Wednesday 25 September 2013

Not coming out

It was twenty years ago today … actually, no, it was thirty-nine years ago.    I visited my friend Paul Leech at his parents house.  We were both 19 at the time.  He invited me up to his bedroom and introduced me to something that had an instant impact, and has been an important part of my life ever since.  No, we're not coming out - that would be as much of a shock to his wife as it would be to mine!

You see, Paul kept a primitive old gramophone in his bedroom.  That way his parents did not have to listen to his records.  Paul had just bought two new LPs, and was anxious to play them for me.  I am mighty glad he did.

First up was Eric Clapton's 461 Ocean Boulevard.  In 1974, Clapton was emerging not only from a period of heroin addiction, but this album was also to mark his emergence as a solo artist.  Despite the immediate and lasting impression it made on a pair of 19 year olds, 461 was not well received by the critics of the day.  Most expressed disappointment at some level, but in general one senses that they were not ready to accept Clapton's new songwriting-based aesthetic and a more textured and phrasing based guitar style, perhaps expecting an offering more in line with his guitar hero reputation.  One of its interesting aspects is that it is mainly an album of cover versions, Clapton contributing only three tracks.  His fellow musicians were a mostly unremarkable crew, although bassist Carl Radle did appear with him in Derek and the Dominos.  Today, 461 Ocean Boulevard is more broadly accepted as a masterpiece. 

Those in search of a definitive digital version need to search out the Japanese SHM-SACD remastered version.  But you'll need (i) an SACD player, and (ii) somewhere between $60 and $80 burning a hole in your pocket.  The SHM-SACD is finely textured, dynamic, and beautifully captures Carl Radle's deepest and tastiest bass lines and Jamie Oldaker's precise, yet pounding drums.

By contrast, Supertramp's Crime of the Century is a Proggy classic, cut from the same cloth as Dark Side of the Moon.  Supertramp had been a pretty unremarkable band up until that time, with a changing line-up.  Although Breakfast in America has proven their most commercially successful album, Crime of the Century is their true Magnum Opus.  Although not constructed as a concept album, it plays that way with themes of loneliness, uncertainty, and mental instability.  It gives a good impression of being a cohesive story about the life of a young outcast.  Like the aforementioned DSOTM, Crime demands to be played at ear-splitting volume, under the influence of whatever it takes to chill you out.  Supertramp was already splitting apart at the seams when Crime was being recorded, and to this writer's ears, they came close to, but never managed to scale, the same creative peaks again.  They still tour, and are a great band to go see.

Unlike 461 Ocean Boulevard, no native high-resolution digital remaster of Crime of the Century has ever been released.  None of the CD releases are worth searching out, and your best bet is to seek out a good quality vinyl rip ('needle drop') from the nether regions of the internet.  Unless, of course, you have the wherewithal to track down and play the "Speakers Corner" 180g audiophile-grade LP.

So there you have it. Two albums which have remained near the top of my all-time favourites list for my entire adult life.  Thanks, Paul!