Wednesday, 24 February 2016

"The Album Collection Vol.1" by BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (2014 Sony/Legacy 8CD Mini Box Set – Bob Ludwig and Toby Scott Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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Loose Windscreen's catalogue has been one of the big holes in the world of Remasters – but my God has the wait been worth it. In fact as a long-time reviewer, Bruce fan and perpetual seeker of Audio dynamite - I'd go on record right now by saying that Disc 2 in this 8CD Box Set alone - "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle" - is the single most beautiful album Remaster I've ever heard bar none. This transfer (using the Plangent Process) is properly gorgeous. Suddenly an album I've known for 45 years on vinyl (and something of a hidden nugget in the back catalogue of New Jersey's finest) is brought to life like never before. And there are six more where that peach came from. Let's get to the details...

UK and USA released 21 November 2014 – "The Album Collection, Vol.1 - 1973-1984" by BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN on Sony/Legacy/Plangent 88875014142 (Barcode 888750141422) is a 7-album/8-CD Mini Box Set of Remasters with a 60-page booklet and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." (37:13 minutes):
1. Blinded By The Light
2. Growin' Up
3. Mary Queen Of Arkansas
4. Does This Stop At 82nd Street?
5. Lost In The Flood
6. The Angel [Side 2]
7. For You
8. Spirit In The Night
9. It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Tracks 1 to 9 are his debut album "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." – released January 1973 in the USA on Columbia 31903 and March 1973 in the UK on CBS Records S 65480

Disc 2 "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle" (46:49 minutes):
1. The E Street Shuffle
2. 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
3. Kitty's Back
4. Wild Billy's Circus Story
5. Incident On 57th Street [Side 2]
6. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
7. New York City Serenade
Tracks 1 to 7 are his 2nd album "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle" – released November 1973 in the USA on Columbia KC 32432 and February 1974 in the UK on CBS Records S 65780

Disc 3 "Born To Run" (39:29 minutes):
1. Thunder Road
2. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
3. Night
4. Backstreets
5. Born To Run [Side 2]
6. She's The One
7. Meeting Across The River
8. Jungleland
Tracks 1 to 8 are his 3rd album "Born To Run" – released September 1975 in the USA on Columbia PC 33795 and October 1975 in the UK for CBS Records S CBS 69170

Disc 4 "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" (43:02 minutes):
1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something In The Night
4. Candy's Room
5. Racing In The Street
6. The Promised Land [Side 2]
7. Factory
8. Streets Of Fire
9. Prove It All Night
10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 4th studio album "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" – released in the USA June 1978 on Columbia JC 35318 and in the UK on CBS Records 86061 – peaked at No. 3 in the USA and No. 17 in the UK.

Disc 5 "The River" (Disc 1 of 2, 43:31 minutes):
1. The Ties That Bind [Side 1]
2. Sherry Darling
3. Jackson Cage
4. Two Hearts
5. Independence Day
6. Hungry Heart [Side 2]
7. Out In The Street
8. Crush On You
9. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
10. I Wanna Marry You
11. The River

Disc 6 "The River" (Disc 2 of 2, 40:17 minutes):
1. Point Blank [Side 3]
2. Cadillac Ranch
3. I'm A Rocker
4. Fade Away
5. Stolen Car
6. Ramrod [Side 4]
7. The Price You Pay
8. Drive All Night
9. Wreck On The Highway
Discs 5 and 6 are the 4-sides of the double-album "The River" – released October 1980 in the USA on Columbia PC2 36854 and in the UK on CBS Records 88510 – peaked at No. 1 in the USA and No. 2 in the UK.

Disc 7 "Nebraska" (40:50 minutes):
1. Nebraska
2. Atlantic City
3. Mansion On The Hill
4. Johnny 99
5. Highway Patrolman
6. State Trooper [Side 2]
7. Used Cars
8. Open All Night
9. My Father’s House
10. Reason To Believe
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Nebraska" – released September 1982 in the USA on Columbia TC 38358 and in the UK on CBS Records 25100 – peaked at No. 3 in both the USA and UK.

Disc 8 "Born In The U.S.A." (46:57 minutes):
1. Born In The U.S.A.
2. Cover Me
3. Darlington County
4. Working On The Highway
5. Downbound Train
6. I'm On Fire
7. No Surrender [Side 2]
8. Bobby Jean
9. I'm Goin' Down
10. Glory Days
11. Dancing In The Dark
12. My Hometown
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "Born In The U.S.A." – released June 1984 in the USA on Columbia QC 38653 and in the UK on CBS Records 86304 – peaked at No. 1 on both the UK and US LP charts.

