Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Richard Lloyd - Field of Fire (Revisited)

How much would you pay for a remastered reissue of Television guitarist Richard Lloyd's second solo album Field of Fire? How about $17.95? A fair price when major labels are charging close to $20 for many CD reissues. How about the low, low price of $12.50? Don't answer yet, because that's not all you'll get. Included with every copy is a second CD that presents the music stripped of its dated 80s production with more guitars, fewer synths, and newly recorded vocals! Don't answer yet because as an added bonus you get two tracks not on the original LP. But wait, that's not all you'll get! You also get liner notes from Ric Menck (Velvet Crush), Bill Flanagan and Richard Lloyd. But don't answer yet because you also get a CD jewel case! ...Okay, maybe the jewel case isn't so exciting, but you get the idea--this is a high quality reissue.

Aside from complaining about music hasn't been reissued (but should be), and music that is needlessly being reissued for the umpteenth time, I sometimes like to draw attention to recent reissues that have been done right. Field of Fire (Deluxe) is an object lesson in the right way to do a reissue. Kudos to Lloyd and Reaction Recordings, the new reissue division of Parasol Records, for doing everything better than perfect.

When Lloyd recorded Field of Fire in 1985, he was coming out of a difficult period in his life both personally and professionally. Lloyd had been suffering from what are sometimes euphemistically referred to as "health" problems (aka drug addiction) that had nearly destroyed his music career. To hear Lloyd tell it he had been through his own personal field of fire after hitting a "bottom" that "would have made Dante or Hieronymus Bosch proud." The details surrounding the recording of this album are laid out in Lloyd's liner notes better than I could explain them here, so I won't bother.

Personally, I always felt Field of Fire was a very good album with some great guitar work, but hampered to a large degree by a production style that already sounded dated by the time the album was released by Celluloid Records in the U.S. in 1987. For lack of a better term, the album is plagued by the "big 80s drum sound" pioneered by producers like Steve Lillywhite. It's a sound that works just fine for bombastic arena rockers like U2, but has spoiled many albums by artists like Marshall Crenshaw, Chris Stamey and Richard Lloyd whose music is best presented in a more subtle fashion.

I always hated it when one of my favorite artists gave in to the "big 80s drum sound." Though the sound was considered commercial at the time, I doubt it created any additional sales for the artists who adopted it. On the contrary, it mostly helped alienate an already established fanbase who would accuse the artist of "selling out." But the real problem with the sound--in which the drums are brought way up in the mix with tons of added reverb--is that it tends to overwhelm the rest of the music, and it could make a drummer as subtle as Max Roach sound mechanical.

Mercifully, Lloyd managed to strip the drums of this overbearing sound for the revised second disc, and the result is an altogether more listenable album. In the past, I always felt I had to listen through the production, and with the new disc I feel like I can finally hear the actual music for the first time. Lloyd also stripped away some dated synths and replaced them with additional guitar, and re-recorded his sometimes overly horse, shouted vocals. The results can stand proudly alongside Television's classic albums and Lloyd's outstanding first solo album Alchemy. Field of Fire is finally the great guitar album it was always meant to be. I imagine revisiting a 20 year-old recording could present its own field of fire for an artist, but this project is 110% successful, and an absolutely essential purchase for any Television fan.

Parasol has made the "revisited" version of the title song available as a free MP3 download on their website. The only complaint I have is that the new version features a shortened version of the this track. But if they hadn't done that there would be no reason whatsoever to listen to the original album again. And hey, if for some strange reason you are nostalgic for that "big 80s drum sound" it's still there untouched on the first CD. Nothing's been dropped down the memory hole here. Check it out.

Field of Fire [right click to download]

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