Vinyl Review Explosion: Spiritualized, Bob Dylan, and Carly Rae Jepsen

(Review Explosion is a recurring AnalogPlanet feature covering recent releases for which we either don’t have sufficient time to fully explore, or that are not worthy of it. Curated by AnalogPlanet contributing editor Malachi Lui, Review Explosion focuses on the previous few months’ new releases.)

Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Fat Possum/VMP Essentials FP1753-3 “deep space blue” 2x180g LP

Produced by: J Spaceman
Engineered by: Darren Allison, Mads Bjerke, Trevor Curwen, Darren Nash, and Carl Nappa
Mixed by: J Spaceman, Darren Allison, Mads Bjerke, Trevor Curwen, Chad Bamford, John Leckie, Pat McCarthy
Mastered by: Ray Staff at Whitfield Street (original mastering), Barry Grint at Alchemy (vinyl reissue)

Music: 9
Sound: 8

The 90s CD era had two types of albums: long but interestingly so (Be Here Now, Time Out Of Mind, 13, The Score, etc), or simply too long (such as Dr. Octagon, Urban Hymns, and The Infamous). Firmly in the former category is Spiritualized’s third album, 1997’s 70-minute opus Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. After 15 years of activity between Spiritualized and 80s minimalist psychedelic band Spacemen 3 (who famously “[took] drugs to make music to take drugs to”), musical mastermind Jason Pierce (J Spaceman) on Ladies and Gentlemen refined his gospel- and blues-tinged space rock. It’s one of the most ambitious records ever, and one only possible in the 90s: two years of recording, multiple studios, perfectionist editing, and tons of recording engineers, session musicians, and arrangers. Labels today balk at such elaborate projects, and Pierce no longer has such resources; with some exceptions, one could say that grandiosity faded with rock n’ roll.

Recorded after a breakup with Spiritualized keyboardist Kate Radley (who then married Richard Ashcroft [Verve]) and in the midst of heroin addiction, Ladies and Gentlemen remains J Spaceman’s unrivaled height. He vehemently denies the album’s connection to the breakup, but the work contradicts that (however, I respect his privacy on this). At times, Spaceman’s jaw-dropping layered production distracts from the lyrics, which unfold around you rather in front of you. The music forces your focus on the present, yet Pierce still captures listeners into his stark images about lost love and the desperation to [chemically] fill that hole.

Right from the start, the opening title track with the soaring London Community Gospel Choir and Spaceman’s majestic sonic textures pulls you in. Interpolating “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (from the original pressing removed for legal reasons but now intact) Jason Pierce in a hushed voice sings, “I will love you ’til I die/And I will love you all the time/So please put your sweet hand in mine/And float in space and drift in time.” For a record about both human and substance love, “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”’s ambiguity is brilliant; you aren’t sure if he’s talking about a woman, heroin, or both. “Come Together” starts as a character study of a junkie referred to as “Little Johnny,” who, likely in J Spaceman’s third person self-examination, is later called “Little J.” The smack injection images of “I Think I’m In Love” segue into the dreamy “All of My Thoughts” and the lonely “Stay with Me,” both focusing on uselessness and thoughts of “you,” the specifics still unclear. All the while, the musical arrangements remain captivating, moving from reinterpretations of classic space rock to Funhouse-esque free jazz and rock n’roll chaos. “Broken Heart” most directly addresses a breakup – the line, “And I’m crying all the time/I have to keep it covered up with a smile” clearly alludes to Kate Radley (who still played keyboards on this record). Closer “Cop Shoot Cop,” recorded with Dr. John, is a 17-minute epic encapsulating the entire record’s musical and lyrical themes. Slowly building into a frenzied freeform scatter, Pierce interpolates John Prine’s “Sam Stone,” singing about the “hole in my arm where all the money goes.” Towards the end, it cools down, and Spaceman sounds defeated; he’s still an isolated addict with no end in sight. No other record is as dynamic, as sonically elaborate, as emotionally impactful as Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. Given the subject matter, its odd narrative construction makes sense, and the ability to zoom in or be carried away is wholly unique. It’s truly a perfect album, combining the past, present, and future but never slipping into nostalgia or pastiche.

