- Big, spacious and clear, but also remarkably analog-sounding, with the kind of fullness and richness that’s so rare on records from this era
- “Holding Back the Years” was the big hit (#1), but what really sold me on the album was the band’s cover of The Talking Heads’ “Heaven” – not an obvious choice, and a truly inspired one
- 4 1/2 stars: “The band finds a steady R&B groove reminiscent of ’60s Stax house band the MG’s, and, as with the MG’s, it’s all in the service of a big-voiced soul singer, in this case a British redhead.”
- If you’re a fan of the band’s, this classic from 1985 belongs in your collection.
- The complete list of titles from 1985 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
Finally, Analog Sound for this wonderful music. The average copy of this album may sound like you’re playing a CD, but not this one. Here is the warmth and richness and depth you didn’t know you could find on Simply Red’s Masterpiece (assuming you were even looking).
That flat, opaque, dry CD sound that we all love to hate is nowhere to be found on this pressing.
The domestic pressings can be good, but they sure don’t sound like this killer import.
A recording from 1985 is unlikely to have the Tubey Magic and warmth of an old Columbia. Let’s be serious, the 1980s – unlike the three decades that preceded them — were not known for the naturalness of their recordings. A few would make our Top 100 list (Let’s Dance springs to mind) but the pool of available candidates is shallow, not wide and deep like that of the decades before, in which so many records sound so good we could not begin to squeeze them nto a list limited to merely one hundred. Two hundred would easily make the cut, maybe more.
For the ’80s, it would be hard to come up with even a dozen I should think. Which is neither here nor there. The record must stand or fall on its own merits, not those of other records from the same decade, and fortunately this one stands very tall, with A Triple Plus As Good As It Gets sound on side one and a side two that nearly reaches such rarefied sonic heights.
What the Best Sides of Picture Book 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 even as late as 1985
- 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.
The Best Sound
The recording has Real Dynamics. I actually used to demonstrate my stereo with “Sad Old Red.” At one point the sound really explodes, which has always had a strong appeal for me; that’s what live music does and that’s what I want my stereo to do. For thirty years I’ve avoided little boxes and screens and gone straight for the big dynamic speaker systems that can really show you the life that’s hiding in your recordings. That’s what the Revolutionary Changes in Audio commentary is all about — unlocking all the energy and excitement that a good LP has to offer.
“Holding Back the Years” also boasts superb sound. It may be the best track the band ever recorded, and it’s probably the one most everyone knows, but there are many here that are nearly as good. The cover of The Talking Heads’ “Heaven” (from Fear of Music) is out of this world.
By the way, if you love this band, check out A New Flame. It’s the only other consistently good album in their canon.
As for this particular copy, you will have a hard time doing better.
What We’re Listening For on Picture Book
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- 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, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Come to My Aid
Sad Old Red
Look at You Now
Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)
Holding Back the Years
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
The band finds a steady R&B groove reminiscent of ’60s Stax house band the MG’s, and, as with the MG’s, it’s all in the service of a big-voiced soul singer, in this case a British redhead. Features the U.S. number-one “Holding Back the Years” and the U.K. Top 20 “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention).”