Best Ever Face to Face ?

Ed. note: I'm posting this from the Narita airport in Tokyo. For some reason I cannot load the usual album review page so I can't list credits and music and sound ratings here the usual way. Here are the credits:

Produced by: Shel Talmy
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Kevin Gray at Cohearent Mastering

Music: 9
Sound: 8

The fourth Kinks album was the first on which Ray Davies removes his hard rock shell. It’s clear in retrospect that many artists from the ‘60s rock era were rocking only because that’s what the times demanded.

Ray Davies was one of them. The Kinks’ hard rock songs like “All Day and All Night” and You Really Got Me” are among the best of the era, supercharged by brother Dave’s guitar and his slashed speaker cone amplifier. While Ray slowed things down with “Set Me Free” and “Tired of Waiting”, those were also powerful mid-tempo rockers with great hooks.

However, as soon as Ray could, he moved on to more adult observational fare with a music hall feel, though it’s also true that around the same time The Beatles went from “he/she” to social commentary.

While the earlier Kinks albums packed a few hits, some great originals that weren’t singles, and a bunch of covers, Face to Face was the first Kinks album of all Ray originals. His wry sense of humor was all over the record too, and he approached the subject matter from a decidedly mature, adult perspective, though he’d begun that approach earlier with “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “Well Respected Man” and “Sunny Afternoon” (on this album), which was a number one hit in the UK, proving The Kinks could be hit makers minus the hard rock.

Face to Face wasn’t exactly a “concept album”, but it did have a loosely fitting theme of observational songs about people, mostly in turmoil. Ray enjoyed observing and commenting on the upper class, especially when he could tear down the façade of happiness to expose the bleak side, as on “Most Exclusive Residence For Sale”. “Dandy”, a hit for Herman’s Hermits, gently mocks clothes horse superficiality and “Session Man” goes after hired musical guns, though the album uses “Nick” Hopkins on keyboards, who added plenty to the proceedings.

There’s not a weak tune on the album and all of them hold up well almost fifty years later, including the humorous ones like “Party Line” and the almost throw away “Holiday in Waikiki”, but the real stand-outs are the dark songs “Too Much On My Mind” and especially the drone-like “Fancy”, which might be the album’s deepest cut.

Producer Shel Talmy was never known for deep pocket spending on record production or anything more than straight forward getting the tune on tape and getting out and for the longest time I thought of these as “el cheapo” productions with not much sonically to recommend but over time that view has changed especially with these new re-masters by Kevin Gray from the original Pye mono tapes (this album was never mixed to stereo though there are original fake stereo versions issued by both Pye and in America by Reprise—stay away from those!).

I compared this reissue to an original UK red label Pye mono pressing and to an early 1990’s gray mono Pye pressing. The earlier pressings sound similar. The new cut by Kevin Gray is much better! There’s no doubt about it. It’s far more transparent, spacious and harmonically complete. The bottom end is both more extended and more detailed. On the opening track drummer Mick Avory does some speedy kick drum double time that I’d not before heard so deeply and cleanly rendered.

More importantly, I’d always thought of this album as “okay sounding” but it’s much better than that on this reissue. First play “Fancy” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

The Kinks Katalog has been messed up since forever, with a slew of reissues and hits compilations sourced from who knows what? Now we have a chance to get them all, cut by one of the great mastering engineers working today, sourced from the original master tapes and well-pressed too.

For Kinks fans, this is it. Who knows how long these will remain in print. I’m buying them all!

COMMENTS
recordhead's picture

Got all four from Pop Market yesterday in the mail. The vinyl looks like dirty streetwalker vinyl put played dead quiet. Until I got to Face To Face. There is a deep 1/4 inch long scratch that starts in the lead in groove that pops really loud for the first few rotations of music. I have nothing to compare these mono versions to but they sound great!

Michael Fremer's picture
Sometimes the lacquer has physical issues that impart an unusual look to the finished pressing but doesn't "play". A scratch is a scratch unfortunately...
Bobsblkwax's picture

This has a true stereo mix. The earlier two are fake stereo.

