Matthew Sweet - Altered Beast [Vinyl Reissue] (Album Review)

After kicking things off with 100% Fun back in July, Intervention Records continues their artist-approved Matthew Sweet vinyl reissue campaign with this month’s release of Altered Beast. Originally released during the summer of 1993 on Zoo Entertainment, Altered Beast is Sweet’s fourth solo album and had the unenviable task of following up his widely celebrated and career-defining album Girlfriend. As with their 100% Fun reissue, Intervention has once again delivered an impeccably crafted album that is visually stunning and sonically brilliant. This reissue is 100% analog mastered from the original analog master tape sources and the original 15-track album has been given some room to breathe through an impressive double-disc pressing (15 album tracks split over three sides plus six bonus tracks on the fourth) on “ultra quiet” 180-gram black vinyl. The packaging is really gorgeous as well, once again being housed in an “Old Style” gatefold from Stoughton Printing with a blindingly crisp, faithfully recreated cover from the original. I love the choice of the orange cover version, as the original CD featured five different color variations and this vibrant orange truly pops in this larger LP setting.

Upon its original release back in 1993, Altered Beast spawned a couple of radio semi-hits with “The Ugly Truth” and “Time Capsule.” However, its true sonic legacy lies in the super-stacked, all-star level roster of session musicians that Sweet surrounded himself with to the capture his ferocious new collection of songs. Alongside his own guitar-playing, Sweet invited a trio of ‘70s New York punk rock royals that included Television’s Richard Lloyd and Voidoids guitarists Robert Quine and Ivan Julian. For drums, he also assembled an unbelievable trio of legends: Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), and Jody Stephens (Big Star). Rounding things out on keyboard was Nicky Hopkins, who played on some of the biggest albums in The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Who catalogs. Hopkins also played with Jefferson Aeroplane during their Woodstock set. Needless tosay, there are more than a handful of truly inspired musical performances woven throughout Altered Beast, often multiple ones happening all at the same time.

However, the embarrassment of musical riches on Altered Beast may have also led to one of its biggest points of criticisms. As Rolling Stone stated in their initial review of the album in 1993, “Though much of their playing is exciting, the music sounds cramped, the victim of too many overdubs. Rather than pointing up especially emotive moments, Sweet allows the music to swamp him.” It’s a fair point, as some moments on the album feel like there is a lot going simultaneously, but not necessarily cohesively. At certain points Sweet’s voice can get lost in the mix a bit as well. While some of this may have been intentional artistic choices – especially after the powerfully melodic sheen of Girlfriend – some of it is just sheer sonic physics. CDs only have so much bandwidth to play with and if you’ve got multiple instruments fighting for space in the same frequency ranges, some parts are just going to get diluted or washed out entirely.

And this is where Intervention Records new vinyl reissue comes in to save the day!
Sterling Sound’s Ryan K. Smith deftly mastered this new reissue from the original analog master tapes and the tracks have been spread out over two LPs, instead of trying to cram everything on to just two sides. Both decisions combine to create a wonderfully fanned out sonic expanse that enlarges the roaring guitars and thundering drums that is equally pleasing and pummeling. Also, unlike CD versions of the album, there is no quality loss as you increase the volume. Intervention has once again created a high-quality vinyl reissue that is not only meant to be played loud, it practically demands it.

Continuing the much-appreciated "expanded edition" nature of Sweet’s 100% Fun reissue, this Altered Beast reissue features an incredible chunk of bonus tracks that were recorded during the same era as the album. “Born in Sin” and “Ultrasuede” originally appeared as b-sides to his “The Ugly Truth” CD single (with the former featuring some dreamy pedal steel from Greg Leisz and the latter featuring some wonderfully fuzzed-out electric guitar from Lloyd), “Superdeformed” opened the jaw-dropping No Alternative compilation from ’93, “Speed of Light” and “Thing” were b-sides to the “Time Capsule” CD single, and the in-and-out in under two minutes noisey romp of “Bovine Connection” (featuring Fleetwood on drums) originally appeared on a pretty fantastic Zoo Entertainment label compilation that also featured Big Star, Tool, and Green Jelly’s cover of “Anarchy in the U.K.” All six bonus tracks make up Side D of this vinyl reissue.

