Audiophiles are a strange breed: here are a bunch of men (always men) who’ll happily fork out a week’s wages for power cables that provide “clean electricity” to their CD player, but refuse to part with a penny for any album they consider to be mastered in a sub-par way.
We can’t help but see their point of view (about the albums, not the power cables): today’s pop music tends to be mastered to sound “loud” even when it’s being played at low volumes – a compressed dynamic range means that there’s not much difference in decibels between the quiet and loud parts of the music. Listening to these albums through high quality audio gear can be an horrific assault on the lugholes, which is why audiophiles seek out albums that have been mastered with a wider dynamic range.
That doesn’t mean you have to resort to slapping some leather waistcoast-wearing, ponytail-sporting Austrian jazz fiddler’s latest opus onto your beloved turntable. Thankfully, a handful of today’s artists are still committed to well-mastered, exquisitely produced recordings and that, along with a plentiful supply of older albums that were either originally mastered well or have since been remastered, means there’s plenty of fantastic music to listen to. And here are some of our favourites.
Additional reviews by Stephen Graves, Marc McLaren and Tom Wiggins
Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
With some songs of its songs sitting on Radiohead’s back burner for 20 years before being committed to tape it’s hardly surprising that A Moon Shaped Pool is a treat for the ears. Opener Burn The Witch dates back to the Kid A sessions, although it’s far less familiar to fans than long-time live favourite True Love Waits, which has its mournful piano bolstered by a bed of fluttering percussion.
The lilting Present Tense and the record’s highlight Identikit have their roots in older albums too but Decks Dark and the urgent Ful Stop prove A Moon Shaped Pool is much more than just the sound of a band clearing out its drafts.
Nirvana: In Utero 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (2013)
This 2013 special edition of Nirvana’s third and final studio album, released exactly 20 years after the original, includes a remastered version alongside brand new remixes by Steve Albini.
Albini was sound engineer the first time round, but label interference lathed off some of his rougher edges – he evidently couldn't pass up the chance to take another shot at such classics as “Scentless Apprentice”, “Rape Me”, “Heart Shaped Box” and “Pennyroyal Tea”, adding greater texture to the original versions.
But for many, the originals were well produced anyway – and it’s here than the remasters’ value is seen, or rather heard: with less compression and greater dynamic range in these versions, Kurt Cobain’s songs have rarely sounded so nuanced.
Interpol: Turn On The Bright Lights: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (2012)
Giving The Strokes’ Is This It a good run for “the most New York debut album of the early noughties”, Turn On The Bright Lights is the record that put Interpol on the map, and also high on the list entitled “bands who people always say sound like Joy Division”.
And while this album’s sound is certainly rooted in post punk – there’s a precision and texture to the playing that create a sense of space, clarity and almost clinical detachment that seems perfectly suited to post-9/11 New York.
Interpol's trademarks – angular guitars, expressive bass and the studied, effective monotone of Paul Bank’s vocals – sound pleasingly bleak and clean in this remaster, all the better to express TOTBL’s sketches of pain and squalor.
My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (1991)
You’re going to want a weighty set-up for this one. When they perform Loveless live, MBV crank up the volume to such an extent that most fans don earplugs, and while we’re not suggesting you go that far, it’s an album that demands to be played loud. Recorded over two years in 19 studios and with almost as many engineers, it’s dominated by Kevin Shields’ trademark tremolo-heavy guitar plus layer upon layer of samples: sampled guitars, sampled drums, sampled vocals, sampled samples. The net effect is a modern wall of sound, at once hypnotic and chaotic, dreamy and thunderous, urgent and woozy. At its best – the delicate intricacy of “To Here Knows When”, the relentless hookery of “What You Want”, the rhythmic assault of “Soon” – it’s crying out for a system with great separation and precision. [MM]
Standout tracks: “Soon”, “To Here Knows When”, “Only Shallow”
Dr Dre: 2001 (1999)
Mainstream hip-hop isn’t the first genre that springs to mind when you think of audiophile-quality recordings: the majority of rap albums are compressed, lacking the dynamic range craved by golden-eared beard-strokers. Not so 2001.
Dr Dre’s second studio album exhibits a clean clarity and dynamic range that suits its sparse beats, bottomless bass, doom-y string samples and g-funk synths – it’s a great workout for any decent pair of speakers or headphones (Beats or otherwise). The lyrical content won’t sit comfortably with every listener, being an encyclopaedia of gangsta rap clichés but, well, it’s a gangsta rap album with a cannabis leaf on the front cover made by the co-founder of N.W.A. If it was mum-friendly it just wouldn’t be the same.