The last widely available vinyl reissue was a US Plain Recordings pressing, which Pierce didn’t approve. I haven’t heard that pressing (nor any others, for that matter), but widespread speculation/generalization (sparked by MBV’s Kevin Shields) is that Plain cuts their reissues from CDs. This new reissue, done by Fat Possum through VMP, is the first Spaceman-approved reissue cut from the original tapes by Barry Grint (“BAZZA”) at Alchemy. While recorded at excellent studios, it’s not an AAA production – Pierce recorded some of it to 24-track tape, but built other parts through an Atari sequencer (I don’t know if the mixing was digital or analog). Still, it ended up on some kind of tape, and here sounds as good as likely possible (original pressings with widely reported issues cost $2-400). The sides are 14-20 minutes long, and due to the album’s extreme dynamics suffer from inner groove distortion (sides A and C are cut especially hot). The distortion adds a certain character to the record, though, and amidst musical peaks the recording retains audiophile-grade depth and detail. The “deep space blue” 180g pressing at GZ is flat with some distracting (albeit light) noise in quiet passages. The packaging is A+; the foil-stamped glossy tip-on gatefold jacket has photos of the original mini-CD blister pack, and the LP inner sleeves feature that same blister foil design. There’s also a new VMP-exclusive art print and the “Patient Product Information” leaflet. “What is Spiritualized® used for? Spiritualized® is used to treat the heart and soul.”

Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways

Columbia 19439780991 standard US 2x180g LP (EU and US colored vinyl variants also available)

Produced by: Jack Frost [Bob Dylan]
Engineered by: Chris Shaw and Joseph Lorge
Mixed by: Chris Shaw
Mastered by: Greg Calbi (digital) and Joe Nino-Hernes (vinyl) at Sterling Sound

Music: 7
Sound: 7

Nowadays, Bob Dylan’s brand is to simultaneously fuel and surpass the public’s low expectations of him. Recordings of his recent live shows can be off-putting, yet those who’ve witnessed him in the flesh rave about his shockingly great performances (disclaimer: I haven’t yet personally seen a Never Ending Tour show). When fans wanted him to musically comment on these tumultuous times, he instead released Great American Songbook records. And when we finally lost hope for another LP of Dylan originals, he returned in June with Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first set of new compositions since 2012’s Tempest.

For someone who regarding his own life story is notoriously inconsistent, Rough and Rowdy Ways feels autobiographical; still, Bob Dylan can’t give everything away. Since 1997’s Time Out Of Mind, Dylan mostly faces his own mortality, which here he continues to do. More than before, however, Rough and Rowdy Ways shows him reflecting on his life and significance, often through characters and old cultural references. Setting the record’s tone is the opening track “I Contain Multitudes”’ line, “I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods/I contain multitudes.” With his low croon (at the clearest it’s been in three decades), over sparse, laid-back instrumentation, he speaks directly to listeners. “What more can I tell you? I sleep with life and death in the same bed,” he says. On “False Prophet,” in a dark, ghostly persona Dylan aggressively growls “I’m first among equals, second to none/The last of the best, you can bury the rest/Bury ‘em naked with their silver and gold/Put them six feet under and pray for their souls,” ending the song with, “Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died.” Rough and Rowdy Ways also memorably has the 17-minute JFK assassination epic “Murder Most Foul,” the gentle ballad “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You,” and the haunting “Key West (Philosopher Pirate).” Musically, the American roots styles of the album at times meander, but Dylan’s so lyrically revealing that it’s not too problematic. As an overall listening experience, Rough and Rowdy Ways isn’t among Bob Dylan’s absolute best work, though in his discography stands as one of his most significant and telling.

