Sunday, 16 August 2015

"Beggars Banquet" by THE ROLLING STONES (2002 Abkco 'Hybrid SACD/DSD' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"...Pass Through Here Again..."

When the Decca label side of the Stones 60ts catalogue first came out on CD in 1986 on London - it was not the greatest moment for the new format. Thankfully this 2002 reissue acknowledges that previous travesty and advises that after 'long and painful' searches through tape vaults on both sides of the Atlantic - both time and technology had caught up enough to warrant a proper stab at it again - and man what a result. Both 1968's "Beggars Banquet" and the follow-up genius of "Let It Bleed” in 1969 shine on these 'hybrid' reissues. Here are the street fighting details...

Euro released August 2002 on Abkco 8823012 (Barcode 042288230120) - it's a straightforward transfer of the album (39:47 minutes):

1. Sympathy For The Devil
2. No Expectations
3. Dear Doctor
4. Parachute Woman
5. Jigsaw Puzzle
6. Street Fighting Man [Side 2]
7. Prodigal Son
8. Stray Cat Blues
9. Factory Girl
10. Salt Of The Earth
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Beggars Banquet" - released December 1968 in the UK on Decca LK 4955 (Mono) and SKL 4955 (Stereo) and in the USA on London LL 3539 (Mono) and PS 539 (Stereo). Only the Stereo mix is used.

The UK album had plain white artwork on its laminated gatefold sleeve – apparently a reaction by Decca UK to the furore over the infamous American 'toilet sleeve'. As this CD is US-based it uses the 'toilet sleeve' as its artwork. The three-way foldout card digipak sleeve has basic track details on the furthest inside flap, an explanation on the SACD/DSD compatible CD and process on the second flap as well as the inner UK gatefold sleeve artwork used underneath the see-through tray (and as the label of the CD itself). There’s also a small square 'Certificate Of Authenticity' with 2002 originals for the 'Inaugural Edition Hybrid Disc 2002' which is numbered on the rear black and white photo (6) with lyrics to the "Jumpin' Jack Flash" B-side "Child Of The Moon" printed on one side. I believe each of these original 'Inaugural' inserts are numbered up to 12 or more. 

Made by Sony and Phillips - the SACD/DSD Hybrid Disc actually has two layers - the first contains the normal CD playback - but the other layer has a SACD remaster which will automatically come on if your machine has SACD playback facilities (it doesn't require a special machine to play this disc). Given a careful transfer and remaster by Steve Rosenthal, Teri Landi and Bob Ludwig - the sonic transformation of Jimmy Miller's original production is awesome. Let's get to that...

Right from the opening moments of "Sympathy For The Devil" with its sleazy rhythms and shotgun flicking guitars - you know you're in the presence of something special. By the time the chants of "Ooh Ooh" snake their way in – you're totally won over (Anita Pallenberg, Marianne Faithful, piano player Nicky Hopkins and Producer Jimmy Miller are all in their as well as most of the Stones on the Backing Vocals). "Sympathy For The Devil" is an Audio triumph and what a storming opener it is too (no wonder it gets used in so many movies). Things get even better with the Bluesy acoustic "No Expectations" where Keith Richards strums a restrained but melodic Acoustic - while Brian Jones plays a blinder on Slide (this is easily one of my favourite Stones track – lyrics from it title this review).

We get the inevitable drugs and debauchery song in "Dear Doctor" where Mick Jagger pleads rather caustically "...there's a pain where there once was a heart..." Thrown into the mix is Nicky Hopkins doing a gin-soaked piano, Dave Mason of Traffic playing guitar and Brian Jones once again anchoring the song with an ever-present warbling harmonica. We then get down and dirty with "Parachute Woman" where the Stones go Blues Rock as only they can. Without any thought for technology – the track is pure feel - mean and gritty with Keith giving it some grungy Slide (usually Brian Jone's domain). Side 1 ends with more of the same Bluesy Grit as "Jigsaw Woman" talks of tramps with eye-catching clothes and gangsters with Lugers who go home to their family after a hard day's killing while Mick just wants to do his Jigsaw Puzzle in peace.

I've never worked out if the opening guitar sound to "Street Fighting Man" is pure genius or crappy Production values (quite possibly a bit of both). Whatever history tells us - one minute into the song and you just know it's a stone cold classic. Released as a single in the USA with a rare picture sleeve that was immediately withdrawn – it would have been nice to see that rarity pictured in the digipak. At least Brian Jone's Sitar playing comes out of the mix a bit clearer as does Nicky Hopkin's clever piano refrain during the song fade-out (he contributed so much to this album and "Let It Bleed"). "Prodigal Son" feels like an old-timey spiritual the way Jagger sings it but the remaster has done little to Jone's Harmonica, which is still way back in the mix. Still don't know who the girl is that playfully says "Ah!" at the beginning of the swaggering "Stray Cat Blues" – a tune about ladies wanting to join the band in post gig celebrations while the naughty Rollers don’t ask too many questions about their dates of birth (how did they get away with that crap). After the slightly sleazy bravado of "Stray Cat Blues" – the genuinely sweet "Factory Girl" manages to be that cool thing in the Rolling Stones repertoire – a pretty song. Family's Rick Grech plays Violin on it while Traffic’s Dave Mason adds a Mandolin backbeat with Charlie Watts playing Tabla instead of Drums (giving the song a softer touch). Keith's endearing whine opens the shared Lead Vocals on the album closer "Salt Of The Earth" where they want to "...raise a glass to the hard-working people..." - how decent of them. It features The Watts Street Gospel Choir from Los Angeles – a group of unemployed kids getting their moment of fame. The Audio on this track is the best I’ve ever heard it and ends the album on a high...


Whether you go for the 2002 SACD/CD Hybrid issue (now available for as little as a fiver from some online retailers) or plumb for the prettier but more expensive Japanese SHM-CD from 2010 which uses the 2002 remaster but also offers the white UK artwork as part of its repro sleeve – either way you’re on a winner. And The Stones would only get better with the three studio albums that followed - "Let It Bleed" (1969), "Sticky Fingers" (1971) and "Exile On Main St." (1972). Yank that chain baby...

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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