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My Generation - Mono AND Stereo CD Reviews
on 4 September 2011
I'm going to do two-reviews-in-one for this CD because Amazon has mixed together the reviews for the stereo and mono releases, which can be misleading to the reader as the content and quality of each is radically different.
The first section of this review is for the MONO CD featuring the original 1965 mix, the second part is for the STEREO "Deluxe" CD featuring the modern remix.
My Generation. MONO CD, on Polydor/Universal (3716077);
It's astounding to think this is the first time since 1979 that the original 1965 mono mix of the UK release of My Generation has been available on the shelves in UK stores. This original British version of the album first went out of print in the late 1960s due to legal issues with the album's Producer, Shel Talmy. It reappeared for just a couple of years in 1979 as an LP/Cassette on the Virgin Records label, before again completely disappearing from the market. When the CD age arrived in the 1980s the nearest thing offered to us was an American import on MCA titled "The Who Sings My Generation", which was an edited version of the British album with an altered tracklist.
So it should be something of a big deal that we can for the first time in almost 30 years walk into a music shop in the UK and pluck the original British version of The Who's debut album from the shelves.
But Polydor/Universal don't seem to view it that way, because basically the overall quality of this landmark release is one step up the ladder from the old MCA budget-price CD of "The Who Sings My Generation".
The packaging is some of the most sparse I've seen on a major label CD release for many years. The inlay artwork is simply a two-page fold-over with one page reproducing some 1965 Decca promotional blurb, the other listing the song titles and writing credits. There is nothing about the music, nothing about the history of the album, no recording details and no mastering details,
The rear artwork of the CD attempts to replicate the rear artwork of the original LP release, but in comparison to the original the band photographs look like photocopies and Roger Daltrey finds himself renamed as "Roger Dultrey". There is nothing more than some small text on the rear stating "mono" to suggest this release is different to any other CD version of the album.
The lack of mastering information is an intriguing omission because one could be forgiven for assuming that for this CD Polydor/Universal returned to the orginal mastertapes of the mono mix which they've used on recent Japanese CD remasters. After all, it took the record company over 30 years to finally secure those tapes from Shel Talmy.
It's been reported on a number of websites that this CD was sourced from a 1980 copy-tape made for a German LP release, which given the relatively low fidelty I can well believe. I compared this disc with the old MCA "The Who Sings My Generation" CD from the 1980s. This new CD is bassier with less top-end definition. To my ears it sounds like the source used here was a lower quality tape than that used for "The Who Sings My Generation".
This disc is louder than the old MCA disc, although surprisingly not by a vast amount. On a very positive note, there's no clipping, harshess, overdone compression or uncomfortable brightness, there's no problem cranking this CD up loud. But I can't help thinking the "Who Sings My Generation" CD remains, from a sonic perspective, the superior of the pair due its better clarity.
I paid £5.00 for this new mono CD on pre-order. It has the sound and appearance of a budget release, and within that context I consider £5.00 a reasonable price. I do though believe Polydor/Universal should at least have made clear on the outer artwork that this disc was sourced from different (and inferior) tapes to all other modern remasters of this title.
Now for the big question. How am I going to rate this CD?
Judging it solely on its own merits as a disc purchased for a budget price, I'll give it a rating of 3 stars out of 5. Had I paid more than £5.00 I'd be inclined, purely on the basis of presentation, to feel a star or two less generous.
Based on the music alone the disc is a solid 4 star purchase, essential for anyone who wants to explore The Who's Mod/R&B roots.
It's important also to remember that this release is currently the *only* way to hear The Who's debut album on CD in its original and complete mono mix outside of a couple of expensive Japanese releases. This is My Generation as it was intended to be heard when it was recorded and mixed in 1965. So despite my sometimes negative tone in the review, that alone should make it worth considering buying.
My Generation, STEREO "Deluxe" CD;
I'll cut to the chase: This is not the same My Generation album which exploded into the mid-sixties music scene with an impact reverberating throughout assorted Mod and Britpop revivals worldwide over subsequent decades until the mid-nineties. That was the original 1965 mono mix.
This Deluxe double-CD edition is very much a modern reinvention of the album. It is a reboot. A rethink. A revisionism. A creature that did not exist before 2002.
So what's the difference?
Firstly. The "original album" presented here is a modern stereo remix. This new mix gives the music quite a different dynamic to the original mono release, despite Shel Talmy being responsible for both mixes.
Secondly. Mr. Talmy felt the need with this modern remix to "enhance" the recording by adding a fake stereo effect to a number of the guitar and vocal parts, as a consequence of which the latter at times has a slight "telephone receiver" quality in comparison to the unprocessed mono original.