Side D bonus tracks:
"Born In Sin"
"Speed of Light"
"Bovine Connection"

The artist-approved expanded edition reissue of Altered Beast can be ordered directly from Intervention Records on vinyl or CD here:

Additionally, you can also pre-order the entire 4-album bundle from Intervention with 100% Fun and Altered Beast shipping now, Son of Altered Beast (available for the first time ever on vinyl) shipping in September, and Girlfriend shipping in November.

U2 – Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and The Best of 1980-1990 [Vinyl Reissues] (Album Review)

Back in April, U2 reissued a trio of albums – Wide Awake In America, Pop, and All That You Can’t Leave Behind – that spanned an impressively adventurous 15-year section of their career. All three albums were brilliantly remastered, pressed on heavyweight vinyl, and packaged with an extra attention to detail that made for a brilliant finished product that shined both musically and visually. Looking to strike twice with the same well-crafted formula, this month finds the band releasing another trio of vinyl reissues – Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and The Best of 1980-1990 – that have been handled with the same care and craft to make this batch boast an equal “must have” aesthetic.

While the first trio of reissues felt like three different snapshots of the band’s multi-persona arc, this newest trio of reissues reflects a more compacted section of their career, specifically the experimental build-up and return-to-form release of their ‘90s output. Achtung Baby was originally released in November of 1991, Zooropa followed closely behind just a year and a half later in July of 1993, and The Best of 1980-1990 (originally released in November of 1998) – while understandably a greatest hits project – served as a nice reminder of the band’s ‘80s musical dominance after the backlash they received from 1997’s largely misunderstood Pop. Taken together, the three releases transport listeners back to a time where U2 tried to test as many boundaries as they could on record and in concert to see how far fans would travel with them, pretty much found the tipping point with Pop, and then reset the playing field with their first ever greatest hits package. It was a great time to be a U2 fan and these gorgeous vinyl reissues serve as both a reminder of their fearless creativity and a heavy-duty upgrade to your record collection.

Achtung Baby not only has the distinction of being the album that had to somehow follow the monster smash of The Joshua Tree (Rattle and Hum doesn’t count as a proper complete studio album), but it has also been a bit of a white whale for many U2 fans looking to own a vinyl copy of the album. Original first-run pressings from 1991 have often fetched triple digits on the secondary market. This new reissue will help remedy that situation for many fans and it does so with impressive touches that could actually enhance the overall experience above the original pressings. This new Achtung Baby reissue features completely remastered audio spread out over two discs of 180g heavyweight vinyl and features strikingly beautiful collaged picture sleeves to house the records. There’s also a nice standalone lyric sheet insert and a download card for all 12 tracks. For pure existence alone, Achtung Baby may end up being the standout pick of the trio for most fans.

After the widespread success of Achtung Baby and the critical buzz of the accompanying Zoo TV tour, audiences welcomed the newest incarnation of U2 so warmly that the band experimented even further (and quicker) with Zooropa – recording the album in short six week session in early 1993. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the album release, so this vinyl reissue goes a little further with the extras – as it’s presented for the very first time as a double LP and it features two bonus remixes making up the fourth side: “Lemon” (The Perfecto Mix) and “Numb” (Gimme Some More Dignity Mix). This one is my personal standout of the batch due to the remastered audio being given more space across two discs and getting the two incredibly cool remixes on vinyl. Plus, the artwork on the cover and on the internal picture sleeves pop so crisply in this layout that it’s easy to get lost in the visuals as the music is transporting you. That may sound a bit clich├ęd but it’s totally true in the case of this reissue. If you only pick up one of the batch, my gentle nudge is towards Zooropa.