Standout tracks: “Still D.R.E.”, “The Next Episode”, “XXXplosive”
Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (1971)
Deeply affected by his brother’s experiences returning from the Vietnam War and what he viewed as rampant, widespread injustice in America, Marvin Gaye shrugged off his soul loverman image and recorded a concept album about the state of the world.
All nine of its songs flow into one another and it ends with a reprise of its opening theme, all the better to tell the story of a Vietnam veteran who has come home from war to see his country in a new light. Gaye tackles poverty, drug addiction and even environmental issues not through angry political rants but from the point of a dismayed man who believes love – not more hatred and violence – is the answer.
As a recording the album exhibits a rare spaciousness, with each element able to be picked out clearly. Combining blues, jazz and soul elements, it’s a hugely influential album and over 40 years after its release, still highly relevant and relatable.
Standout tracks: “What’s Going On”, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”, “Inner City Blues (Make We Wanna Holler)”
Nirvana: MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)
MTV may be a dirty word these days, but the TV network’s Unplugged series served up several excellent albums in the 90s, most of them recorded with a “hey, I could be in the audience” fidelity. And this is one of them.
It would be Nirvana’s last album recorded before Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and hindsight adds extra weight to songs like “Pennyroyal Tea”, “Something In The Way” and the soul-wrenching closer “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”. That song is one of several covers performed by a band who appear to have consciously avoid picking their biggest hits for the acoustic treatment. But the reworkings of Cobain’s own songs, stripped of their grunge trappings, highlight just how much of a talent he was when it came to melody and lyricism – a talent that would be lost forever five months later.
Standout tracks: “The Man Who Sold The World”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”
The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)
Recorded in eight tracks rather than the four of previous Beatles albums, Abbey Road was the first of the Fab Four’s records to be originally released in stereo. In 2009, along with most Beatles albums, it was remastered and rereleased, and this version is considered the best in terms of audio quality. At the time of its release, some critics claimed the band’s use of the Moog synthesizer was “inauthentic”, but in retrospect most of them – and the wider world – consider Abbey Road to be among The Beatles’ best LPs, and certainly their most painstakingly produced.
Standout tracks: “Come Together,” “Oh! Darling”, “Here Comes the Sun”
Bon Iver: Bon Iver (2011)
Trading the intimate “folk music pity party in a log cabin” feel of debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in favour of a more expansive, ambitious sound, Justin Vernon’s second album as Bon Iver flirts with R&B-style crooning, country hoedowns and, at one point, Bruce Hornsby and the Range-esque MOR (well, that’s what it takes to win a Grammy as an indie artist these days). But there’s beauty throughout: Vernon’s multi-tracked voice and his band’s rich instrumentation evoke the icy northern reaches of America just as deftly as For Emma did – but in a far grander way. There are landscapes conjured by this record, and they are vast.
Standout tracks: “Holocene”, “Towers”
R.E.M.: Automatic for the People (1992)
R.E.M. were no strangers to chart success by the time they released Automatic for the People, but this was the album that cemented the Athens, Georgia natives as the mainstream’s favourite alternative rock band. And you can’t say they got there by continuing down the jangly, upbeat pop furrow they’d ploughed with earlier songs like Shiny Happy People: Automatic features only three tracks that move above mid-tempo (two of which became singles) and for the most part, it’s a sombre, ballad-dominated affair. It might be a dark journey, but it’s also musically irresistible thanks to the lush arrangements, in which organs and strings feature prominently.
The album is available in the Hi-Res DVD-Audio format.
Standout tracks: “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”, “Everybody Hurts”, “Man On The Moon”
Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (1969)
In an attempt to boost her musical credibility, British swinging sixties icon Dusty Springfield decided to make an album of soul songs – and record it in a city forever associated with the origins of soul and blues. The result was Dusty In Memphis, a record that didn’t make many waves when it was released but has since been recognised as one of the best releases of the 1960s – or any decade. The tracks are arranged and recorded with a rare perfectionism (Springfield ended up re-recording all her vocals in New York because she was unhappy with the Memphis takes) and the songs hit a sweet spot between soul and pop that suggests Dusty was way ahead of her time.
