Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sound Check: In digital era, vinyl makes a comeback

Jesse DeLeon

They were black, shiny and you had to get up and turn them over if you wanted to hear all of the songs on them. They had covers that became an art form, and it was on that long-since-retired format of recorded music known as the record album where generations of fans first heard artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

These days, thanks to the iPod, we can carry around thousands of songs in our pockets. The last few years has been a dizzying and relentless journey of musical downsizing that started with the inception of the seemingly now-archaic compact disc.

But a funny thing happened on the way to digitizing all of our music.

The LP (or long-play record, as some of us remember all too well) is staging an unlikely comeback in this digital age. Turntables are slowly coming back into fashion, and record companies realize some ears out there would rather hear the warmer, fuller sound of a vinyl record than the antiseptic, processed and sometimes tinny nuances that plague some MP3s.

"Viva La Vida" (Capitol) by Coldplay, "Magic" (Columbia) from Bruce Springsteen and Metallica's "Death Magnetic" (Electra) are all recent releases from some of rock's biggest acts who have satiated that segment of its LP-loving audience with special limited edition vinyl versions.

Even U2, whose recently remastered "The Joshua Tree" (Island) was originally unveiled when LPs were still part of the industry's official configuration, has re-released that landmark recording on vinyl, complete with a meticulous reproduction of its artwork, lyrics and label.

Beatles fans, who had been hoping for LP reissues in the wake of Capitol's release of the group's much-altered American titles, will have to make do with the issue of Paul McCartney's solo watermark "Band on the Run" (Capitol) and John Lennon's oldies love letter, "Rock and Roll" (Capitol). These solo albums couldn't be more disparate, as McCartney was intent on establishing a strong solo identity with "Band on the Run" and Lennon was reaching back to his pre-Beatles fame as he covered songs by his big influences that included Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

The newfound availability of these albums on vinyl is not only a testament to the amazingly durable quality of the music, but for those of us who prefer the comfortable sound of the needle gliding over that shiny black plastic, it remains an unparalleled and amazingly groove-y experience.


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