Michael Fremer's picture
Who mixed it and when? And who issued it? I've never seen it.
Bobsblkwax's picture

stereo mixes sound mostly mono, but there are subtle differences. The telephone in Party Line is hard left. The harpsichord in Session Man is hard right. The thunder at the beginning of Rainy Day In June is panned from left to right. These are at the beginnings of each of these songs, so maybe the engineer who did the stereo mix wanted to have some fun. Nonetheless, it has stereo effects and can't be considered fake or rechannelled stereo in my book anyway.

vogelzang's picture

You mean a true stereo mix exists? As we all know, Shel Talmy mixed The Who's "My Generation" to true stereo but didn't release it until 2012. Is that what we are referring to?

rumba's picture

Face was definitely released in true stereo. Bought my UK Pye copy in 69. It's sibilant as hell but has more life to me than the new mono KG issue on first listen. But the tape was 50 years younger. The new KG sounds really good.

Michael Fremer's picture
I have the original UK Pye "stereo" too, and I don't think it's "true stereo". I think the sibilance is the result of the mono tape manipulation to produce a fake stereo mix. i will have to listen with headphones to be sure, but I think that 'life' is really added reverb plus "phasiness". in any case I prefer the mono by a wide margin. Funny thing about "fake stereo"! There's a "stereo" version of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" recorded at Gold Star, where Phil Spector did all of his great monos. If you listen to it through speakers, you'd SWEAR it was stereo. The wind instrument (oboe? clarinet?) is clearly in the left channel and other instruments right. There's real separation or seems to be. I wrote about it. Someone who should know emailed to say there never as a true stereo mix even though I heard one. I put on some headphones and damn, there was no real separation. I don't know what tricks they used to manipulate the mono to sound like real stereo, but through speakers it did...through headphones, not so much!
Bobsblkwax's picture

doesn't sound different except for the solo instruments at the beginning of the songs I mentioned. It is as if whoever did the stereo mix.just used a fader hard left or right at the beginning of the songs to make it sound like stereo at first. I guess he panned the thunder left to right as well. I have both versions so I'll listen again tomorrow and check back.

Bobsblkwax's picture

OK, I think this is what is going on; there is no "true stereo" mix of FTF. The guy that did the stereo master just had the mono tape to work with, so he added the usual reverb and phasey stuff. Then he faded parts of the beginnings and endings of about 6 or 7 songs to one channel to give a stereo effect. It was only for a few seconds when there was an isolated instrument (or telephone) but then the rest of the song was reprocessed stereo. Interesting that my old Goldmine record price guide lists the stereo version as "P" for partial stereo instead of "S" for stereo. So, I suppose you could say that this is a hybrid. But, I have to say that hearing Fancy with the extra reverb gives it a surreal experience. The reprocessed effects are not as pronounced to me as some of the more common botch jobs that have been done. My 2C.

John M Roberts's picture

I just got my new copy of Face to Face the other day. Only one listen, but it was clearly mono.
After reading comments about "true stereo", I put it on, and used my headphones to check for the stereo effects. I don't know what version Bobsblkwax is referring to,but its not this new Kevin Gray pressing-straight mono beginning to end.

rumba's picture

We were referencing Michael's comment that Face was originally released in mono and fake stereo. The new KG reissue is the mono mix.

rumba's picture

Michael,
Fancy would be a good one to check. Sure sounded like stereo to me when last heard. I'm unable to check it myself as I'm away from hi fi land today. Plus it's probably the best sounding track on the album. Let us know what you find.

rpsssound's picture

Is this review referring to the Sanctuary releases that just came out in June?
Just want to be sure I don't purchase the wrong reissues.
So the only ones mastered by KG are: Kinks, Kinda Kinks, The Kink Kontroversy and Face to Face?

LazyOldSun's picture
SimonH's picture

On Amazon UK they show the LP's coming out in December 2014 on Sanctuary, June 2015 as Imports (I assume the US pressings you are discussing) and then unpcoming in July on Sony - boy am I unsure.

Billf's picture

I bought Face to Face on reel to reel in the 60s. It's real (not reprocessed stereo), but only marginally. Kinks expert Doug Hinman characterizes it well in his comprehensive Kinks reference book, You Really Got Me:
"Seemingly little attention was paid to the stereo mix as there is only very slight stereo imaging in the recordings, principally the sound effects at the start of some dongs, with some tracks being in mono only, even on the stereo edition."
Great album, though. Many days it's my favorite by the group.

Bobsblkwax's picture

I guess that's why it doesn't sound that processed to me. May be my favorite too. The first truly great Kinks album. It deserves a "10" if not "11".

