Armed Forces is one of the best sounding rock records ever made. The hottest copies have unbelievably punchy, rock-solid bass and drums.
Sonic Grade: D
I’m embarrassed to say we used to like the Rhino Heavy Vinyl version, and in our defense let me tell you why: it was (for the most part) tonally correct, fairly low distortion, and had tight punchy bass.
Boy, Was We Ever Wrong. Now it sounds positively CRUDE and UNPLEASANT next to the real thing — if by “the real thing” you mean an honest to goodness properly mastered, properly pressed copy (also known as a Hot Stamper). Kevin Gray’s crude cutting system did this album no favors.
The average copy of this record is aggressive and unpleasant. The British pressings are mud.
You either have to work very hard to find a good domestic pressing (which means buying, cleaning and playing lots and lots of them), or you have to luck into a good one by accident. (more…)
TRUST is one of my favorite Elvis Costello albums, along with the first album, My Aim Is True, which is every bit as good. Armed Forces is up there too. I wouldn’t want to be without all three on my desert island.
I remember loving the sound of my old Brit copy from twenty years back, even to the point of agreeing with Michael Fremer when he put it on his top 40 rock album list. Now I know better: that most of them leave something to be desired, especially down low.
Did I have good one? Does he? Who can say? Everything is different, and revisiting old sonic favorites can sometimes be a bit of a shock. (Of course this is especially true for all the old MoFis I used to like. Now most of them make me wonder just how clueless I used to be. The short answer: very clueless.)
Elvis: Still The King
By the way, we played a domestic copy of this album, just for fun you might say, and sure enough, it was a real mess. Boosted highs, poor bass definition and copious amounts of grit and grain — ’70s Columbia at their best, what else is new? The first album and Spike (decent, far from the best but enjoyable) are the only Elvis records I know of that sound good on domestic vinyl. Forget the rest.
If you love Elvis Costello as much as we do around here, we suggest you do yourself a favor and trash your domestic LPs — you need a British copy to even get in the ballpark, and that’s far from a guarantee of good sound. Elvis is “Still the King,” but you would never know it without the right pressing.
- With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, this early UK pressing will show you just how good sounding Elvis’s Best Recording can be
- Some of the biggest, boldest rock sound ever recorded
- A Top 100 Demo Disc, and just amazing here – every track is Elvis at this best
- 5 stars: “In contrast to the stripped-down pop and rock of his first two albums, Armed Forces boasted a detailed and textured pop production… However, the more spacious arrangements — complete with ringing pianos, echoing reverb, layered guitars, and harmonies — accent Costello’s melodies… It’s a dense but accessible pop record and ranks as his third masterpiece in a row.”
Armed Forces is one of the best-sounding rock records ever made, and a copy like this is proof enough to back up that claim. The best copies are extremely transparent and silky sounding, but with unbelievably punchy, rock-solid bass and drums.
I would say the sound of the rhythm section of this album ranks up there with the very best ever recorded. Beyond that, the musical chops of this band at this time rank with the very best in the history of rock. Steve, Bruce and Pete rarely get the credit they deserve for being one of the tightest, liveliest backing bands ever to walk into a studio or on to a stage.
The song Oliver’s Army on the first side is a perfect example of what we’re talking about. Rock music doesn’t get much livelier than that. Skip on down to Green Shirt for another track that’s as punchy as they come.
Virtually every other pressing of this record I’ve ever played sounds pale and washed out compared to the good British early pressings. It almost makes you wonder what happened to the tape; it seems as if this tape wasn’t used to make any records after this batch was pressed, it’s that big of a difference! (We have found surprisingly good British second pressings before but they are never competitive with the likes of these early ones.) (more…)
- With a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy has Demo Disc sound guaranteed to knock you right out of your listening chair
- The clarity and transparency allow you to appreciate subtleties in the high end even when the bass and drums are really POUNDING – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- 5 stars: “…their most ambitious and eclectic album to date… Costello & the Attractions demonstrate their musical skill and savvy by essentially sticking to the direct sound of their four-piece band. In the process, they recorded, arguably, their most impressive album, one that demonstrates all sides of Costello’s songwriting and performing personality without succumbing to pretentiousness.”