Standout tracks: “Son of a Preacher Man”, “Breakfast In Bed”, “The Windmills of Your Mind”
Burial: Untrue (2007)
Believe it or not there was a time when dubstep wasn’t the sound of adverts for energy drinks. These days Burial’s Untrue is barely recognisable as dubstep: there’s no pumped-up euphoric drops and it barely hints at the wriggling ‘wub wub’ bass that was to come. Play "Etched Headplate" in most clubs and the only way you’d empty the dancefloor quicker would be to release a wolf onto it. That’s because Untrue isn’t a record for dancefloors; it’s a record about the lonely, 3am bus ride home, or the feeling of unease you get when walking alone late at night. While Untrue is not an album with any daylight in it, it's a long way from The Dark Side of the Moon. You don’t listen to it to appreciate the stereo image of your expensive hi-fi, you listen to it for its heavily textured yet spacious tunes, and samples that sound like coins or bullet casings falling to the cold pavement. [TW]
Standout tracks: “Archangel”, “Near Dark”, “Untrue”
The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)
Boom! Boom! Crash! Boom! Subwoofers at the ready – it’s a Flaming Lips album… Although actually, The Soft Bulletin isn’t just a Flaming Lips album, it’s THE Flaming Lips album, the high-point of a career now spanning 31 years and 14 albums. It’s also the finest moment in the career of producer Dave Fridmann, a man regarded as the indie-rock Phil Spector (but without the murder) and whose CV also takes in such classics as Weezer’s Pinkerton and Mogwai’s Come On Die Young. Fridmann ramps up the percussion on The Soft Bulletin, turning drums and cymbals into weapons of mass destruction. But if the sound’s big, the songs are bigger still – from string-drenched opener “Race For The Prize” to the searingly honest “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”, it’s a work of musical and lyrical genius. [MM]
Standout tracks: “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”, “Race For The Prize”
The xx: xx (2009)
In 2009 four young, perpetually black-clad Londoners released an album blessed with a rare feeling of what one could call "sonic unity": every track just fits. There’s something incredibly clean about the xx's self-titled debut, as though the band are performing in an hermetically sealed room devoid of furniture, fittings, dust, microbes and, well, anything that isn’t their instruments. Sparse drum machine beats, taut bass, a guitar tone polished to a mirror sheen and understated vocals from Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft make up a record of immense restraint. It’s almost the opposite of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound”: there’s an evidence of sonic space here that makes the xx’s gloomy brand of pop a joy to listen to.
Standout tracks: “Intro”, “Islands”, “Shelter”
Rage Against The Machine: Rage Against The Machine (1992)
Thanks to bands like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Papa Roach, the fusion of hip-hop and hard rock would later become a byword for “horrific men saying horrifically dumb things”, but it all started in much better place: Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous debut album. While those other bands might have been angry at their parents, Rage were angry about the Western world, the military-industrial complex, the entire capitalist system. Very angry. Zack de la Rocha’s politically-charged lyrics and Tom Morello’s squealing guitar make for an incendiary mix, but Bob Ludwig’s mastering keeps everything from boiling over. We have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the cleanest, most audiophile-friendly hard rock albums ever made. Marxist political theory rarely sounded so funky.
Standout tracks: “Bombtrack”, “Killing In The Name”, “Bullet In The Head”
Jay-Z: The Blueprint (2001)
Almost universally regarded as Jay-Z’s finest album, The Blueprint is a hip-hop rarity: a record without numerous guest appearances. It’s a decision that allows Jay’s abilities as an emcee to shine – although he’s aided by the fantastic production, much of it from a young upstart named Kanye West. West’s soulful, vocal sample-heavy 60s-inspired tracks give The Blueprint much of its character, and from a pure sound quality point of view it’s one of the best albums in rap history.
Standout tracks: “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
When Baltimore psyche-pop oddballs Animal Collective turned to samplers and synths as the dominant instruments for their eighth studio album, few could have guessed that it would turn out to be their most successful on both the commercial and critical fronts (although it’s far from a mainstream pop record, and less open-minded listeners might find its unconventional song structure baffling).
The members of the band are older and have settled down, but their youthful joie de vivre hasn’t melted away in Merriweather Post Pavilion – it’s just shifted focus. There are songs about Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s families on here but not a trace of sentimentality, just soaring, luscious electronic soundscapes and harmony-heavy vocals that bring to mind a post-rave culture Beach Boys.
