Sunday, 25 October 2009

"So What" by JOE WALSH (2009 and 2011 Japan-Only Universal SHM-CD Remaster in 5" Mini LP Repro Artwork) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"...Open My Eyes Again..."

There are now 3 Japanese variants of Joe Walsh's "So What" album on CD and I'd like to clear up what's what...

1st - on the 21st of October 2004 - Joe Walsh's first three solo LPs were finally reissued in remastered CD form but only in Japan. "Barnstorm" (his 1972 debut) on Universal UICY-9477, "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get" (1973) on UICY-9478 and "So What" on UICY-9479. In detailed mini-LP repro sleeves (complete with hard-card gatefolds for the first two and "So What's embossed inner sleeve) - they were 24-bit remastered by HITOSHI TAKIGUCHI in Universal's Mastering Studios. Not surprisingly, they sold out almost immediately and across the next few years (with no equivalent domestic releases), they quickly became very expensive collector's items - these are 'not' SHM-CD reissues. 

2nd - on 22 April 2009 all 3 of the above were reissued on the SUPER HIGH MATERIALS format (SHM-CD) - "Barnstorm" on Universal UICY-94062, "The Smoker You Get, The Player You Get." on UICY-94063 and "So What" on UICY-94064. There is also an additional title not in the original list - his 4th album - the 1976 live set "You Can't Always Argue With A Sick Mind" which is on UICY-94065 (with 2009 Remastering and Card Outer/Inner Sleeves). The repro artwork (including lyric booklets) for each of the original three is exactly the same as the 2004 issues - as is the mastering - the ONLY difference is that the CD itself is a higher spec SHM-CD. 

3rd issue is the first 3 of the above 2009 SHM-CDs reissued on 23 February 2011 (again in Japan only - same artwork - limited editions) with a different catalogue number (Universal/Geffen UICY-75007 for "So What" - Barcode 4988005644930). I've bought one and it's exactly the same as the 2009 issue. The sound quality is fantastic. ("Barnstorm" and "Smoker" are newly reissued also). But what does this new SHM-CD offer (36:23 minutes)? 

1. Welcome To The Club 
2. Falling Down
3. Pavane Of The Sleeping Beauty
4. Time Out
5. All Night Laundromat Blues 
6. Turn To Stone [Side 2]
7. Help Me Through The Night
8. County Fair
9. Song For Emma

The blurb surrounding SHM tells us that the manufacturing process is of the very highest quality and therefore in playback this somehow allows more nuances of the music to come out. Remember - SHM is NOT a new format that requires an encoded specialist player - it's just a better form of CD - and it therefore plays on ALL players. So is "So What" any better on this new format - the infuriating answer is yes and no...

I thought the 2004 remasters were very good - not exactly blistering - but far better than what we'd had before. Now - on this SHM issue - I can hear bass and drum parts more - particularly on "Help Me Through The Night" (lyrics above) and "County Fair" - they're far better. "Turn To Stone" has more muscle in it too, which is fabulous news. The synths on the Maurice Ravel excerpt "Pavane Of The Sleeping Beauty" are razor-sharp too. But the rocking "Time Out" and the Don Henley penned "Falling Down" however, sound pretty much the same to me. 

If I was to sum up the good points of this SHM release, it would be that like a quality DVD or a great BLU RAY player - it holds the picture better - steadier - and that's what this new CD format does. Somehow, it does sound clearer and more defined on many of the tracks. The bad news is that you'd be hard pressed to spot any difference on some of the others. If anything - on "Welcome To The Club" and the messily recorded but lovely album-closer "Song For Emma" - the hiss levels are amplified and not lessened. Such a shame, because in my opinion, it does get in the way of enjoying this beautiful song.  

I would have to admit that a person's judgement can easily be coloured. After 40 years of listening to this album that I love so much, I'm consciously aware of wanting to hear stuff on this rather pricey little import - I am. But my honest appraisal is that it does sound better. Unfortunately for a rabid nutjob like me (and I bet the buggers who make these things know this) - if it sounds in any way better - I'm going to have to own it.  

Summing up - as it stands - I’d still say that the 2004 remaster of Joe Walsh’s wonderful “So What” on this 2009/2011 SHM-CD format is worth the purchase…and aesthetically its truly gorgeous to look at too.

I'm off to stroke the embossed inner sleeve again - and concede that I may need to get out more...
  

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