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

Friday, September 17, 2010

Short Spin: Elvis Costello and The Attractions -- Armed Forces Mofi 180 Gram Vinyl

Armed Forces

Mofi's latest installment in their series of Elvis Costello's albums is his third effort, Armed Forces. Released in 1979, amidst a slew of releases from other new wave acts, such as the Police, Joe Jackson, the Cars, and the Talking Heads, Armed Forces moves beyond the caustic, borderline misogynistic messages of This Year's Model, toward more sophisticated themes, including politics and war.

The Packaging
Mofi once again uses the U.K. cover for this release, but instead utilizes the U.S. tracklisting, which adds the hit, (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding--and loses the quirkier Sunday's Best.  The heavyweight vinyl, housed in Mofi's own rice paper poly sleeve, played silently from start to finish. The inner gatefold  features the artwork originally found on each side of the original inner sleeve--but retains the standard Mofi gatefold, rather than reproducing the Zeppelin III-inspired fold-out cover and postcards. While I wouldn't expect Mofi to reproduce that packaging, I do wish they would have stayed with the U.K.
track order. While Peace Love and Understanding may be a more compelling track than Sunday's Best, it  sounds a bit out of place at the end of the record and suffers from inferior fidelity compared to the rest of the record. 

(Original U.K. album packaging)

The Sound
I've had a white label promo copy of the U.S. release for years, but ever since I acquired a U.K. original, the U.S. version has stayed on my shelf--as the U.K. sounds superior in every way. The U.K version of this record sounds very good, with a well-balanced eq, a smooth sound that doesn't get harsh, and a good dose of dynamics--especially compared to the U.K. original of Model.  So, when the Mofi arrived, I compared it solely to the U.K.

This Mofi vinyl mastering from engineer Shawn Britton compares very favorably to the U.K., with a smooth, dynamic sound that brings forth the bass and lower frequencies as they haven't been heard before.  While Costello's first two U.K. albums were rawer in both composition and sound--with the debut sounding at times underwater, and his sophomore masterpiece delivering a fitting dose of compression and grit, Armed Forces has more of a polished sound in keeping with its more sophisticated themes.

(Elvis Costello and The Attractions, 1979)

On the faster numbers such as Accidents Will Happen and the poppy, synth-driven hit, Oliver's Army, the Mofi holds its own with the U.K., once you turn up the volume a bit.  But, the real treat on this half-speed mastering comes with simpler compositions, such as the stripped-down synth-pop of Green Shirt, and the side-one ending ode to the Beatles' Abbey Road, Party Girl--which are presented with hair-raising detail, dynamics, and a weight to the piano that isn't heard on the U.K.

If you already have the now-expensive and difficult to find U.K., this release is not mandatory.  On the other hand, if you've lived for years with a domestic U.S. version, you'll want to treat yourself to an upgrade by picking up this very good sounding reissue.



Theron said...

nice review, I have the US Columbia pressing and think I'll pick up the MOFI pressing. If its better than the US pressing then wow! Looking forward to it and picking up the other 2 Elvis Costello Mofi LPS....

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