The CD rendering of Bob Mould’s Workbook is so constricted that all I could think about while listening was how much I wanted this set of music on vinyl. The music is so good that it deserves to breath, which it does not do on CD. It’s too tight and some passages on the high-end of the spectrum are painfully harsh. Sure the disc is loud but I’m not feeling any dynamic range here.
A lot of people complain that records have too much surface noise and that they scratch easily, they take up too much room, etc. When digital (CDs) came into the marketplace full-force back in the mid-80s I bought into that “digital is better” sell. But what they also made sure to tell you was that CDs are free of surface noise and don’t scratch because there isn’t a physical mechanism (such as a ‘needle’) touching the medium (such as a record).
Around ’86 – frankly – I was tired of surface noise on records and hated hearing scratches (my system wasn’t great back then so surface noise was probably more of my cartridge’s issue than any of my record’s). So I jumped on the CD bandwagon full steam and put my records (over 1,000 of them) in storage. The first CD I bought was the soundtrack to the film The Big Chill. I listened to it and while it was true that there was no surface noise, the experience of hearing these great songs without extraneous static was exhilarating. At first. Then it got to be shrill and mind-numbing. Every part of every song on the disc sounded as if it were on the same sonic level with the high-ends tinny and harsh. I hated that disc but also didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone that CDs were a bust and that they sucked.
So I continued and amassed an extraordinary catalog of discs. Some sounded great but most sounded mundane without any auditory thrill. The worst result – I skipped songs. I played ‘hits,’ and lost the desire to discover musicians and their artistry, which you do when you listen to an album straight through. CDs also sold this so-called ‘convenience’ factor – you never had to get up from your couch and walk over to your turntable to flip a record side. But its this act that encourages deeper listening. On a record, you simply cannot skip tracks – that is, unless you get up to do so.
CDs were also too long with some clocking in at over 75 minutes. And while that sounds like a great bargain, it’s an actual hinderance. If I tried to listen all the way through any disc, I fell asleep lulled by the digital blocks of zeros and ones as opposed to riding on the excitation of analog waves.
While CDs have their fair share of compression, at least they’re better today than they were in the 80s, 90s and into the early 2000s. But music is now downloadable and the experience of actually listening is gone. And while there seems to be a resurgence of vinyl, I don’t expect it will rise much higher than where it is now. Downloading music to your phone is way too convenient.
My only advice to someone getting into vinyl for the first time: make sure you listen to those records you buy. And support your local record store by buying used as opposed to plunking down huge dough on reprints sold at elitist stores like Barnes & Noble. And 180 gram vinyl doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better.’
And don’t just stick that record up on a shelf because you think collecting records is ‘cool.’ Be patient for 40 minutes or so and listen to it. Track by track. Live that experience.
© 2018 Chris Barry