How you end up feeling about the reissue of The Best of 1980-1990 is probably dependent upon how you feel about greatest hits packages in general. But make no mistake about it; U2 is a band that not only earned the right to release a greatest hits album, but they also did it in a way that allowed them to be split across decades. The Best of 1980-1990 covers the band’s first decade and includes many of their biggest and farthest-reaching hits from War, The Unforgettable Fire, and The Joshua Tree. Originally released in late 1998, the album served to remind longtime fans of what they loved most about the band throughout the ‘80s (especially if the were having trouble following the Zooropa/Pop trajectory) and it helped bring younger fans they garnered from their newer electronic/alternative/semi-industrial elements up to speed on the band’s previous output. It was a certifiable win-win and the album functions as one of the few greatest hits releases that doesn’t feel like a cash-grab retread. This vinyl reissue of The Best of 1980-1990 is remastered, pressed on two 180g vinyl discs, and housed in a fantastic gatefold outer sleeve with gorgeously printed inner sleeves. Much like the reissue of Wide Awake in America from the earlier batch of reissues, the starkness of The Best of 1980-1990 proves to be an arresting foil against that vibrant aesthetics of the other two releases. The black-and-white photos chronicling the band’s early career contrast really nicely against the gold background splashes and it all works together to set the right context for the compilation of songs.

The vinyl reissues of Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and The Best of 1980-1990 have all been remastered, pressed on 180g vinyl, and include a download card for the songs on each album. You can order them all individually here.

Matthew Sweet - 100% Fun [Vinyl Reissue] (Album Review)

A couple of years ago, Intervention Records crafted exceptional reissues of Everclear’s second and third albums (Sparkle and Fade and So Much For The Afterglow), proving that they not only understand that there is a strong market for high quality ‘90s vinyl reissues but that they can also deliver them as a refreshingly stellar product that goes beyond a simple repress. While Intervention often handles a wide variety of genres and eras, they’re readying another set of ‘90s classics to be rolled out over the next few months with their re-release of four Matthew Sweet albums: Girlfriend (1991), Altered Beast (1993), Son of Altered Beast (1994), and 100% Fun (1995). These reissues have all been approved by Sweet himself, are presented in expanded edition double LP format, and are pressed on 180-gram black vinyl.

The first reissue out of the gate is 100% Fun, Sweet’s highest charting album that is best known for its lead-off single “Sick of Myself” (which peaked at #2, also giving Sweet his highest chart performance for a single). Produced by Brendan O’Brien and originally released on vinyl on February 28, 1995 (with the CD version coming out a couple weeks later), 100% Fun featured Sweet at the top of his power pop game. Eschewing the dour, angst-fueled vibes of the second-wave commercialized alt-rock copycats that saturated mid-‘90s radio, Sweet’s nuanced melodic range and sugary pop hooks helped set him apart from the majority of what was categorized as alternative music at the time. The insanely catchy “Sick of Myself” made a huge impact on radio and MTV and Sweet rounded out a busy 1995 with a nice trio of soundtrack appearances (National Lampoon’s Senior Trip, Ace Venture: When Nature Calls, and The Babysitter’s Club) and a memorable slot on the Saturday Morning: Cartoon’s Greatest Hits compilation with his perfectly paired “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” cover.

Intervention’s reissue of Sweet’s 100% Fun has been masterfully reframed, both sonically and visually. For starters, the album’s 12 songs (plus the 7 bonus tracks) have been fully mastered from the original analog master tapes and are presented on “ultra quiet” 180-gram vinyl. The pressings are super crisp and the quality of the mix seems to heighten as the volume increases. While some vinyl records are known to lose some warmth at higher volumes, both discs of 100% Fun welcome the challenge and shine out brighter the louder you play them. Even in some of the album’s more delicate moments – the Beach Boys inspired harmonic choral outro of “Not When I Need It,” the breathy organ-drum interplay of “Everything Changes” – the inherent surface noise is almost non-existent. Of course, in its most raw and raucous moments – the vibrant guitar squeals of “Sick of Myself,” the psych-blues howl of “Giving It Back,” the groovy growl of “Super Baby” – finds the highs and lows screaming off the wax in the most satisfying ways.

Packaging-wise, the double disc album comes in a fantastic gatefold and feels incredibly durable. The artwork is faithful to the original album (save for the addition of the bonus tracks listed on the back jacket) and features a striking laminate sheen that really brings a new life to the vintage childhood photo of Sweet that envelopes the cover. The “Old Style” gatefold was handled by the famed Stoughton Printing and the impressive quality and attention to detail in the double-pocket jacket mimics the same craftsmanship that is present in the songs. Both aspects being handled so attentively and with such finesse by Intervention make this reissue a true audio-visual feast.

