This is an AMAZINGLY well-recorded album, with huge amounts of open studio space and that Tubey Magical, rich, fat, dense British Rock Sound. That sound isn’t easy to reproduce, but this copy absolutely nails it. Nothing else in our shootout came close to it!
If you have big speakers and the room to play them, this is quite the sonic tour de force. Credit Hugh Padgham, producer and engineer, who’s worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Genesis, The Police, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Those bands make the kind of music that make good use of Padgham trademark sound: wall-to-wall, deep, layered, smooth, rich and stuffed to the gills. XTC with Padgham’s help have here produced a real steamroller of an album in English Settlement.
The big hit on this album is one that most audiophiles will probably know: Senses Working Overtime. Even over the radio you can hear how dense the production is. Imagine what it sounds like on an original British pressing with Hot Stampers, played on a modern audiophile rig. Simply put, IT ROCKS.
What We Listen For
For Big Production Rock Albums such as this there are some obvious problem areas that are often heard on at least one or two sides of practically any copy of this four sided album.
With so many heavily-produced instruments crammed into the soundfield, if the overall sound is at all veiled, recessed or smeared — problems common to 90+% of the records we play in our shootouts — the mix quickly becomes opaque, forcing the listener to work too hard to separate out the elements of interest. Exhaustion, especially on this album, soon follows.
Transparency, clarity and presence are key. Note that none of the British copies we played was thin and anemic. (The domestic copies are made from dubs and can’t begin to compete.) Almost all had plenty of tubey magic and bottom end, so thankfully that was almost never a problem. They did however tend to lack top end extension and transparency, and many were overly compressed. The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this complex music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music.
We’re Big Fans
If you love Big Production Rock, exemplified by the work of Ambrosia, Yes, Supertramp, ELP, Jethro Tull and others too numerous to name, this album should be quite an experience. Over the course of a long day — four sides for each of about ten copies is a big job, trust me — we grew to really like this band. Their music is sophisticated and innovative, with attention to detail second to none. Add top quality musicianship — the drummer was a real standout on practically every side — and you have an album that will reward repeated listenings for many years to come. And really put your system to the test to boot.