Jethro Tull – Aqualung – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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Aqualung

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

OH YEAH! This Original Domestic Aqualung has TWO STUNNING SIDES that will MURDER the British Originals and make mincemeat out of any reissue! Folks, for hard rockin’, tubey magical, psychedelic ’60s analog, it just does not get much better than this album. Here’s a knockout copy that will bring the power of Aqualung to life right there in your living room. Side one rates A+++ and side two rates A++; both easily defeated our best Import pressings, including a handful of sides with 1U, 2U, and 3U stampers — the kind that go for big dollars on eBay no matter what they sound like. 

The British copies with the right stampers can sound amazingly rich and sweet, but they can’t ROCK like this copy — not a chance.

Side one has MASTER TAPE SOUND. More importantly, it has the kind of solid bottom end that is ESSENTIAL to this music sounding right. When Aqualung is rich and sweet, it’s a nice album, but when it can really rock, it is a BEAST! Few records get the entire Better Records crew bangin’ their heads and drumming on the tables the way the best side ones of Aqualung do, and a copy like this will really show you why.

Drop the needle on Mother Goose for some serious tubey magic. The sound of the flute and the guitars is OFF THE CHARTS. The drums are HUGE, punchy, and natural, and the immediacy of the vocals is amazing.

Side two is nearly as amazing — smooth and sweet, clean and clear, lively and dynamic. The openness and transparency allow you to separate the various parts and appreciate each musician’s contributions. You get airy flutes, tight bass, full-bodied vocals and real weight to the bottom end — a combination that you just can’t get from the average pressing or any heavy vinyl reissue. Play Locomotive Breath to see just how hard this copy rocks.

Hopeless Reviewers (Chapter 16,000)

Michael Fremer may think the new reissue is the ultimate pressing, but we sure don’t. By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out, you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)

More Fremer / Classic bashing? Of course! We take them to task at every turn when the opportunity presents itself — but not out of spite or vindictiveness (moi?!). We do it for the purest of reasons: as a service to you, dear customer. Where else can you turn for the straight scoop?

And unlike the reviewers, the forum posters and the audiophile man in the street, we offer more than just opinion. We offer the record that proves our case. If your pockets are deep enough, we will happily show you the difference between The Real Thing and The New Wannabe.

The Classic — 200 Grams Aren’t Enough to Hold the Whomp?

Is the New Classic really all that bad? Not at all; it’s actually pretty good for a Heavy Vinyl reissue, considering how dreadful most of them are. It’s tonally correct from top to bottom, with almost none of the boosted upper midrange vocal presence we have come to expect from Classic Records — the bad EQ that ruins so many great Zep albums for example.

But it suffers from two problems endemic to these modern remasterings from practically any label you can name: Lack of Ambience, and Lack of Whomp Factor.

Low Resolution

The lack of ambience is of course the most obvious. So many fine instrumental details simply go missing on most of these new pressings. The subtle harmonics of the gently strummed acoustic guitar at the opening of My God. The air in Anderson’s flute throughout the album. The snap to Dammond’s snare. And how about all the fuzz on Barre’s fuzzed out guitar on the song Aqualung? Sure, there’s guitar fuzz on the Classic, but there’s SO MUCH MORE on the real thing. When you hear it right, the sound of that guitar makes you really sit up and take notice of how amazing Barre’s solos are. (The guy is criminally underrated as both an innovator and technically accomplished guitarist.) The distortion is perfection and so is the playing. This is what a Hot Stamper is all about: more life, more energy, more character to the music, all brought about by better sound.

That Aqualung Feeling

The Classic is not a bad record. But it can’t ROCK. It lacks whomp. It’s clean and clear; it’s made from the real tape, of that I have no doubt. (That business about it being made from some special tape unique to this pressing is obviously a bunch of crap. Who besides Michael Fremer falls for that nonsense?)

Without real weight from about a hundred cycles down, the kind found only on the real thing (domestic, by the way; no import had it, a somewhat shocking finding), no matter how loud you play the new one, you can’t get that Aqualung feeling, the one you had when you first heard this music blasting out of your car radio or from your old JBLs. The music has no POWER on the new Classic.

I have to admit I liked it at first. I didn’t hear anything wrong with it. It was only when I started pulling out the good originals that it became clear what was missing. Most audiophiles will find the Classic acceptable for this very reason: they have nothing better to compare it to. The MOFI is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC not far ahead of it. The original Brits we played were pretty hopeless too: tubey magical but midrangy, bass-shy and compressed. A tough nut to crack? Not for Better Records!

The American Pressing Is Still King (or should that be President?)

Like we’ve noted so many times before, this British band, like many of their brethren, had their master tapes sent to America to make our much-maligned domestic pressings. I maligned them myself, wrongly I now realize. It takes an amazing stereo and a top quality Hot Stamper pressing to get this music to work its magic. If you are lucky enough to have those two things, you will not believe how good this album sounds, so much better than you ever thought possible. It’s not perfect, but with the right pressing you can hear why Anderson, his bandmates, the engineer and producer all thought they had put a real winner down on tape. They had, but it took us a long time to find a good LP and be able to play it right.

Big speakers? De Rigeur. (But you knew that I was going to say that.) It may be a cliche but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Surface Noise

I’m sure you already know that quiet copies are few and far between. This copy has a few problems, but it wasn’t enough to keep us from falling in love with it. The second track on side one has a mark that makes fifteen light ticks, and the third track has ten moderate intermittent pops. On side two, there are ten light pops after the third track going into the fourth track. If this kind of thing bothers you, I don’t know if there’s a vinyl pressing of Aqualung on the planet that’s going to make you happy — they’re usually noisier than this, that’s for sure.