You can't argue with the quality of slightly oversized 5" card sleeve repros – they beautifully done (not quite Japanese uber realistic but close). "Greetings..." has its front-flap sleeve, "Born To Run" its gatefold, "Darkness..." its Inner Sleeve and Lyric Sheet, "The River" has both its Inners and the gatefold lyric sheet, "Nebraska" its Inner Sleeve and "Born In The U.S.A." its Inner Sleeve and two-sided Lyric Insert. Hell there's even a Columbia Records Advert Inner Bag with "Greetings..." (the seconds album "Wild..." didn't come with anything inside). The only tiny hiccup I can spot is the cover used for "Nebraska" – on the spine it has the QC 38358 catalogue number - which is technically a reissue (TC 38358 is the original as far as I'm aware). But other than that – very nicely done. The card that attaches to the outer (pull-off lid) box with track lists and reissue credits falls away once the shrink wrap is off – so that's a pain straight away. You’ll end up having to put this into a plastic before it knackers itself.

The booklet is a thing of fandom beauty. There are no notes or explanations – just 60 pages of cut-outs from 1973 to 1985 covering press releases on each of the albums, singles released, concert dates. In-between all the trade adverts and reviews – there are embossed colour photos that leap off the pages – most unseen until now (a super fan's collection). There are the infamous 'Time' and 'Newsweek' covers for 1975's "Born To Run" in blazing colour – backstage passes and laminates – live photos – and on it goes. It's properly gorgeous stuff – and I would imagine in the format of 12" x 12" on the vinyl variant – Droolsome. But it would have been nice to have a second booklet with lyrics and some liner notes. But all that goes out the window once you clap your weary lugs on the stunning Audio...

Using the PLANGENT Process - a team of four have been involved - with BOB LUDWIG and TOBY SCOTT doing the lion's share of Remasters. Master tape-to-digital transfers and DSP wow and flutter reduction was carried out by JAMIE HOWARTH and JOHN K. CHESTER. I don't know much about the techno mumbo-jumbo but whatever this process does - it produces warm, clear and uber-realistic results that don't feel forced to get more volume...a brill job done.

The debut has always been my least favourite of his albums - a worthy beginning with moments of brilliance like "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City", "Growin' Up" and the opener "Blinded By The Light". It also seemed to suffer from a weedy Production. At last you can 'hear' that voice and piano in "The Angel" and that Clarence Clemons Saxophone/Vincent Lopez Drum shuffle for "Spirit In The Night" is fantastically good (Gary Tallent's Bass so sweet too). The rhythm section too in "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?" is alive while the melodrama of "Lost In The Flood" has some hiss but more life to it than before. An impressive start to his career and a great remaster that at last does his debut some kind of justice (on our way to hubcap heaven)...

After the earnest but awkward feel of the debut – the improvement in Springsteen’s 2nd album "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle" (again from 1973) whomps you in the proverbial chops. Not only does it show progress and genuine brilliance in a staggering short period of time – the whole album has stood the test of time far better than the rather self-conscious "Greetings". I suspect true Bruciephiles adore this record and after 45 years – the Remaster comes as an absolute BLAST. I've never heard the whole album sound this beautiful – every instrument suddenly clear in the speakers – dancing around the pretty highs and lows. Never is this more vivid than on "Wild Billy Circus Story" – the accordion, the mandolin and the tuba – all of it is gorgeous. And I'd forgotten just how romantic the whole record is – and up. The opening minutes of "Incident On 57th Street" leaves me in tears – those great girly vocals that float in – Sancious playing that Steely Dan rhythm and Federici's organ playing adding layers. And by the time we get to the visceral "Rosalita..." the remaster is blowing all previous versions out of the water. It ends on the near ten-minute "New York Serenade" which sounds like Genesis on "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" on that stunning piano intro. You can hear squeaks in chairs and movements – all of it clear and in the now. And what a fantastic song - beautifully remastered (and I still don't know who the girl singers are)...

The last time "Born To Run" received a CD overhaul was the November 2005 '35th Anniversary' reissue (see review) which again Bob Ludwig transferred. So is there a difference between 2005 and 2014? Absolutely – I think it's ever so slightly better. Sure there's more hiss evident on "She's The One" and "Meeting Across The River" and that quiet piano passage on "Jungleland" – but all are more alive somehow and full of amazing presence. If I play the 2005 version of "Meeting..." – there is more compression on that hiss level – that's gone on the 2014 version so the hiss on the tape is more evident – but so is all that presence. This remaster is breathing – not trebled or supressed – just as it on the tapes. The moment the beautiful opening piano of "Thunder Road" hits your speakers accompanied shortly after by Bruce's lead vocals - the warmth and clarity is fabulous too. Even better is "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" with the brilliant and street-funky Brecker Brothers Saxophones simply flooring you (key parts were arranged by cheeky Miami Steve on a whim). When it continues with "Night" and "Backstreets" you also begin to notice more ROY BITTAN whose musical flourishes on the keyboards contributed so much to every song. Bruce now says that "Born To Run" the album was 'all' written on the piano and not the guitar - and that's why most songs have big intros - setting the scene - sort of mini operas. The density of "Born To Run" now seems opened up somehow, the sparseness of "Meeting Across The River" is eerie and the "Jungleland" 9:36 minute finisher is massively improved ("...the hungry and the hunted explode into Rock 'n' Roll bands..." - what a song). A superb job done...