This copy has The Big Sound that lets this music REALLY ROCK. There’s a TON of low-end on this record; regrettably, most copies suffer from either a lack of bass or a lack of bass definition. I can’t tell you how much you’re missing when the bass isn’t right on this album. It’s without a doubt THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT of the sound on this album.
When the bass is right, everything falls into place, and the music comes powerfully to life. When the bass is lacking or ill-defined, the music seems labored; the moment-to-moment rhythmic changes in the songs blur together, and the band just doesn’t swing the way it’s supposed to. (more…)
STUNNING! This insanely good pressing earned the rare FOUR PLUS (A++++) grade on side one — it’s OFF THE CHARTS! Side two is incredible as well, earning our standard top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) The sound is incredibly lively, punchy, and powerful; with all due respect, it should MURDER whatever copies you may have. Relatively quiet for this album, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus on both sides.
We award this copy’s side one our very special Four Plus A++++ grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea could even exist. We estimate that less than one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.
This is an amazing album, but a pressing like this takes it to a whole new level! The average copy of this record is aggressive and unpleasant. You either have to work very hard to find a good one (which means buying, cleaning and playing lots and lots of them), or you have to luck into a good one by accident.
- An incredibly good UK pressing – only the second Shootout Winner to hit the site in many years, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
- Big, lively and dynamic, with huge amounts of bass (Elvis’s trademark sound) and New Wave energy that’s off the charts
- Get Happy, coming right before the brilliant Trust, contains Elvis classics like I Can’t Stand Up (for Falling Down) & Motel Matches
- The AMG Five Star rating “…a 20-song blue-eyed soul tour-de-force…” and killer recording quality make this a Must Own for Elvis fans
Two amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sides for this rip-roarin’, twenty song, five star rated Elvis Costello extravaganza!
This is the record that came right after Armed Forces, which is a huge favorite around these parts, and the venerable All Music Guide gives both albums five big stars. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but it’s certainly full of good material. Out of the twenty songs on here, exactly one clocks in at over three minutes. (more…)
My notes for the one and only UK pressing I’ve played in many years, the one with Porky is the dead wax, say:
- Really loud and full
- Too loud and hot vocal
- Strains a lot
You know what the sound of this record reminds me of?
An old 45.
It’s not unusual for 45 RPM singles from back in the day to be very loud, very compressed, often with hot vocals that jump right into your lap.
Mono mixes sometimes have some of that same lowest-common-denominator sound. This mix is stereo but it sounds like it’s coming right out of a jukebox.
No doubt Mr. Peckham was told to make the record sound that way, and he did his job very well.
But audiophiles looking for good sound should heed my warning and avoid the UK LPs of the album. It’s a joke next to the domestic pressings with the right stampers. (more…)
- This STUNNING copy of Costello’s debut album earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides
- The sound is lively, punchy, and powerful – with all due respect, it should MURDER whatever copies you may have
- A massive step up sonically from most domestic pressings, early or otherwise, and guaranteed to handily beat the imports as well
- 5 stars: “A phenomenal debut, capturing a songwriter and musician whose words were as rich and clever as his music.”
Yes, it’s lively and has that driving punk rock bass, but what sets this copy apart from the average pressing is the top end — it’s silky and smooth. As a consequence, the vocals end up being more present and transparent than we’re used to, with almost none of the grit and spit so common to most of the copies anyone is ever likely to come across. (more…)
- With Triple Plus (A+++) sound or something close to it on both sides this is as good a copy as we have ever offered
- Geoff Emerick engineered, creating a unique sound – a sound which only works if you have the right pressing
- This dense, darkly serious album contains some of the best songs EC ever wrote – the last of his True Classics
- Allmusic 5 Stars: “Essentially, the songs on Imperial Bedroom are an extension of Costello’s jazz and pop infatuations on Trust. Costello’s music is complex and intricate, yet it flows so smoothly, it’s easy to miss the bitter, brutal lyrics.”
Six of Elvis’s first seven albums received a Five Star rating from Allmusic, the exception being Almost Blue, and we generally would agree with that assessment (although Get Happy should probably get Four Stars also, not Five).
Which is to say that Elvis Costello is a brilliant artist whose albums work as albums, a fact that is in danger of being lost in a world of single song downloads and greatest hits packages. We record-playing audiophiles are inclined to start at the beginning of a side and let if flow through to the end, and that is clearly the best way to appreciate and enjoy the work of this very gifted man.