Monday, November 08, 2010

Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock Reissue News

IMPORTANT UPDATE (09/16/11): Please see my update on the reissue of Underwater Moonlight before considering purchase.

I have a couple items of news to report on The Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock reissues front.

As many of you probably know, The Soft Boys' two proper albums A Can Of Bees and Underwater Moonlight have been reissued by Yep Roc. The CD versions of both are currently available for sale.

I was a little disappointed to learn that all the bonus tracks for the two CDs are being made available only as lossy compressed (192 kps MP3) downloads. I understand making the bonus tracks download only, The Feelies did this with their recent reissues in order to retain the artistic integrity of the original albums, and I approved of the idea. So while I'm fine with download only bonus tracks in concept, I do wish Yep Roc had also made lossless audio versions available as an option (as was the case with the Feelies albums). Also, none of the bonus tracks would have been new to me, which is probably a good thing since I would have wanted to hear them in better than 192 kps quality.

None of this should prevent anyone who doesn't already own both albums from buying them in this configuration, but it does make them less attractive to long time fans and obsessive collectors of all things Hitchcock, Robyn such as myself.

But that doesn't quite close the door on The Soft Boys reissue front. Originally the vinyl reissues of the two albums were to have been sourced from 1993 DAT copies of the masters that had been prepared when the albums were reissued on CD by Rykodisc. But it appears that the resulting DAT sourced test pressings were judged sonically lacking by the golden-eared former Soft Boy and current vinyl enthusiast Morris Windsor. As Hitchcock relays in an email:

Hello dear vinyl-hunters,

Many apologies for the delay in getting the latest A Can Of Bees and Underwater Moonlight out to you. The LP test-pressings were sent over for Morris Windsor to check (as he has both a record-deck and ears that work well) and he felt that the cut was inferior to the originals (which he also has). We had been mastering from the 1993 DAT tapes, as the best reference source for these old recordings.

However, in the course of our conversations, Morris discovered an original production master (copy of the original mixes) of UM deep in his attic. This transpired to have the long-missing version of Old Pervert that graced the 1980 release of UM, amongst this uniquely surviving set of 1/4" mixes. This was like finding an ashtray in a pub these days: enchanted and wicked. So Morris FedExed (yes, it's a verb) the tape to the management office in LA where Richard Bishop (who had released the original UM 30 years ago on Armageddon Records) had the tapes baked. They go into a kind of pizza oven to prevent the ferric oxide falling off like liquorice.

At this point we decided to re-cut A Can Of Bees from a pristine vinyl copy. This was supplied by Geoffrey Weiss, a long-term music supporter in the quagmire of showbusiness; Geoffrey also kindly supervised the cut, along with Richard. The re-cuts were FedExed back to Morris who pronounced them very good. Morris is not given to hyperbole, and I have always favoured his judgement, when he gives it, over my own.

YepRoc have patiently waited for the improved LPs, and done their best to reassure anxious purchasers of these items who paid for them a while back and have seen nothing yet for their money. If you are amongst them, please again accept my apologies on behalf of the former Soft Boys, and I hope that the quality compensates in some way for the delay.

Best wishes from the old country,

Robyn Hitchcock

So, in short, the LP reissues of Underwater Moonlight and A Can Of Bees will be sourced from an original production master and a pristine vinyl copy respectively. For those not familiar with the terminology, a "production master" is a (typically first generation) copy of the original master tape that would have been used to cut the original LPs. I believe the original master tapes for both albums were lost long ago, so the discovery of a production master for Underwater Moonlight is very good news, especially in light of the fact the original LP version of "Old Pervert" has not to my knowledge graced any previous Underwater Moonlight reissue.

Some might be disappointed to learn that A Can Of Bees will be sourced from LP, but I do not find it hard to believe that a pristine copy of the LP would be the best sounding surviving source, easily surpassing the quality of a DAT copy made 17 years ago. If transferred using good quality equipment, the new LP should sound excellent (within the limitations of the original recordings, obviously). There is a certain stigma attached to sourcing reissues from LP, but I applaud Yep Roc and The Soft Boys for choosing the best sounding available source rather than relying on dogma to produce these LP reissues.

I also wanted to note that Wounded Bird Records is reissuing Robyn's 1996 solo album Moss Elixir as a two CD set with its companion album Mossy Liquor. This will mark the first time Mossy Liquor has been made available on the CD format, having been originally released only as a vinyl LP, and subsequently made available for digital download. I'm glad to hear that Mossy Liquor will be made available on CD in advance of the format's complete extinction. Personally, I will be holding onto my vinyl copy of the album until my own complete extinction.

In other, completely unrelated, Robyn Hitchcock news, my eight year old son Will spent the better part of the day yesterday in his bedroom listening to "The Man Who Invented Himself" over an over. He now has all the lyrics memorized, as do the other other occupants of our house, including our two cats. He also took a break from Scooby Doo and Gamera videos to watch the I Often Dream of Trains in New York DVD with me. He declared "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus" his favorite (or perhaps favourite) song on the album. I'm thinking if he memorizes the lyrics of that one, he can perform them for his grandparents this Christmas.


Doug said...

I particularly like the way Robyn preemptively defended his rhetoric ("FedExed"). I'd expect no less from him.

You remain a font of Robyn info, sir. Keep it up.

wardo said...

Interesting news. I dutifully pre-ordered the SB reissues upon the announcement, and downloaded the "bonus" tracks when they were available.

Even more intriguing is the Wounded Bird reissue. The question remains -- will the A&M albums remain in unavailable limbo?

Pete Bilderback said...

I've heard no news on the A&M front. Prices for used copies of Globe Of Frogs and Queen Elvis have been creeping up, so I would not be surprised if some enterprising reissue label with a line into UMG like Water Music put them out at some point. Perpex and Respect would seem less likely candidates for reissue given that they can be had for pennies on Amazon.

There are so many wonderful B-sides and live performances (especially the acoustic recordings from McCabes) from this era that it would be nice to see released in some coherent fashion, but I am not holding my breath on that.

The Robyn Hitchcock reissue industry keeps my wallet light enough as is, so perhaps I should just be thankful for that.

Dan said...

Robyn expounds on the Soft Boys in The Quietus:

Pete Bilderback said...

Thanks Dan, a nice read.

Will said...

Thanks for the info on the Wounded Bird reissue of Mossy Liquor. Though I, like most collectors (I expect), have a very good vinyl rip of it, I'll buy it just in case it is better. I was shocked at how primitive the Wounded Bird website was though. Little more than cans and string. But, ordered anyway.