Jackson Browne / The Pretender – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

More of the Music of Jackson Browne

Amazing FOUR plus A++++ sound, so good we rated it beyond our usual top grade of Triple Plus. Without a doubt it’s the best sounding Jackson Browne record ever made, and this copy backs up everything we say and more.

Side one was super transparent, with breathy, present vocals. What really blew us away on this one is the sheer size and openness of the soundfield. We were so impressed that we went beyond our usual top grade of A+++, something we rarely do. But when a copy like this comes along and sets a new standard for an album’s sonic potential, there’s nothing else we CAN do!

Side two was every bit as good! Absolutely As Good As It Gets! Big and open, solid and rich, this one is doing absolutely everything we could ask it to. The soundstage is HUGE, and the transparency and separation between parts are stunning. If you’re looking for Demo Disc Jackson Browne sound, this is it.

Demo Disc Sound

This is one of the all time great rock / pop Demo Discs — the sound of the best copies is so rich and full-bodied it makes most other rock records sound positvely anemic. As I’m sure you know by now, especially if you own a copy or two, pressings of The Pretender don’t usually sound like Demo Discs. In fact, most copies of this record are mediocre at best — thin, grainy, and flat sounding.

This copy is none of those things. And it positively MURDERS the famous MoFi pressing. Click on the Aural Excitement tab above to read more on that subject.

Records We’ve Played Vs. Records We’ve Heard

Please note that we should but too often don’t make a vitally important distinction between two words we use interchangeably on the site. There is a difference between the sound of records that we’ve played and the sound that we’ve heard.

The stereo, the listening room, our cleaning technologies and who knows what else are all undergoing constant changes. This means that we may have played a better pressing in the past but couldn’t hear it sound as good as it does now. The regular improvements we make in all areas of playback make sonic comparisons over time all but meaningless.

With all that in mind, we have never heard a better copy of The Pretender, on either side.


Side One

The Fuse 
Your Bright Baby Blues 
Linda Paloma 
Here Come Those Tears Again

Side Two

The Only Child 
Daddy’s Tune 
Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate 
The Pretender 

Amazon Review

A songwriting prodigy since his teens, Jackson Browne had already reached a zenith in confessional writing with 1974’s Late for the Sky, a song cycle of his guitar and piano based anthems, reveries, and rockers, distilling themes of disillusionment, apocalypse, friendship, and fragile romances.

Teaming with Bruce Springsteen’s producer, Jon Landau, Browne himself clearly sought to up the ante with more epic settings, while Landau worked on pumping up the star’s vocal attack. But personal tragedy, in the suicide of his partner and mother of his young son, cast an unplanned shadow across these songs, giving The Pretender a darker, heartbroken edge and an authentic, scarred toughness.

Fatherhood, mortality, and resignation inform brilliant songs like “Your Bright Baby Blues” (featuring Lowell George’s plangent slide guitar and vocal counterpoint), “Here Come Those Tears Again” (with Bonnie Raitt), and the prayerful, desolate “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate,” but it’s the title tune that remains the haunting highlight.

A New Kind of Aural Excitement

In the recording of The Pretender a newly invented piece of electronics was used called the Aphex Aural Exciter. It harmonically “richened” the sound in interesting and some would say pleasing ways. It’s unquestionably a distortion, but a kind of distortion that most people like. When you play the MoFi pressing of The Pretender, you hear more of that Aphex Aural Excitement.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Here’s the $64,000 question: is MoFi’s supposedly better mastering revealing more of the Aphex sound already present on the tape, or is it adding its own distortions that mimic the Aphex distortions? It seems to me that in this case it’s clearly the latter.

Deja Vu on MoFi has that same thick sound. Where on earth did it come from? Is it just EQ? I’m not expert enough to know, but I do know this: Hot Stamper copies of The Pretender have more transparency and notably more clarity, while at the same time plenty of sweetness and smoothness, with less of that thick, blurry, overly-rich quality of the MoFi.

By the way, two other famous albums that use the Aphex Aural Exciter are James Taylor’s JT and the first two tracks of his Greatest Hits. I recommend them both highly.

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