"Darkness On The Edge Of Town" was always going to be the most difficult album in the canon to remaster well. Studio album No. 4 has always seemed to have problems with regard to muscle. 2010 saw the Deluxe Edition do it justice with some badly need 'oomph' – and here again we get another stab. Comparing both – the same applies with "Born To Run" – there's more presence and power but there's also more air and hiss. "Adam Raised A Cain" still rocks like a Punk tune but you will hear the space in "Something In The Night". There's huge presence in "Factory" – still one of the most powerful songs Bruce has ever written about the workingman and his working life. "Prove It All Night" kicks too but "Racing In The Streets" still has that distance that somehow denies you entry into the song.

1980's double-album "The River" was the global breakthrough with "Hungry Heart" eating up chart placing all over the world. But of all the albums here - it's probably the one that's least stood up to musical scrutiny after all these years. Having said that the new transfer have worked wonders on some tracks but oddly seem to have done naught for others. The ballads and eerie soundscapes of "Independence Day", "The River", "Stolen Car", "Drive All Night" and "Wreck On The Highway" all feel better – but the rockers haven't really opened up like I'd hoped. Worse - stuff like "Jackson Cage", "You Can Look..." and "Crush On You" just feel dated now - while "The Ties That Bind" seems to have no sonic punch at all no matter what they do with it. I've always thought the brilliant B-side "Be True" or even the Darkness outtake "Rendezvous" should have replaced the terrible "Sherry Darling". On the upside – "Point Blank" and "Fade Away" are both stunning as is the wallop out of "Ramrod" and the irrepressible "Cadillac Ranch". And I'd forgotten how good a song "The Price You Pay" is. That Bass and Piano at the beginning of the stunning "Drive All Night" and Clarence's Sax solo always crack me up (they used it in the Stallone movie "Copland" to amazing effect). The double-album splurge ends on the beautiful and lonesome "Wreck On The Highway" (gorgeous clarity on the Bass) – a song that moved me so much back in the day...and it has done again.

After the bombast of the double – "Nebraska" (recorded on a 4-Track Tascam) came as a shock - and for me was a masterstroke release. Things needed to be cooled down and that's what this stark little mother did. In fact there are times when I think it's the true gem in his catalogue – like a Johnny Cash album you need in your life. Even its cover was the very antithesis of the "Hotel California" excess just four years earlier – hell Springsteen's image wasn’t even on the sleeve (either side). Rumour was that he'd recorded all the songs with the band but somehow it didn't work – so he just released the demos because they had that starkness he wanted. "Nebraska" has hiss and those vocals fuzz a little as he sings too close to the mike – but it sounds great. "Atlantic City" has trouble bussing in from out of state while the Dylan harmonica wail of "Mansion On The Hill" has yet another place on the edge of town where someone is in pain. "Johnny 99" is definitely the most 'demo' of all the recordings – and a live staple during his 3 and half hour marathons. Nuggets include the pure storytelling magic of "Highway Patrolman" (Frankie ain't no good) and the Dave Edmunds Rock 'n' Roll of "Open All Night" – sounding sweet. "State Trooper" has that whooping menace and "Used Car" the hurt of being poor and being sick of it.

"Born In The U.S.A." truly made him a global superstar and Mister America (whether he wanted the mantle or not). Remaster Engineer TOBY SCOTT recorded the original album so he knows his way around these tapes – and that becomes more than evident once the sheer muscle of the title track assaults your speakers for the first time (what an anthem). But then as you listen to "Cover Me", "Darlington County" and especially "Working On The Highway" – what strikes you is the deep darkness of the material allied with the fact that most of it is hidden inside poppy dance tunes – which I'm not sure everyone twigged at the time (we just wanted to party in 1984). "Downbound Train" has that echo vocal and all the instruments are now eerily clear and punchy – imbibing this deep little cry-in-the-dark with a spooky feel. Audio-wise the fruity "I'm On Fire" is amazingly in-your-face and hasn't sounded this good in years (look out girly – Bruce has a bad desire). Side 2 opens with the very River-sounding "No Surrender" where "...we learned more from a three-minute record than we ever did in school..." (I'd forgotten how good this song is). Longing for those old-days relationships/simplicity fills "Bobby Jean" with heart and pathos – Bruce suddenly sounding like he's the voice of so many lost souls still looking for that one true love/still trying to fulfil that earlier promise. "I'm Going Down" has the mighty Max Weinberg bashing those drums while Bruce goes 'hout' for the night. I can remember the MTV video for "Glory Days" – still sounds joyful and for 1984 not at all dated. "Dancing In The Dark" turned him into a pin-up with that video (Courteney Cox of "Friends" fame was the girl he pulled from the audience onto the stage). But for me the best track is "My Hometown" – a simple song about small town America that nails me every time...even though I'm from Dublin!

The vinyl version has that 60-page booklet in 12" x 12" size and is apparently a thing to behold. For those of us who can't afford expensive LPs anymore (I'd like to) – this Volume 1 on CD is a fantastic release.

More's to the point - like Bowie's next Box Set instalment of "Five Years" (Volume 2) – I look forward to the second outing of Bruce Springsteen's 'Album Catalogue' with a sense of excitement...and isn't that the best thing you can say about a Remaster campaign...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 250 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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