On top of the superb audio and visual aspects of this 100% Fun reissue, Sweet has also included seven outtake bonus tracks that were a part of the original 100% Fun master tapes. Some of them have found their way onto previous releases (“Sense of Adventure” and “Slowly” were bonus tracks on the Japanese import CD, “Never Said Goodbye” was the b-side to the “Sick of Myself” CD/cassette single, “You” was the fourth song on the “We’re The Same” 4-track CD single) and some of them have never been released at all. Either way, all seven tracks are presented in this setting on vinyl for the first time and make up the entirety of the second vinyl disc.

Bonus Tracks:
“Sense of Adventure”
“Breaks My Heart”
“Walk Out” (Alternate Mix)
“Never Said Goodbye”
“Our Song”

The artist-approved expanded edition reissue of 100% Fun can be ordered directly from Intervention Records on vinyl or CD here:

Additionally, you can also pre-order the entire 4-album bundle from Intervention with 100% Fun shipping now, Altered Beast shipping in August, Son of Altered Beast (available for the first time ever on vinyl) shipping in September, and Girlfriend shipping in November.

Liz Phair – Whip-Smart and whitechocolatespaceegg [Vinyl Reissues] (Album Review)

When Liz Phair announced her plans for the massive Exile in Guyville reissue to celebrate its 25th anniversary, her feverishly devoted fan base (presently company very much included) were also hoping the buzz would lead to some equally anticipated vinyl reissues for some of the other gems in her back catalog. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long to hear the good news. This Friday (June 8), Capitol/UMe will be releasing a trio of Phair’s albums – Whip-Smart, whitechocolatespaceegg, and Liz Phair – all making their illustrious debut on 180-gram heavyweight black vinyl.

Whip-Smart was originally released in September of 1994, just a little over a year after the cannonball splash of her official debut album, Exile in Guyville. To say expectations were unfairly high for Phair’s follow-up is quite the understatement. However, she met the challenge of the sophomore slump head on by building on her sound instead of just trying to replicate the lightening-in-a-bottle explosion of her debut. Whip-Smart features some of Phair’s sharpest writing and the lead single “Supernova” quickly became a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart with an additional massive presence on MTV throughout the summer of 1994. The title track follow-up single landed Phair another radio hit (landing at #24) and overall the album peaked at #27 on the Billboard 200 that year.

This new vinyl reissue of Whip-Smart from Capitol/UMe is beautifully pressed on a single 180-gram black disc and the playback is full and superb. I’ve always been drawn to the Soviet-era propaganda meets lo-fi photography aesthetic of the album’s cover art and the color palette seriously pops on this reissue. Even though it’s a single album, the packaging is constructed in a sturdy gate-fold and the interior panels feature a cool collage of polaroids mostly shot by Phair herself. There’s also a single page paper insert that features the album credits. While I’ve got some serious teenage nostalgic ties to this album – it was one of the cornerstones of my inaugural “8 Albums for a Penny” Columbia House order when I was 14 – I can objectively confirm that this is a solid reissue anchored by a lush, heavyweight pressing and faithful to the original artwork and packaging. Capitol/UMe is also offering Whip-Smart on a 130-gram “orange smoke” variant.

Four years after the release of Whip-Smart, Phair released her third record, whitechocolatespaceegg. Continuing her intuitively creative album-to-album evolution, her songwriting included a bit more pop music influences and her lyrics reflected some of her recent real life transitions to being a wife and mother. Phair’s gift for intimate frankness and honesty were still very much in force on whitechocolatespaceegg and the tonal shifts in her music and lyrics revealed an artist who was still leading by her heart and instincts instead of letting precedents and expectations lead the way. “Polyester Bride” and “Johnny Feelgood” were both released as singles to respectable radio airplay and the album managed to still land in the mid-30s of the Billboard 200, even without a standout “hit” to be found within its tracklist.

