Capitol Delivers a Digital-Based Pet Sounds (REVISED REVIEW)
This is neither the time nor the place to extol the virtues of this classic album that has more than stood the test of time. You already know about it and perhaps own a copy or two. If you don't, then you can buy this new Capitol 180g reissue and be sure you have a competently produced, reasonably priced reissue, though clearly cut using a digital source that produces a record that's a thin, pale imitation when compared to earlier reissues.
The Brian Wilson classic, originally mixed in mono and issued in stereo on both CD (in a box set) and vinyl (separate LP), was meant to be heard in mono and that's the version Capitol wisely chose to reissue here.
Capitol doesn't say whether an analog or digital source was used as a mastering source but what really counts is the final sound, heretic as that might sound to some.
To find out how good this reissue was, I compared it to a pristine original Capitol issue, the 1971 Brother Records reissue produced for Warner Brothers, the Carl and The Passions twofer and Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray's 1995 DCC Compact Classics Edition as well as to the version included in the CD box set.
All of the vinyl reissues sounded superior to the original pressing, though pressing variability was far greater back then so it's difficult to know whether the copy I have is representative of what originally was issued. However, others with whom I spoke, who have original pressings, corroborated my findings: the original pressing is somewhat dark, closed in, a bit muffled and dynamically compressed compared to all of the reissues.
The Brothers/Warner Brothers reissue as well as the version on the Carl and the Passions twofer, are by far, the best sounding reissues in my opinion. They are the most open, exuberant and analogue-y. Of course they were cut when the master tape was but five years old, which gives them a major advantage over what came later.
There's more depth and space between instruments, which are presented with greater texture, transparency and dimensionality. For instance on 'God Only Knows,' the wood block that's passed through an echoplex or some other sort of delay unit available at the time has a sticky, round, three dimensional immediacy. You can hear the dimensionality and spaciousness provided by Western Studio's echo chamber. The mono image on 'I Know There's An Answer' is enormous and within that image the tambourines jump out and ring, the reedy sounding bass harmonica bellows with a visceral texture. You can hear the mix as well as the separate elements standing out as if they are literally irrepressible. But most of all what stands out is the speed of the attack and the length of the sustain and decay as Wilson adds elements to the mix.
There is a spectacular messiness about the whole thing, probably due, in part to the multitude of tracks and the sheer madness of the energy Wilson attempted to cram into the mix.
The new reissue is a far more pristine and orderly affair that's also dry, flat and boring. For instance on 'God Only Knows' the wood blocks are pretty good but not nearly as woody. All of the elements that assume individual spaces on the WB issue are packed into a flatter plane. On ' I Know There's An Answer' the tambourine doesn't have nearly the same texture, the bass harmonica doesn't vibrate your gut the same way, the tympani loses some of its majesty, the banjo loses the appropriate timber and what's especially noticeable is the flatness of the spatial plane and the lack of reverb 'hang time.'
It's easy to conclude that the record was cut using a digital source yet when I compared it to the box set's CD issue, the record sounded far more convincing. However, for some reason that's what I usually find when comparing LPs cut from digital sources with CDs probably made using that same source. 'Euphonic colorations?' Who cares?
Switching to the DCC Compact Classic Edition, you get a superb combination of clarity, spectacular detail, a big sonic space, great reverb 'hang time,' depth, visceral instrumental textures and depth-charge bass that's not overdone and extremely well-controlled but perhaps a bit rounder and fuller than Wilson originally intended but that's pure speculation.
So while I'd bet Capitol's new LP issue was sourced from digital, it does sound very good and better than the CD version. Perhaps it was sourced from high resolution digital or perhaps the LP cutting process adds just the right amount of 'coloration' to make it sound richer, fuller and more sonically satisfying, which it is. Still, it's a pale, thin and flat edition compared to the ones that are definitely analog.
If it was cut from digital do I wish it had been cut from analog? Of course. If it was cut from analog and I'm just wanking, well, if I find that out after the fact, I'll let you know! So since the DCC Compact Classic version is OOP and probably expensive if you can locate a copy and since the Carl and the PassionsSo Tough/Pet Sounds twofer and the WB single edition from 1972 is rare, this new Capitol issue is a good choice, particularly since the 180 gram pressing is absolutely perfect. My copy was dead quiet, flat perfection. My source at Capitol says Rainbo in L.A. pressed it. I hope all of their current 180 gram output is this good in terms of pressing quality.
I just wish Capitol had used an analog master tape because this "clean, pristine" reissue will most likely bore the shit out of you the way CDs usually do.
Yes, it's better sounding than the CD version but it shares all of CD's worst qualities: flat, dimensionless, tinny, textureless and emotionally stunted.
Anyone who's bought this and thinks it sounds good can only think so because they haven't heard one of the good reissues.
Capitol had an opportunity to produce sonic greatness and instead insults one of Brian Wilson's greatest recordings.