Standout tracks: “My Girls”, “Summertime Clothes”, “Brother Sport”
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (1977)
Rumours’ meta-story is almost as compelling as the album itself: recorded against the backdrop of two intra-band breakups and rampant cocaine consumption, it signalled a new mainstream rock direction for the British bluesy throwbacks – one that propelled the group into new realms of popularity. Spurred by the songcraft of new American recruits Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac produced an LP without a skippable song (well, maybe “Oh Daddy” if you’re feeling particularly mean), and the production and mastering are every bit as noteworthy as the hooks.
Standout tracks: “Dreams”, “Go Your Own Way”, “The Chain”
OutKast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
The fourth killer record in a row from Atlanta hip hop duo Andre 3000 and Big Boi, this is essentially two solo albums in a single case. In hindsight, it was a signal that a creative partnership that had proved so fruitful in the past had run its course – but when each of the albums is as good as these, who cares? Andre 3000 morphs into an manic electro crooner and Big Boi brings all manner of cleanly-produced, P-Funk-influenced club-friendly jams.
Standout tracks: “The Way You Move”, “Hey Ya!”, “Roses”
Steely Dan: Aja (1977)
In all honesty, if we had the space we could put all of Steely Dan’s studio albums on this list. New York jazz-rockers Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are nothing short of slaves to perfection when it comes to recording and mastering, and consequently each LP is an audiophile’s dream. But if we have to pick a single one, we’ll say 1977’s Aja, which features something like 40 session musicians and some of the band’s most seamless production yet. Jazz-rock may conjure up nightmares of Kenny G soullessly noodling his sax, but their songs’ cynical, acerbic lyrics have always elevated “the Dan” to something more than the sum of their parts.
Standout tracks: “Black Cow”, “Deacon Blues”, “Peg”
Joni Mitchell: Blue (1971)
Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece, Blue is a spare, sparse record showcasing the Canadian’s pure stripped-down songwriting: most songs feature little instrumentation beyond Mitchell’s acoustic guitar or piano. It’s recorded to be highly revealing (with headphones, you can hear the piano pedals moving in the title track) which is entirely appropriate given the confessional nature of the songs, in which Mitchell details her life, loves and struggles with depression with unflinching transparency. Mitchell herself later said of the album, “There's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defences. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes.” It’s all there, clear as a bell, in the recording.
Standout tracks: "Blue", "A Case Of You", "California"
Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (2013)
Less an album than a love letter to disco, Random Access Memories will never be the most beloved of Daft Punk records – “Get Lucky” aside, there’s nothing here that gets its hooks into you like "Around The World" or "One More Time". But thanks to the use of original instruments and some of the most talented session musicians (almost every sound on the album comes from a “real” instrument) and collaborators in the game, it’s an exquisite body of work. And it sounds amazing: rarely has deep sub bass every sounded, well, so bassy, so real and so gigantic as it does on RAM. There’s a wide dynamic range here, so this is one big recent release that hasn’t fallen victim to what horrified audiophiles refer to as the "loudness wars".
Standout tracks: “Giorgio by Moroder”, “Get Lucky”, “Contact”
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959)
Probably the most famous jazz album of all time – and almost certainly the best-selling, Kind of Blue represented a new direction for Miles Davis, as he discarded the complex chord progressions of hard bop for something different: improvisations based on scales, or “modal” jazz. The result is an album of gentle, evocative numbers that influenced not only the jazz scene but other genres like rock and classical. Ever the innovator, Davis later abandoned Kind of Blue’s laid-back style, regarding it as a product of its time that no longer moved him.
Standout tracks: “So What”, “All Blues”
Sigur Ros: Agaetis Byrjun (1999)
Before Iceland’s Sigur Ros became the go-to band to soundtrack every Attenborough documentary they sat awkwardly on the edge of post-rock – but it was a genre that never seemed to fit them. There are elements of Agaetis Byrjun that qualify it for such categorisation – it sounds epic in the true meaning of the word, not what you say when you’ve just eaten a really nice biscuit – but if anything it’s more post-folk, like Mogwai with flutes, horns and an orchestra rather than delay pedals and a volume dial. It creaks, moans and soars with the sounds of the band’s near-Arctic home, and, without wanting to make it sound too much like some sort of hipster Enya record, there’s even a hint of whale song to Jonsi’s vocals. [TW]
Standout tracks: "Olsen Olsen", "Ny batteri", "Svefn-g-englar".
Neil Young: After The Gold Rush (1970)
Whether wrenching a feedback-drenched wall of noise from a battered Les Paul or strumming his way through a gentle countrified ballad, Neil Young has always been an artist who cares about sound quality: he favours releasing albums in Hi-Res formats like DVD-Audio and Blu-ray, and is about to launch Pono, a portable Hi-Res Audio player.
