Wednesday, 5 October 2016

"Heartbreaker" by FREE (2016 Universal/Island Remasters CD Reissue - Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Wishing Well..."

Another decade, another version and another sound - FREE fans will know that the February 2002 CD reissue campaign of all seven of their albums (six studio and one live) came with great Peter Mew remasters, decent bonus tracks and expanded booklets to match - and were mid-price at the time.

But here we are in September 2016 with another reissue campaign of all seven albums accompanied by "The Free Story" compilation (a 2LP set onto 1CD) that strips away those brilliant bonuses entirely – and unwisely substitutes their hugely informative liner notes for booklets with only band photos.

But (and this is a big but) – these new 2016 reissues do offer us one genuinely worthy consolation prize - 2016 ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM Remasters that breath wonderful naturalistic vitality back into the albums. On buying and reviewing "Highway" and "Free At Last" and loving their audio – I splashed out on four more and the results are equally magical.

Also with most of the eight being offered on Amazon at less than five pounds including P&P – you can of course argue that the price is right - and with their generic 'Island Remasters' see-through side panelling on the jewel case – they look good too. Bottom line - what fans are essentially getting here is great new sound but lesser discs (one step forward, two steps back etc). That said - here are the wishing wells...

UK released Friday, 9 September 2016 - "Heartbreaker" by FREE on Universal/Island Remasters 473 182-6 (Barcode 602547318268) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 8-track 1973 UK LP and plays out as follows (35:52 minutes):

1. Wishing Well
2. Come Together In The Morning
3. Travellin In Style
4. Heartbreaker
5. Muddy Water [Side 2]
6. Common Mortal Man
7. Easy On My Soul
8. Seven Angels
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 6th and final studio album "Heartbreaker" - released January 1973 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9217 and in the USA on Island SW-9324. Produced by FREE and engineered by Richard Digby-Smith - it peaked at No. 9 on the UK LP charts and No. 47 in the USA.

The six missing bonus tracks on the 2002 Island Remasters IMCD 288 version are: "Wishing Well (US Mix)",  "Let Me Show You" (non-album B-side to the November 1972 UK 7" single for "Wishing Well" on Island WIP 6146), "Muddy Water (Alternate Vocals)", "Hand Me Down/Turn Me Round (Prospective Album Track)", "Heartbreaker (Rehearsal Version)" and "Easy On My Soul (Rehearsal Version)". As you can see from this list of missing extras - your loss is considerable - every one of these bonus tracks adding huge punch to the overall vibe of the 2002 reissue.

The new booklet is 12-pages and shows a Tape-Box Photo of the Entire Side 2 'Master Reel' on Page 2 (dated 21 Nov 1972) as well as other black and white photos of the band (now a five-piece with the loss of Kossoff). Although the band was now Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick and Tetsu Yamauchi – Paul Kossoff played guitars on all tracks except "Muddy Water" and "Easy On My Soul". There's a photo of PK on Page 5 and the other four on the remaining pages (you also get the lyrics that were on the white inner sleeve). Beneath the see-through CD tray are pictures of the seven reissued albums with the eight being "The Free Story" double-album compilation from 1974 (for catalogue numbers see notes below) and the CD label repro's the UK 'pink rim palm-tree' label logo of Island Records in early 1973. There's no liner notes giving history, details etc.

But a fabulous new remaster from ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM – who did such great work on Pentangle, Frankie Miller, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, the 2012 Rory Gallagher CD remasters and most recently the 2016 Budgie 3CD Box Set for their MCA LPs and the 'Deluxe Editions' of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Island catalogue (see reviews for them all) - resoundingly compensates for all of that distasteful compromise. 

I've had the 2002 remaster and the Japanese 2008 SHM-CD reissue – both of which rock – but this version is way better to my ears. There's suddenly staggering naturality and presence to the whole LP. Pearce let things breathe (it's a trademark of his) – and their last self-produced studio album "Heartbreaker" has always had a bit of an aural beastie – far heavier than their previous efforts. Like the CD Remasters of "Highway" and "Free At Last"  – Pearce and Wortham’s version is muscular and meaty. This is not loudness for loudness sake – not shrill so to speak – just in your face – huge power and presence - like an original tape should be. In short this CD sounds fabulous...