Whilst on this topic, Much Too Much really deserves a special mention. It suffers more than any other track on the album from the fake stereo processing, very noticeably so. In comparison to the original mono mix the overall sound is sort of muffled and almost phasey, a downgrade even from the unremastered MCA "The Who Sings My Generation". The mind boggles as to what Mr. Talmy was trying to achieve when remixing this track.
There was no need anyway to be adding fake stereo effects to *any* of these recordings. Some of the material which appears on this album has previously appeared in stereo on the Who's Missing and Two's Missing compilations with no fake stereo effects and sounding perfectly fine, some would say sounding superior to the versions appearing here.
Thirdly. The album is now missing a number of vocal and guitar overdubs which existed on the original mono release. Most noticeably (and disappointingly) the title track itself is missing the latter, which substantially lessens its impact. It's an odd state of affairs when "Deluxe" means you get less of something than you received with an earlier (and by default, inferior) version.
Finally. The Kids Are Alright uses a different vocal take to that found on the original album. It's also worth mentioning that with the stereo remix The Ox is slightly extended and comes to a natural end rather than fading out as was originally the case. I find this newly revealed ending to be something of an anti-climax compared to the original, where the music thundered off into the distance.
Oh, and just one more thing. The guitar seems to have at some points been mixed lower than it was on the original mono album. That's a strange (and annoying) choice for a recording which previously owed a large chunk of its fame to Townshend's brash and upfront guitar style.
What you're getting with this latest My Generation is something very different to the album which existed previously under the same name.
Being a Deluxe edition you of course also get a pile of bonus tracks. These are spread across the end of Disc One and the entirety of Disc Two, and you can probably split them into four groupings;
The Essential: A remix of I Can't Explain (which removes the tambourine and gives the track a much punchier and driving drum sound, very modern, but in a good way). Daddy Rolling Stone (an uptempo soul B-side, maximum R&B),
The Mildly Interesting: Lubie, Heatwave, Motoring, (a collection of covers rejected from the album's originally intended tracklist). Anytime You Want Me (a b-side similar in tone to I Don't Mind). Full length versions of The Good's Gone and I Don't Mind (with some nasty out of tune guitar work revealing why the original fade was needed). Anyway Anyhow Anywhere (not the original single, but an inferior EP version with a different vocal track) .
The Annoyingly Pointless: Bald Headed Woman (a b-side which starts off promisingly with some nicely growling vocals and darkly fuzzed and ominious guitar chords, before descending into a cheesy and cliched quadruple-speed instrumental "rave up"). Shout and Shimmy (a b-side that doesn't seem to do much more than go "Shout! Shimmy! Shout! Shimmy! Wooooah! Shout! Shimmy!" for 3 minutes). Anytime You Want Me (a *vocal only* version. Why?). Instant Party Mixture (a throwaway "comedy" song with the band doing assorted silly voiced comments between verses).
The Odd: Mono mixes of My Generation and A Legal Matter. I call these "odd" because their inclusion only serves to prove just how much better a complete remastered mono mix of this album would have been than the stereo rehash. All the overdubs missing from these same two tracks in stereo on the first disc are present and correct here in their mono form. There's no added modern audio fakery. And the mono sound gives the music an authentic extra punch missing from the stereo mixes. Quite simply these two mono tracks are superior in every way to anything on the stereo remix "original album" of the first disc.
Also included amongst the bonus tracks is Circles, which I wasn't sure where to categorise. Firstly it's (surprise! surprise!) missing an overdub. Secondly it was recorded a number of months after this album was released - and in a different year. Chronologically it would have fitted better on the following album, A Quick One. I suppose it ended up here because it was the band's final Shel Talmy production.
Overall the major annoyance with this release is that there certainly *was* enough space across the two discs to include the complete mono and stereo album mixes on the first disc, with the pick of the best bonus tracks on the second. Instead we were given a stereo Franken-album with a big pile of bonus tracks, a number of which are questionable at best.
But for all its faults there is a positive side to this Deluxe edition. You do for the first time on CD get the original UK tracklist. The previous CD issue followed the altered original US album release, which completely removed I'm A Man, added Circles, and used the single version of The Kids Are Alright (which had it's "pop art" middle section edited out). Also, the CD uses the original (and arguably superior) UK cover artwork.
So, to sum up;
For audio presentation I'm giving this Deluxe set a rating of two stars. It had the potential to be SO much better, to be the ultimate My Generation, to easily be a five star set. Unfortunately, questionable mixing choices and a lack of the album's essential mono mix drag it to the lower end of the scale with great ease. If you were hoping with this release to hear an authentic presentation of the original 1965 album, you're out of luck
That said, if you enjoy early Mod R&B and have never heard the My Generation album you'll probably like this Deluxe edition despite the aforementioned flaws, which unlike a listener used to the original album, you probably wouldn't on the whole notice. And when all is said and done, no matter which version you hear, this IS an essential album from the Mod genre.