Billf's picture

Songs. No dongs.

mauidj's picture

for the review Michael.
Just ordered them all from Amazon.
As a London lad growing up in the 60's I had all the original records which were played to death, all day and all of the night, on my Dansette changer. I can't wait to hear these new ones on a real rig.
This is what reissues should be about. A great mastering engineer working with the original tapes. Everybody's gonna be happy :-)

green circles's picture

The stereo mix is real, not sure why there's even a debate going on about it. Some tracks have vocals left, instruments center-to-right. The songs with added effects (thunder, ocean waves) pan them left to right throughout the song.

Like most stereo/mono comparisons, the mono mix is more cohesive, but the stereo mix opens the sound up and is definitely worth hearing.

The stereo and mono mixes are both included in the CD deluxe edition from 2011.

mauidj's picture

I have the Deluxe CD version and don't see any stereo mixes on it. (Actually got it as a download when I purchased the new vinyl from Amazon) It has 2 discs and there are all the mono mixes and some demos..35 tracks in all. Are there different deluxe editions?

green circles's picture

Not sure what Amazon gave you for download. The version I'm talking about is the two disc deluxe version that came out in 2011. Disc one is the mono mix plus monos bonus tracks. Disc 2 is the stereo mix, plus stereo bonus cuts.

Anyway I only mention all of this because the true stereo mix is hard to find on vinyl, but it's easy to pick up on CD. I'm pretty sure amazon.uk still carries the deluxe edition.

Michael Fremer's picture
Sound "stereo"? I only played a few on my original Pye red label stereo and they sounded like mono---lousy mono compared to the original mono or the new reissued mono. Which tracks exhibit instrumental separation?
empirelvr's picture

The biggest problem with the stereo mix is that the final multitrack is most likely a three track with one track vocals, one track complete backing track, and one track used exclusively for sound effects and occasional keyboard overdub. So there probably wasn't much to work with in creating a good, satisfying stereo mix. I'd guess in an effort to not have an ultra-wide "Beatles stereo" mix, or to avoid completely rechannelling the album, the songs that were mixed for stereo had the backing and vocal tracks panned *almost* mono. But only almost. On a good setup (either LP or CD...the first PRT CD reissue in the mid 1980's was stereo) you should be able to discern the slight panning and discrete stereo reverb.

If you take the tracks and digitally "widen" them (using Adobe Audition for example) or use a mode control that can exaggerate the left-minus-right content of the signal (like the APT preamp of decades ago used) you can pull the mix apart making the separation extremely obvious. (Personally I ripped my original PRT CD, widened it in Sony Sound Forge and made my own "more-obviously-stereo" version of the album on CD-R.)

Song by song (and going by memory at the moment:)

1. Party Line - The phone ringing and salutation in the intro are hard panned. The rest of the song is straight mono.

2. Rosie Won't You Please Go Home - true, though narrow stereo. Backing track slightly right of center, lead vocal slightly left of center. A lot of stereo reverb which helps make the separation a bit more discernible.

3. Dandy - same as above

4. Too Much On My Mind - same as above except the keyboard also has it's own subtle discrete place in the mix.

5. Session Man - The harpsichord intro is panned very hard to one side in the intro, then pulled back during the song in a mix very similar to the previous track.

6. Rainy Day In June. True stereo. Narrowly panned vocal and backing track, with stereo reverb and the storm effects "traveling" from channel to channel throughout the song.

7. House In The Country - Mono with stereo reverb and a subtle panning to one side during the guitar solo and back again after it's finished.

8. House in Waikiki - Narrow stereo except the two drum tracks which have the most (music) separation in the whole album aside from the intros and sound effects. This makes the song perhaps the most "wide" mix on the album. The separation is most apparent near the end when one of the drum tracks drops out.

9. Most Exclusive Residence For Sale - This is the only song I'm on the fence about. Memory tells me it is either stereo with the most narrow mix on the album or flat out mono. (My least favorite track on the LP which I usually skip. That explains my indecisiveness about it.)

10. Fancy - Narrow stereo mix as most above.

11. Little Miss Queen Of Darkness - Narrow stereo with the stereo reverb accentuating the separation especially during the intro with the thigh slaps and the later drum solo. It is also the song that has the most differences between its stereo and mono mix.