While you could argue for days about which of Young’s 40-odd LPs is the best, few offer as complete a picture of his range as a songwriter than After The Gold Rush, an all-killer-no-filler record offering mournful piano ballads (the title track and “Birds”), down-home sing-alongs (“Cripple Creek Ferry”) and angry axe-wielding stompers (“Southern Man”).
There are several versions of this album available, all of which sound wonderful, but a forthcoming Blu-ray reissue with 24-bit/192kHz versions of the songs may end up being the reference edition.
Standout tracks: “After The Gold Rush”, “Southern Man”, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”
Radiohead: OK Computer (1997)
At the start of 1997 Britpop was on a life support machine. By the end of the year two albums had killed it completely: the bloat-rock of Oasis’s Be Here Now and OK Computer. While the former represented everything bad about alternative music in the ‘90s, the latter was a sign of better things to come. OK Computer is the record that caught Radiohead right on the cusp of the experimentation that would produce Kid A, and marries it with the kind of choruses that would have 90,000 fans singing every word back at the band from in front of Glastonbury's Pyramid stage that summer.
Standout tracks: “Paranoid Android”, “Climbing Up the Walls”, “Lucky”
Prince: Sign o’ the Times (1987)
This double album is made up of castoffs from three aborted records, but Prince being Prince, a collection of odds and sods turned out to be a masterpiece and one of the 80s’ greatest LPs. As usual, Prince not only sings but plays many of the instruments, including programming the drum machines and samplers that play such a huge role in the record’s sound. On CD, it’s not widely regarded as the best-mastered of Prince’s records, but audiophiles should do their best to seek out the superb Japanese SHM-CD version (or the vinyl).
Standout tracks: “Sign ‘o the Times”, “U Got The Look”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”
The Congos – Heart Of The Congos (1977)
Few producers have been so innovative and influential as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and The Congos’ 1977 debut is without doubt his most consistently brilliant piece of work. Recorded at Perry’s Black Ark studio in Kingston, Jamaica, it’s a mind-altering blend of reverb-heavy rhythms laid down by the studio’s house band The Upsetters plus the perfectly matched harmonies of its three vocalists: tenor ‘Ashanti’ Roy Johnson, falsetto Cedric Myton and baritone Watty Burnett. Somehow, Perry recorded it on an ageing four-track, but you’d never know it from the lush “Fisherman” or “Open Up The Gate”, with the producer using found sounds and a battery of tricks to create the effect he was after. Roots reggae at its finest. [MM]
Standout tracks: “Open Up The Gate”, “Fisherman”
Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975)
Pink Floyd is probably regarded as the archetypal band for audiophiles: prog rock giants serving up complex and immaculately produced albums full of lengthy songs. And never more so than on Wish You Were Here, an album that features only five tracks but runs well over 40 minutes. The whole album is essentially a tribute to Floyd’s founding member and creative tinderbox Syd Barrett, whose heavy use of psychedelic drugs had led to him stepping away from the band and society in general. Even if noodly prog isn’t your thing, it’s an album that will give your speakers or headphones a full body workout.
Standout tracks: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, “Wish You Were Here”
Jeff Buckley: Grace (1994)
David Bowie considers Grace to be the greatest album ever made, and while we won’t go that far it’s hard to see it as anything other than an excellent record from a singer-songwriter at the peak of his powers: his tenor voice is faultless and the songs, whether his own or covers, are memorable. It’s a beautifully well recorded album too: play it on decent equipment and Buckley could almost be singing in your living room.
Standout tracks: “Hallelujah”, “Last Goodbye”, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”
Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
Thriller’s cultural and commercial significance is well documented, but Michael Jackson’s masterpiece is also one of the best-recorded and most immaculately produced albums of the 1980s. Producer Quincy Jones and Jackson enjoyed (or perhaps endured) a strained relationship during the making of Thriller, and every track was painstakingly remixed (a week was spent on each song) because neither was happy with the initial recordings. The hard work resulted in a record that blended disco, soul, rock and R&B and a template that would inform pop music for the next 20-plus years. Oh, and it's comfortably the best-selling album of all time.