The presence of long-time sessionman and songwriter John "Rabbit" Bundrick (filling in for PK) is felt in his decidedly Led Zeppelin heavy tracks "Muddy Water" and "Common Mortal Man". And along with Rodgers, Kossoff, Kirke and Yamamuchi – he also had a hand in their hugely popular single "Wishing Well" which eventually peaked January 1973 in the UK at No. 7 (Island WIP 6146 with the non-album "Let Me Show You" on the B-side – one of the bonus cuts on the 2002 CD Remaster). "Wishing Well" opens proceedings on Side 1 with an aggressive FREE getting lippy with your living room. Rodgers gives us the more languid "Come Together In The Morning" which gets Soulful come the sing-a-long chorus (it’s a wee bit hissy but you really can now hear those Kossoff guitar fills). Maybe the British public was bored with Free by March 1973 explaining why such a cool little single like "Travellin' In Style" on Island WIP 6160 didn’t chart originally or as a reissue on Island WIP 6223 in March 1974 (both versions had the ballad "Easy On My Soul" on the B-side). Rodgers then stumps up a heavy-heavy hitter in the title track "Heartbreaker" – ending Side 1 on a hard-rocking note.

Side 2 opens with the Soulful "Heartbreaker" – a '...the first time you deceive’ve broken her spell...' warning about lying to your woman and afterwards forever walking in the rain with your emotional shoes untied. I love the way the piano interplays (Bundrick working his own song) with Rodger’s great vocal on this forgotten song - an underrated Free classic. Bundrick supplies again with "Common Natural Man" - another mid-tempo keyboard song with a Soulful feel - but this time about drugs where our weary man is buying/selling his future for 'three bucks a share' - just another sucker 'standing in line...for a fantastic time'. Rodgers gives us the final two - the lovely sway of "Easy On My Soul" and the huge even menacing "Seven Angels" where he gets all Biblical on us with ' my right hand is the sword of my left hand is the fire of love...' - fantastic guitar work from Kossoff - for me amongst his inspired best...

Across the seven new 2016 reissues we probably loose thirty to thirty-five genuinely cool bonus tracks of old and all that enlightening info in the booklets too - so buying their catalogue yet again may become a chore for some fans (docked a star for less instead of more). But they’re cheap at a fiver and we do gain fabulous new audio - and for many that's probably going to be the deciding factor. And how good is to hear them sound so awesome again after all these decades...

PS: FREE titles in the 9 Sept 2016 Island Remasters CD Reissue Series are:
1. Tons Of Sobs (March 1969 debut UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-5 (Barcode 602547318152)
2. Free (October 1969 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-1 (Barcode 602547318718)
3. Fire And Water (June 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-4 (Barcode 602547318749)
4. Highway (December 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-9 (Barcode 602547318190)
5. Free Live! (June 1971 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-6 (Barcode 602547318763)
6. Free At Last (June 1972 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 183-9 (Barcode 602547318398)
7. Heartbreaker (January 1973 UK Final Studio LP) - Island Remasters 473 182-6 (Barcode 602547318268)
8. The Free Story (March 1974 UK 2LP Compilation) - Island Remasters 472 262-9 (Barcode 602547326294)

There is also a VINYL Box Set "FREE - The Vinyl Collection" on Universal/Island 473 187-9 released 9 September 2016 with seven LPs (Barcode 0602547318794)

PPS: Amazon have typically lumped the 2002 and 2016 issues into the same review and it would appear - the same product entry. Even if you use the correct Barcode 602547318268 it will bring you to the 2002 entry - so if you're specifically after the 2016 reissue with its different remaster - ask the supplier you're buying from what version it is they're selling.

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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