Tuesday, 5 July 2016

"A Stranger In My Own Back Yard" by GILBERT O'SULLIVAN (2012 Salvo 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry of his 4th LP from 1974 on Mam Records...

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"...You've Got To Be Honest..."

"A Stranger In My Own Backyard" is the 4th release in a full-on reissue campaign by Salvo Records of the UK for Irish singer-songwriter (Raymond) Gilbert O'Sullivan. 

His UK debut album "Himself" from 1971 was relaunched in November 2011, his second "Back To Front" from 1972 in February 2012 and his third from 1973 "I'm A Writer, Not A Fighter" in April 2012 (all are reviewed separately). With fantastic new sound, copious bonus tracks, quality packaging and a none-too steep price-tag - legions of his fans worldwide will be thrilled to see that his MAM Records catalogue is finally receiving a thorough going-over (and like the others - this release is artist-approved too). But in this case - I just wish the material matched the packaging. Here are the Back Yard details...

UK released Monday 4 June 2012 (12 June 2012 in the USA) - "A Stranger In My Own Back Yard" by GILBERT O'SULLIVAN on Salvo SALVOXCD004 (Barcode 698458050427) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster and plays out as follows (62: 02 minutes):

1. Number 4
2. A Woman's Place 
3. No More
4. It's So Easy To Be Sad 
5. My Father 
6. The Marriage Machine 
7. If You Ever 
8. The Thing Is 
9. Just Like Me [Side 2]
10. Victor E
11. I Wonder Would You Mind 
12. 15 Times
13. Nothing To Do About Much 
14. Can't Get You To Love Me 
15. Always Somebody 
Tracks 1 to 15 are his fourth studio album "A Stranger In My Own Back Yard" - released October 1974 in the UK on Mam Records MAM-SS 506 and on Mam Records MAM 10 in the USA. It peaked at 9 on the album charts in the UK - but didn't reach the top 200 in the USA.

Tracks 16 and 17 are "Happiness Is Me And You" and "Breakfast Dinner And Tea" - the A & B-sides of a non-album 7" single released February 1974 in the UK on Mam Records MAM 114 (it reached Number 19 on the single charts).

Track 18 is "Too Bad" - the non-album B-side of "A Woman's Place" - the first single lifted off the album. "A Woman's Place" was issued August 1974 in the UK on Mam Records MAM 122 and charted at Number 42.

Track 19 is "To Cut A Long Story Short" - the non-album B-side of "Christmas Song" - a 7" single released December 1974 in the UK on Mam Records MAM 124 (it peaked at Number 12). The A-side is missing and isn't on other CD reissues (an error no doubt).

Tracks 20 and 21 are "You Are You" and "Tell Me Why" - the A & B-sides of a non-album 7" single released January 1975 in the UK on Mam Records MAM 126 (it didn't chart).

Track 22 is "That's A Fact" - the non-album B-side to "I Don't Love You But I Think I Like You" - released May 1975 in the UK on Mam Records MAM 130 (it peaked at 14 on the charts). Again the non-album A-side is a no show and isn't on other CDs?

The original UK and US LP artwork by David Larkham was an elaborate affair - a cut-corners gatefold sleeve with 4 book-like leaves inside (he'd been responsible for the lavish LP covers of "Madman Across The Water", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Captain Fantastic" for Elton John). All of it is repro'd either on the card digipak or in the beautifully laid-out 20-page colour booklet. The inlay features lyrics for all tracks (including the bonuses), photos of rare 7" foreign picture sleeves from all over the world, Japanese trade adverts, fanzine covers, snaps from the recording sessions. There are reminiscences on the album by Gilbert and thoughts on the disastrous US tour of late 1973 - and a paragraph-by-paragraph critique on each song by Chris Ingham (author of a "A Rough Guide To The Beatles"). There's even a 'Gilbert O'Sullivan - A Singer And His Songs' logo sticker on the front of the card digipak which accompanies all of these expanded reissues. A minor niggle would be that the Amazon photo seems to indicate that the card repro matches the cut-corner look of the original LP design - it doesn't - and neither does the booklet on the inside.

But the really big news for fans here is the AUDIO... Remastered from original master tapes - the sound quality is a vast improvement on what went before (compilations and expensive Japanese imports). Right from the off both the Intro "Number 4" and its follow up track "A Woman's Place" sound amazing. Unfortunately that's where the good news ends as far as the album is concerned. "A Woman's Place" is a cloying awful piece of pap that grated at the time too ("...a woman's place is in the home...") for God's sake. I'd argue that it single-handedly turned whole swaths of people off him and gave his begrudgers ammunition to dismiss his genuine song-writing capabilities. The arrangements on "It's Easy To Be Sad" are lovely while "My Father" harks back to the melodies and sound of the superb "Himself" debut album. And the "Get Down" boogie of "The Thing Is" should have been a single while "Just Like Me" shows sophistication in the arrangements. But there's the terribly preachy "Marriage Machine" and the mock jaunty "15 Times". The schooldays "I Wonder Would You Mind" is OK but too many tracks like "Nothing To Do About Much" and the terribly-worded album-finisher "Always Somebody" are cheesy and sounded dated on release - never mind 35 years later.

While the extras will finally allow fans to sequence rare 7" single releases on CD for the first time - another real downside here is the sloppy exclusion of the two 45s "Christmas Song" and "I Don't Love You But I Like You" (both of which charted). Having said that the bonuses have surprises like the b-sides "Too Bad" and "Tell Me Why" (lyrics above) - both as good as anything he'd done on the "Back To Front" and "I'm A Writer..." albums.

He followed 1974's "Stranger" with the equally forgotten "Southpaw" in 1977 - and wouldn't chart again with a proper album until he signed to CBS in 1980 and delivered the truly cringing "What's In A Kiss".

To sum up - while Salvo is to be praised for handling Gilbert's reissues so well - I just wish I could recommend this particular one.
What we have here is two to three-star material - and as much as I love the guy - I'd urge you get a listen in before you buy...

PS: Salvo of the UK have also done his 1971 debut LP "Himself", his 2nd LP "Back To Front" from 1972, his 3rd album "I'm A Writer, Not A Fighter" from 1973 and beyond into the CBS years of the 80ts. All are ‘Expanded’ Edition CD Remasters with Bonus Tracks and Repro Packaging (see detailed reviews for "Himself", "Back To Front" and "I'm A Writer, Not A Fighter").

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