The Kinks – Sleepwalker

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Sleepwalker

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  • A superb copy of the Kinks triumphant return to the charts, with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side two and a solid Double Plus (A++) side one
  • It’s the first copy to hit the site in a year, and it plays on relatively quiet vinyl, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout 
  • The sound is full-bodied, lively and smooth – RL’s mastering contributes the big bottom end you want for this music
  • Juke Box Music represents Ray Davies’ fun and engaging pop sensibilities at their best
  • Rolling Stone raved that “The Kinks’ playing on Sleepwalker is easily their most powerful since ‘Lola.'”

We really enjoy the music of The Kinks here at Better Records, but most of the time the sound of their records is too mediocre (or worse) for serious audiophile listening. I love You Really Got Me as much as the next guy, but it’s insanely tough to find killer copies of old records like that. (Every now and then we manage, but regular visitors to the site know how infrequent that is.)

This album may not rank with Village Green or Arthur, but it’s well-recorded and there are a number of enjoyable tracks. After Muswell Hillbillies The Kinks recorded a number of weak concept albums, but Sleepwalker is a step back in the right direction. If you are a big Kinks fan, I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing what this album can do on a seriously good pressing.

This vintage Arista pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1977
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Folkie Pop Rock record: immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant); natural tonal balance (most copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule); good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful); spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space); and last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this sophisticated recording.

Here is a more comprehensive breakdown of what we were listening for when evaluating an album such as Sleepwalker.

Clarity and Presence

Many copies are veiled in the midrange, partly because they may have shortcomings up top, but also because they suffer from blurry, smeary mids and upper mids. With prominent acoustic guitars on practically every song, the dull, dead sounding pressings can’t begin to communicate the musical values of this superb recording.

With a real Hot Stamper the sound is so much more involving, and so is the music. You hear the breath in the voices, the pick on the strings of the guitars and mandolins — these are the things that allow us to suspend our disbelief, to forget it’s a recording we’re listening to and not living, breathing musicians.

Top End Extension

Most copies of this album have no extreme highs, which causes the guitar harmonics to be blunted and dull. Without extreme highs, the percussion can’t extend up and away from the other elements. Consequently, these elements end up fighting for space in the midrange and getting lost in the mix.

Transparency

Although this quality is related to the above two, it’s not as important overall as the one below, but it sure is nice to have. When you can really “see” into the mix, it’s much easier to pick out each and every instrument in order to gain more insight into the arrangement and the recording of the material.

Seeing into the mix is a way of seeing into the mind of the artist. To hear the hottest copies was to appreciate even more the talents of all the musicians and producers involved, not to mention the engineers.

Bass

No rock or pop record without good bass can qualify as a top quality Hot Stamper. How could it? Bass is the rhythmic foundation of the music, and who wants a pop record that lacks rhythm?

The best copies have prodigious amounts of fairly deep, note-like, well-controlled bass. If you have a high-fidelity full-range system, this is some serious Demo Disc Quality Pop Sound.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Life on the Road 
Mr. Big Man 
Sleepwalker 
Brother

Side Two

Juke Box Music 
Sleepless Night 
Stormy Sky 
Full Moon 
Life Goes On

Reviews

Critical reaction to the album was generally positive, an improvement on the band’s previous reception during their theatrical incarnation. Sleepwalker was lauded by Billy Altman of Rolling Stone, who said, “The Kinks’ playing on Sleepwalker is easily their most powerful since ‘Lola’.

In the UK, Allan Jones in Melody Maker praised the album, saying, that Sleepwalker “emphatically testifies to the dramatic artistic revival of Raymond Douglas Davies, whose supreme talents as a writer have been so distressingly overlooked during the first half of [the 1970s]. [Sleepwalker] really is the group’s strongest and most organised album in years.”

Wikipedia