Friday, April 9, 2010

Michael Fremer Album Review

Elvis Costello (reissue)
My Aim Is True

Stiff/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-329 180g LP

Produced by: Nick Lowe
Engineered by: Bazza
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Shawn R. Britton at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

Review by: Michael Fremer

Though it was probably one of the most audacious debuts in rock history and quickly established him as one of the premier songwriters of his generation, Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True has always felt more like a publisher’s demo reel than as a recording intended for commercial release.

Backed up by members of the Bay area group Clover who were then living in the U.K. and recorded in a 24 hour hurry at a small suburban London studio for around $1500 My Aim is True still managed to capture the D.I.Y. spirit of the time so its sparse esthetic resonated with the intended audience.

Though Costello had toiled for almost a decade, his success was deemed “overnight” because the album seemed to take off as quickly as it had been recorded. In short order, thanks to My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello became a major rock star.

While the quality of the songs like “Alison” and “The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes” trumped the glazed, often distant, indistinct sound (not to mention the outlandish Buddy Holly meets cerebral palsy cover pose and the cartoonish name Declan McManus chose for himself), My Aim is True has always been difficult to listen to, especially on a good audio system—until now.

I’ve got an original UK Stiff pressing (that omits the single “Watching the Detectives” only found on the American Columbia issue) mastered by the great George “Porky” Peckham and I would never bet against any “Porky Prime Cut,” but in this case, the guys at Mobile Fidelity have not only beat Porky, they’ve produced a near miracle!

Heretofore buried in the glaze instruments now appear with utter clarity thanks to the timbral honesty and transparency of the new transfer from the original master tape. While the tracks are still raw and basic, they have newfound polish, body and three-diimensionality. If you’re a fan of this pre-Attractions album, I think you’ll be absolutely astonished by what Mobile Fidelity has done here.

You know the old expression “you can’t polish a turd?” Well as great as the music is here, the album has always been a sonic turd on vinyl (the Columbia original is markedly inferior to the Stiff “Porky” pressing) and on any of the multiple CD reissues from Ryko to Rhino to UMG. Not so on this reissue.

Somehow Mobile Fidelity has removed the edge and glaze and not by smothering and softening, but rather by stripping away the unpleasantness to reveal an honest, supple, remarkably three-dimensional and immediate recording. I don’t know how they did it or why no one else who tried managed, but they did.

The gatefold incorporates lyrics and images of the master tape boxes and Mobile Fidelity has generously and wisely included “Watching the Detectives.” Add a fine 180 RTI pressing and you have one of Mobile Fidelity’s most significant reissues. “Resurrection” might be a more appropriate word for what’s been done.

I’m not saying Mobile Fidelity has turned My Aim is True into an audiophile sonic spectacular, but if you’re a long time fan of this album, when you hear the details that have been uncovered, along with the rhythmic clarity and certainty that’s been previously missing on every other issue, you may conclude they have.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by permission

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