12. You're Looking Fine - Narrow stereo with accentuated stereo reverb like many of the above songs.

13. Sunny Afternoon - Straight out mono.

14. I'll Remember - Straight out mono.

green circles's picture

Yikes I don't want to dig my CD out, but I remember the stereo mix being actual stereo (with a few tracks like Sunny Afternoon more or less mono). I know the effects would pan left to right throughout songs, not just during intros, and vocals were pushed to the left. It wasn't super wide stereo, but it also wasn't that out-of-phase-widescreen-mono-fog that you hear with re-processed fake stereo mixes.

Andrew Sandoval and Dan Hersch seem like smart guys, if the stereo mix was just a re-jiggered mono I doubt they would have included it in the reissue series.

gubarenko's picture

With all these talks that someone bought fake stereo and not mono versions - i'm reposting links to correct editions that we are talking about.

1) Kinks
2) Kinda Kinks
3) The Kink Kontroversy
4) Face to Face

jpg r's picture

my oldest copies are the usa reprise editions. i have 2 of prt's 80's release...uk pressing and german. and the sanctuary double (mono&stereo) that uni released in 2011. i got the new version due to reading this blog. i played it last night...i thought it was very low-key, not much impact. then i played the prt uk version. much more dynamic and punch. the way an old 60's rock album should sound. maybe the new version is slightly more refined , but at the expense of losing its r&r sound. so it goes in the trading bin.

jpg r's picture

just to clarify....the prt reissues are green and red

Bigrasshopper's picture

I picked up Face to Face, Kontroversy and Kinda, but not their first and played them in that order. The only thing I have to add on initial impressions is that the drive and presence of the sound got better as I listened to the next earlier album. The comparisons to the Beatles monos was becoming more undeniable, sonically, greater drive and musically. And from time to time Davies seemed to transform into a sort Marc Bolin sort of sound, but that's just me. My first and only copies, glad to have them.

Chundry's picture

Were these reissues produced with an all analogue chain? AAA?

Superfuzz's picture

http://www.cohearent.com/our-system/

It's well known that Kevin is one of the best all-analog vinyl mastering engineers working today... And he's always tight lipped about sources used (I emailed him once and asked about the source of a record he cut... he wouldn't say, saying clients don't want him talking about sources. I understand). So if he says he's gotten permission to reveal that the sources were analog tapes, you better believe it's the truth. There's no need to cut using a digital delay when you have Studer tape machines with preview heads. Anyhow I've heard 3 of these new reissues and they do sound great.

bongo-hifi's picture

I have checked Amazon UK and they have the same LP's reissued by Sony Music which come with a tell tale MP3 download code.
They also show slightly more expensive re-issued (2 Jun 15)versions of these LP's which are only described as "import" are these the KG remasters?

bongo-hifi's picture

correction to my previous comment, the MP3 download refers to Amazons "auto rip" and not a download code.

analogkid14's picture

I think this new release sounds terrific on my modest system. I don't have anything else to compare it to. I had a Reprise stereo pressing which I let go, it sounded like fake stereo to me, but I probably should have kept it , it had a pristine cover.

I have had problems with the vinyl quality. It took me four tries before I got one that was properly centered. But I am grateful that this is out; finding an original is really tough, and this probably sounds better anyway.

I have the Reprise monos of Greatest Hits and Kinks Kontroversy, with the pink/yellow/green Reprise labels. Nice !

I own the deluxe CD's, which are great. Some of the Best Kinks stuff were on b-sides and EP's, so having these is essential. Or get the box set that came out recently.

StevieG's picture

Does anyone know if this is the same version they are selling on Acoustic Sounds as being on the Sanctuary label? I enquired with Acoustic Sounds, but they did they usual shrugging and saying, if-it's-not on-our-site,-we-don't-know routine. Anyone know where I can get the version that Mike reviewed here?

Thanks!

Garbia's picture

I just bought these from local store in red vinyl. Really great sound and pressing too. Sanctuary/ Sony BMG versions in UK released July 24th.

musicesq's picture

Michael:

Are your familiar with these and have you heard them and speak to how this UK FTF comperes to the new Sanctuary (via Sony Legacy) reissue/

"The Kinks jump on board for Record Store Day 2012 with three vinyl reissues; classic albums 'Arthur' (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)', 'Face To Face' and 'Something Else', released April 21st on Universal. All 2-LP editions, these three vinyl reissues come with deluxe packaging ' with Mono and Stereo mixes ' and booklets designed by award winning art director Phil Smee, packed with rare and unreleased images from the era. Each reissue was re-mastered from original tapes by Kinks archivist Andrew Sandoval and is limited to 500 copies in the UK, all of which are individually numbered."

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