Jackson Browne – The Pretender

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  • STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides, making this a Pretender that rocks like no other!
  • One of the all time great rock / pop Demo Discs — the best copies are so rich and full-bodied they make most rock records sound positively anemic
  • Five Stars in Rolling Stone, one of their Top 500 Albums, and a true classic from 1976
  • Without a doubt the best sounding record Jackson Browne ever made – this is the pressing that backs up everything we say and more

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 kills the famous MoFi pressing.

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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 the best sides of The Pretender have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
  • 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 1976
  • 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

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.

Problems to Watch For

Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension that the best copies have.

You can easily hear that smear on the guitar transients; usually they’re a tad blunted and the guitar harmonics don’t ring the way they should.

These problems are just as common to the original Asylum pressings as they are to the later LPs. Smeary, veiled, top-end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception.

What We’re Listening For on The Pretenders

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitars, horns and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

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.

TRACK LISTING

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.