racks

A few years back, it became clear that the deposit for a small family home could be raised if you happened to have originals of Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’ and ‘Truelove’s Gutter’ in your racks.

Having originally come out during the vinyl drought of the Noughties, they were revered titles in high demand so when it was announced that Setanta would be committing them, along with ‘Lady’s Bridge’, ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ and ‘Hollow Meadows’ to wax once more, many collectors were overjoyed.

There followed the anxious wait to find out if these new versions could pass muster compared to their scarce initial incarnations. The good news is, in the main, they are remarkably close and collectively form our favourite release for this column.

Switching back and forth between tracks like ‘Valentine’ and ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’ on ‘Lady’s Bridge’, there’s a marginally more 3D soundstage to a Mute original, but the 2019 pressing is no slouch. Most importantly, the dynamics are intact, ensuring quiet means quiet and loud means loud.

Those two most cherished titles both sound wonderful, taught basslines and eloquent strings rendered with clarity and depth. The latter pair of ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ and ‘Hollow Meadows’ didn’t have the quietest original discs and the latter sounds especially good to these ears. The former has initially been released on glitter blue vinyl which Clash suspect accounts for it being a little noisier than the rest, but the mastering is on a par with the others.

Black editions of all five are due in the near future but those who have been waiting for an age to get these albums on their turntable can purchase immediately and without reservation.

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Words: Gareth James // @JustPlayed

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