Thursday, 21 August 2014

"Fire And Water: Deluxe Edition" by FREE (March 2008 Universal/Island 'Deluxe Edition' 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…They Call Me Mr. Big…"

Preceded by their debut "Tons Of Sobs" (March 1969) and their 2nd album "Free" (October 1969) - FREE's landmark third LP "Fire And Water" was delivered to an expectant public in all its 7-track simplicity and glory on 26th of June 1970 on Island Records ILPS 9120 (originals had the distinctive pink label in the UK). Prepped by the edited single of "All Right Now" in May 1970 which raced up to number 2 in the British charts (Island WIP 6082) - the vinyl album delivered what the public seemed to already know - here was a truly great British Rock band hitting its stride.

This is the 3rd CD incarnation of the original LP - a 1986 crappy non-remaster - a far better 2001 Remaster with 6 bonus tracks - and now this - a 30-Track 2CD DELUXE EDITION of "Fire and Water" by FREE issued 18 March 2008 on Universal/Island 5306090 (Barcode 600753060902). For fans who already own the 2001 remaster and probably also have the 4CD "Songs Of Yesterday" Box set that went before it in May 2000, for all its comprehensiveness this 2CD set offers only 5 Previously Unreleased Tracks. So if you can buy the 2001 remaster for a fiver or less anywhere, why pay more money for this 2CD set? The answer is threefold - the packaging, the Extras (4 out of 5 of them are actually great) and above all - the SOUND - which is the best ever to my tired lugs. Here are the button-up jeans and hairy-chests...

Disc 1 (72:34 minutes):
1. Fire And Water
2. Oh How I Wept
3. Remember
4. Heavy Load
5. Mr. Big [Side 2]
6. All Right Now
7. Don’t Say You Love Me
Tracks 1 to 7 are the album “Fire And Water” (details above)

8. Fire And Water (BBC “Sounds Of The Seventies” Sessions 23 June 1970)
9. Mr. Big  (BBC “Top Gear” Session 13 December 1969)
10. All Right Now (as per 8)
11. Remember (BBC “John Peel Sunday Concert” 15 January 1970)
12. Mr. Big (BBC “John Peel Sunday Concert” 2 July 1970)
13. Don’t Say You Love Me (as per 12)
14. All Right Now (as per 12)

Disc 2 (67:24 minutes):
1. Fire And Water (US Album Mix)
2. Oh I Wept (Alternate Vocal version)
3. Remember (New Mix)
4. Don’t Say You Love Me (New Mix)
5. All Right Now (First Version)
6. All Right Now (Single Version – Edit)
7. Fire And Water (Previously Unreleased Backing Track)
8. Fire And Water (Alternate Stereo Mix)
9. Fire And Water
10. Don’t Say You Love Me
11. Mr. Big  (9 to 11 live at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, UK)
12. All Right Now
13. Mr. Big No.2 (12 and 13 live at Sunderland Locarno Fillmore North)
14. All Right Now (Take 1)
15. All Right Now (Take 2)
16. All Right Now (Take 3)

There are five previously unreleased versions new to this release:
"Mr. Big" (Track 9 on Disc 1) is from the BBC's John Peel Show recorded 15 Jan 1971. It’s very disappointing - not a great recording with really muddy sound and it's easy to see why it's been left off previous releases
"Fire And Water (Backing Track)” (Track 7 on Disc 2) - a really interesting `work in progress' from February 1970 mixed in 1999, Take 5 contains studio chatter at the beginning and then the band working nicely through the backing track - Kirke's drumming fantastic, but it ends oddly and abruptly
Tracks 11, 12 and 13 on Disc 2: "All Right Now" (Takes 1, 2 and 3)
All three takes were recorded as part of filmed promotional shorts for "All Right Now" and "The Stealer" in October 1970. Instead of miming, the band played live (the two videos turn up on the "Free Forever" DVD set) and these `live' takes are superb and genuinely deserve the moniker `bonus tracks" - they even include the squeaking of Simon Kirke's drum stool! Fans will have to have these.

The booklet contains black & white photos, reproduction of concert tickets, press adverts, in the studio colour photos and a detailed history of the albums path to number 3 in the UK charts in July 1970. The CDs themselves reflect the original `PINK' Island label design on 1st pressings of the LP and the original master tape boxes are pictured underneath the two see-through trays - a nice touch on both counts.

Even though the outside packaging seems to be saying that the remaster is 'new', the 20-page booklet confusingly states that the remaster used is the 2001 one done by PETER MEW at Abbey Road - the same as the single disc that's been on the market for years? But the sound on this release is different – far better to my ears.

FREE were a `loud' band and the recordings at the 8-track Trident Studios reflected their hairy-arsed live rock band nature - in other words the recorded results were not exactly going to win audiophile gongs. The tapes were then remixed onto the 16-track facility at Island's new studio in Basing Street. But even then, Chris Blackwell, label founder and leader, hated the results. So more mixing was done. But even to this day, the further mixing and remixing before the album was finally released still gave us a less than great sonic result. I mention all of this because the liner notes to this release talk of major audio restoration having gone into the 1999 and 2001 remastering process - and now again on this 2008 version - and man can you HEAR IT!

Take Side 2 of the original album, "Mr Big", "Don't Say You Love Me" and "All Right Now" - when I A/B the sound on my 2001 issue to this 2008 issue, the huge difference is the removal of `almost' all of the hiss that was omnipresent on the 2001 remaster which marred the listen enormously. The result is that instead of being saturated in a rough and ready hissy wall, the band suddenly explodes out of the speakers with an intensity that will thrill fans to their very core! I would describe it like this - it's as if I'm listening to the full power of FREE for the first time. With this new clarity, the opening and eventual build up in "Mr Big" to a guitar crescendo has to be heard to be believed! It's enormous and just AWESOME to hear! The beautiful "Don't Say You Love Me" is truly gorgeous now, especially when the lovely piano addition comes in, while the fantastic anthem that is "All Right Now" has you hearing Kossoff's plectrum scratching off the pick-ups - little guitar flicks before he goes into the big riff, the clarity of Fraser's bass work and other nuances that I've just never heard before. Don't get me wrong, there is `hiss' on these recordings, but the removal of even half of it has made the band come alive to my ears. Wonderful stuff!

To sum up - "Fire And Water" is a great album and this 2CD 'DELUXE EDITION' of it gives the great record a stunning sonic upgrade. Throw in all the live versions and alternate takes around its release, decent liner notes and packaging, all topped off with 4 out of the 5 previously unreleased tracks actually worth owning - then indeed you have something special.

There have been some stunning issues in Universal's 'DELUXE EDITION' series (check out the Whiskeytown "Strangers Almanac" double) and this is another. Regardless of the price and the overdoing of "All Right Now" (nine versions for Gawd's sake) - fans will have to own it - and the uninitiated can discover why Britain and the world went mad for the FREE and their down and dirty brand of 'rawk'. What a band…

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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