The unpolished pop confidence of whitechocolatespaceegg rings through tastefully on this new vinyl reissue and I’m so glad that the album’s 16 tracks are spread out over two 180-gram discs instead of trying to cram them all onto one disc via a lower quality pressing. With four songs to each side of wax, the album is really given room to breathe in its unfolding. While I would’ve loved another gate-fold presentation like Whip-Smart, whitechocolatespaceegg’s two disc are housed in a single sleeve packaging with an additional full-color lyric sheet insert. Also, the understated cover art is refreshingly minimalist in its mixture of heavy black-and-white starkness with restrained splashes of yellow and blue. Much like Whip-Smart, Capitol/UMe is also offering another variant of this reissue, this time on 130-gram “yellow smoke” wax.

On the whole, vinyl reissues can always be a mixed bag depending on who is releasing them and how much attention and care are put into the project. For Whip-Smart and whitechocolatespaceegg, the quality of pressing and artwork recreation are both top notch, delivering an incredible experience for both the ears and eyes. I especially love the gate-fold layout of Whip-Smart and the double disc decision for whitechocolatespaceegg, both of which are elements where cutting corners could’ve cheapened the manufacturing costs but delivered a sub-par product. Kudos all around on these reissues and I highly recommend picking them both up to her these essential ‘90s albums in a high-quality vinyl presentation.

U2 - Wide Awake In America, Pop, and All That You Can't Leave Behind [Vinyl Reissues] (Album Review)

For U2 fans (especially of the vinyl variety), April is a month to celebrate. The band is thankfully dipping into their back catalog and reissuing three of their albums (Wide Awake In America, Pop, and All That You Can’t Leave Behind) on vinyl for the first time since their initial releases. All three reissues have been remastered, are pressed on heavyweight 180g vinyl, and come with a download card. They will all be releasing this Friday (April 13).

While some vinyl reissues can feel like afterthoughts that suffer from thin, low quality pressings and rush job packaging, this trio of U2 releases sound, feel, and look pristine. Even if you already own vinyl copies of the original pressings, your ears and eyes will thank you for upgrading to these reissues as the heavier 180g versions shine in their rich, clean sonic output. I was very impressed with the quality of the pressings and loved hearing these albums that I already knew so well shine a little crisper and wider in their remastered forms. Also, the reissued LPs just feel sturdier than the original LPs, due to the heavier quality wax.

Because these three reissues span across 15 years of the band’s catalog – Wide Awake In America was originally released in 1985, Pop in 1997, and All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000 – the faithfully reproduced packaging of each album aesthetically echoes the rise of the band as well. Wide Awake In America is a 4-song EP that was released after the success of The Unforgettable Fire but before the worldwide boom of The Joshua Tree. As such, it’s simple stark sleeve artwork and lack of inserts appropriately captures that pre-super stardom period of the band. The music is the only thing doing the talking and with the otherworldy live version of “Bad” contained within its grooves, that was all that needed to be said at the time. 

By contrast, Pop finds the band at either it’s most bombastic or its most bloated (depending on who you ask). Either way, it definitely highlights the band at their most misunderstood – which is an understandable outcome for any group willing to fearlessly reinvent themselves after achieving so much worldwide success on such a grand scale. With this reissue of Pop – in my opinion, the star of the trio – the gatefold packaging, dual bright color inserts, standalone lyric sheet, and double disc presentation all combine to make a standout release that demands to be listened to and looked over. Whether you’re returning to the album as a fan or cautiously willing to change your mind about its contents, it’s unquestionably worth another spin. 

All That You Can’t Leave Behind finds the band musically returning to form a bit from the Pop era pomp but still operating at such a high level on all cylinders. This iteration of the band finding their footing while continuing to move forward is wonderfully echoed in the minimalist packaging of the black-and-white album cover photo and the beautiful 16-page booklet that features some of photographer Anton Corbijn’s most visually stunning work with the band.

While you may already own so many of the hit songs and fan favorite deep cuts contained on these three albums via CD or digital file, these vinyl reissues are really worth the pick-up due to their high quality production, both sonically and visually. If you’re only interested in grabbing one, the Pop double LP truly shines in its presentation. However, you can be confident that there’s not a dud to be seen or heard in this wonderful batch of reissues.