Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Monday, April 20, 2009

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On and Let's Get It On--MFSL 180 gram vinyl

What's Going On (Numbered Edition)

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has just released two absolute classics from Marvin Gaye on 180 gram vinyl: What's Going On (1971) and Let's Get it On (1973) .

Mobile Fidelity continues to be one of the top producers of audiophile quality pressings and these releases are no exception. Both records arrived clean, flat and played flawlessly, with nary a pop or tick. The gatefold covers are made of heavy card stock and the vinyl is housed in Mofi's own anti-static rice paper sleeves.

Both of these releases are good quality releases-- and one is very, very good.

In 1971, When Marvin Gaye first brought his next single, What's Going On, to Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Gordy dismissed it as too political and refused to release it. Gaye pressed on and eventually Gordy relented. What's Going On would go on to be Motown's fasted selling single to date.

Following the success of the single, Gaye would release the album What's Going On. Told from the perspective of a Vietnam Veteran who just returned from the war to find a country in the midst of a host of problems, What's Going On tackles topics such as poverty, environmentalism, and political corruption, and is considered to be the first concept soul album.

Although I don't have the original Tamla vinyl, I listened to the 200 gram Universal Japan vinyl, a 1980s Motown reissue mastered by John Matousek, and a Motown Compact Classic cd, also mastered by Matousek, in preparation for this review.

The Eighties reissue vinyl came closest to what I remembered the sound of this record to be, with an easy style that should sound good on all but the leanest of systems. The MFSL, mastered by Rob Loverde, has nice stereo separation and conveys additional detail missing from the other pressings, but is also weightier in the bass and lower mids.

original album back cover

For those with a system tending toward the leaner side, this increased fullness will be welcome, but I found it to detract a bit from the overall flow of the music, in comparison to the Matousek mastered vinyl, which has more emphasis on the upper mids. Some might find this to be a bit am radio, but to me it just sounds "right."

This is not to say that the MFSL is not a good sounding record. It sounds very good--and it handily beat both the Universal Japan vinyl and Motown compact disc classic version (also mastered by Matousek). Given the difficulty in finding original Tamla vinyl in decent shape, the MFSL is an excellent option if you can't find a clean eighties reissue or if your system tends toward leanness.

Let's Get It On

After writing and issuing the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film, Trouble Man, Gaye took a decidedly different approach with his 1973 release, Let's Get it On. An album bursting with sexual energy, Let's Get it On has none of the political messages of its predecessors.

This 180 gram reissue mastered by Shawn Britton for Mobile Fidelity has very nice stereo separation and imaging, clear, full-sounding vocals, and most importantly, a low end thump that will get your toes tapping and fingers snapping every time you listen to it.

I compared the MFSL to my copy of the original Tamla vinyl and found that while the Tamla is a satisfying listen, the MFSL is a definite improvement, with increased bass extension, more realistic sounding cymbals, and better overall presence. The ever-important midrange has also been left intact, allowing Gaye's vocals to shine through with superb clarity and character.

While the production style of What's Going On didn't particularly benefit from an audiophile-style treatment, Let's Get it On really does. The increased bass and more realistic sounding cymbals allow the music to shine as it doesn't on the original vinyl--just drop the needle on the title cut, and you'll be right out of your listening chair.

Highly Recommended


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