Standout tracks: “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”
Massive Attack: Mezzanine (1998)
Trip hop pioneers Massive Attack had already established themselves as Britain’s best-known proponents of what the Americans call “electronica” when they dropped Mezzanine, initially as a legal MP3 download on their website (they were among the first major acts to embrace digital distribution) and later as a physical release. Despite the Bristol trio apparently hating each other’s guts during the making of the album it’s a prime example of a record which uses ambient sounds to create rich texture, depth and atmosphere. The trade-off is perhaps a lack the hookier songs that loomed large on previous Massive Attack albums, but when a new direction results in songs like “Teardrop”, we’re definitely on board. An LP you should play loud on headphones on dark, moody nights.
Standout tracks: “Teardrop”, “Angel”, “Inertia Creeps”
Underworld – Second Toughest in the Infants (2015)
If you’ve still got Underworld pegged as that laddish ‘lager, lager’ band from Trainspotting, it’s time to acquaint yourself with their classic fourth album. Far from being packed with banging techno anthems, it seamlessly blends various flavours of downbeat electronica with Karl Hyde’s meditative poetry. The result is brilliantly paced masterpiece that has aged even better than Ewan ‘Peter Pan’ McGregor.
Fans of the original will appreciate the remastered version’s cleaner sound and bolstered bass, along with the inclusion of dozens of remixes from the same fertile period. But though these rarities show Underworld to be more than capable of a big single, it’s ‘Second Toughest…’ that showed that rave music could be just as comfortable being atmospheric and reflective.
Slint - Spiderland (2014)
When Kentucky's Slint released Spiderland in 1991 it sounded so far removed from the music Pearl Jam, Guns 'n' Roses et al were making (despite using exactly the same instruments) reviewers started calling the album post-rock.
So sparse you can almost hear the empty space in the studio, with sinister rhythms and hushed, spoken-word vocals, each track is more like a chapter in a book than a song. 25 years later it still sounds totally fresh and like nothing else ever recorded.
Phil Collins - Hello, I Must Be Going (2016)
There are people who will tell you that Phil Collins’ music is without merit. That he’s a miserable bugger who ruined Genesis after Peter Gabriel left. That any love for his music is a sign of psychosis - after all, Patrick Bateman was a huge fan. These people are all wrong.
Hello, I Must Be Going is a flawless pop record, full of tracks with sparkling, rhythmic exteriors that contain deep, sometimes dark lyrical stories. The remastered version cleans everything up further, polishing what was already pretty much pop perfection. Or maybe we're just psychotic.
Love – Forever Changes (2015)
On the face of it Love’s Forever Changes sounds like just another pleasantly psychedelic folk record from the late ‘60s. But listen closely to Arthur Lee’s lyrics and there’s an undercurrent of menace, like the musical equivalent of a David Lynch movie.
Whether it’s the bad trip of A House Is Not a Motel, the squealing guitar on Live and Let Live, or the hints at indiscriminate incarceration and slaughter on The Red Telephone, Forever Changes is a subversive, surreal record. The Morricone-esque blast of brass midway through Alone Again Or is almost worth the admission price alone.
My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves (2016)
Tinkering with an album that’s loved partly for its raw, live sound can be a dangerous game, but My Morning Jacket get the balance right on this remixed version of their fan favourite. Sure, the the guitars are crunchier and the reverby vocals more prominent, but it still feels like you’re in a sweat-drenched bar listening to classic rockers on top form.
Fittingly for an album that celebrates the no frills approach, the reissue also has original acoustic demos that sound like they were recorded in the band’s kitchen. Even if you’re not a big enough ‘MMJ’ fan to appreciate those, it’s still worth treating your new hi-fi or headphones to one of the noughties’ best records.
Isis - Panopticon (2014)
Panopticon is a record that sounds like it was unearthed rather than recorded, forged between two tectonic plates or found pressed into the fossilised remains of a Supersaurus. Wherever it came from the album was remastered in 2014 (10 years after its original release and four years after the band split up) and it’s never been more earth-shakingly heavy.
Everything on it sounds massive, with Aaron Turner’s vocals buried somewhere deep in the middle, like he’s bellowing from the bottom of a collapsing sinkhole.
Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible (2014)
Less an album and more an hour-long exercise in pain and suffering, The Holy Bible is nonetheless one of the outstanding, er, albums of the past 30 years. Written almost entirely by the band’s creative heartbeat Richey Edwards and released mere months before his eventual disappearance, it places such laugh-a-minute subjects as anorexia, prostitution and the holocaust against a backdrop of raw guitars and unflinching samples. Not an easy listen, then, but undeniably an essential one.