The Waterboys - A Pagan Place
Although the vinyl version is clearer in many ways, I do not find the "bigging up" of the sound to be as offensive as some. The Big Music always needed a big sound and the remaster has delivered a bigger sound than on the vinyl. This is immediately apparent with the album opener, "Church not Made with Hands", which sets out Mike Scott's vision for the band in its full glory. This is a song which was written for the Big Music and it really does it justice. As if to emphasise the fact, the second track is indeed called "The Big Music". It is as if Mike Scott is setting out his musical philosophy and demonstrating, through the music of this album, how he is putting it into practice.
By now, you are coming to the conclusion that this is the album you have been waiting all your life to hear. By the time you come to the end of the original album you have moved into a state of almost euphoria. The final two tracks on the original album are among the finest songs ever produced by anybody, let alone by the Waterboys. "Red Army Blues" is a soaring Solzhenitsyn-esque tale where the music is as grand as the theme. The coruscating sax pieces which form links between the verses, and the final, manic guitar work as the song reaches its climax are among the finest moments in musical history. And when this is over, and you feel physically drained through the listening of it, along comes the final, title track. To describe this as uplifting does not do it justice. "A Pagan Place" bounces along, full of latent joy, a latency which you desire to be met with your body and soul - and then it is! As the drums and horns kick in, this song has finally taken that to the joyful place it has been promising you ever since the first opening chords.
So, given all this, why is this not a five star album? Surely, on the merits of the last two tracks alone, it deserves to be. Well, there are a number of possible reasons. First off, the bonus tracks should really have been put on a separate CD, as they were on the remastered version of This Is the Sea. That way, the integrity of the original would have been maintained. Then again, I am definitely not in favour in inserting a bonus track into the original order of tracks on the vinyl album, even if it is excused on the pretence that this is where it would have gone anyway had Scott been able to wangle it onto vinyl in the first place. However, though the tacking on of the bonus tracks has been much criticised (not the least on reviews of this album), I feel that criticism is somewhat churlish in the end. CD's have an advantage over vinyl in that you can skip tracks and end the album by pressing a button (a remote button if possible). I do not mark down the album because of either of those two reasons.
Nor do I mark it down because of the remastering which is, admittedly, different from then original. I have found that with tweaking the bass, treble and woofers I can actually get the sound I want and I welcome the larger than life sound anyway - to me it what the Waterboys were about. No, in the end I mark this down because it is not as good as This Is The Sea. How could it be? And as that album is musical perfection, this must be almost perfect.
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