Unfortunately, the US 180g 2LP vinyl pressing is absolute garbage. Pressed at United (no identifiers, as they discontinued the etched “Ⓤ”), I went through two defective copies, and recommend others to order MPO’s European pressing (through any UK/EU vinyl retailer). My first US copy was too warped to play (LP1 was dished, and LP2 had a large edge warp – I suspect the warpage mostly a result of a poor cooling process), and the second had two LP2’s and no LP1 (but with correct inner sleeves). For an album costing $30-38, this is unacceptable; buyers deserve far better. This is one of only two constantly defective pressings I’ve experienced (the other being the US pressing of Kanye West’s ye, a 1-month rush job). The playable LP2 I heard, riddled with noise, insults the carefully-engineered, spacious recording. United’s plating, these days their process’ weakest part, produces a veiled tonality that lacks the digital stream’s sparkle. (Joe Nino-Hernes at Sterling Sound cut the vinyl, and his work is usually faithful to the source. From the MPO pressing’s reviews, his cutting isn’t to blame for the US pressing’s sonic issues.) It appears that the majority of the United batch is defective; Sony should recall it and instead distribute the MPO copies worldwide. For now, though, avoid the US Rough and Rowdy Ways vinyl at all costs.

Buy [US pressing]: Music Direct

Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Side B

Schoolboy/Interscope B0032280-01 LP

Produced by: Various
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Mitch McCarthy, Jake Birch, and Chris Kasych
Mastered by: Gene Grimaldi (digital), unknown GZ cutting engineer (vinyl)

Music: 7
Sound: 7

Despite her inescapable 2011 hit “Call Me Maybe”’s success, Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s sugary dance pop now reaches a different audience than originally intended. The marketing failure of her 2015 LP E•MO•TION led to her work attracting a smaller set of online music nerds (who usually listen to artsier, more experimental records), rather than sold-out arenas’ worth of 12-year-old girls and their parents. Science proves CRJ’s work irresistibly catchy, and even those who typically despise modern pop can’t help but like it. Combining Taylor Swift’s lyrical redundancy with a Cyndi Lauper-esque musical sensibility, Carly Rae Jepsen has a uniquely repetitive formula that somehow hasn’t worn out.

For each album, Jepsen writes about 200 songs, all of them extremely similar but different enough to stay interesting. Exactly a year after she released Dedicated, she dropped Dedicated Side B, a full-length outtakes collection from those same sessions (she also did this with E•MO•TION). Dedicated drew from 70s disco, and while with some good moments, it’s one of Carly Rae Jepsen’s weaker works. This outtakes album, however, is far superior. The songs are in every way better and stylistically broader. It all sounds very modern, but “This Is What They Say” refines the main album’s retro dance attempts, “Summer Love” dreamily evokes 60s-70s California rock, and the instantly memorable “Solo” has among the most 80s-style synths Jepsen has sung over.

Lyrically, Dedicated Side B reveals her go-to motifs starting to tire, especially the themes of not being able to stay away from a lover and desiring to keep open metaphorical windows. Her lyrics always rely on the idea of falling in or out of love; this uncertainty is supposedly part of the scientific appeal. Still, “Felt This Way”’s closing chorus line, “How come I can’t stay away?” playing right before “Stay Away”’s opening lyric, “How can I stay away?” is a very questionable creative decision. Dedicated Side B overall doesn’t reach E•MO•TION’s heights, but is definitely Carly Rae Jepsen’s most consistently good project thus far.

The vinyl edition, which impressively during a pandemic [this review is a couple months old–cont. ed] dropped a month after the surprise digital release (compared to Frank Ocean’s 9-month wait for pre-COVID 7” singles), is a Precision-pressed GZ in-house cut. Gene Grimaldi did the digital mastering, which sounds average; the many studios and engineers result in varied vocal recording quality. The vinyl, while with minor surface noise and slight scuffs, is well pressed and sounds adequate for $23. The jacket is a thick direct-to-board foldover, and a printed inner sleeve displays lyrics and credits. It could sound a bit better but considering the most likely fairly limited press run (Jepsen’s albums no longer commercially succeed), it’s quite reasonable.

Buy: Music Direct

Bob Dylan - Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid [Original Soundtrack Recording]

Mobile Fidelity/Columbia MFSL 1-487 180g LP

Produced by: Gordon Carroll
Engineered by: Dan Wallin
Mixed by: Unknown
Mastered by: Krieg Wunderlich and Shawn R. Britton

Music: 6
Sound: 8

In 1973, Bob Dylan had a small acting roll in and composed the soundtrack for the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. While I can’t speak on the movie, the soundtrack album is simple but enjoyable. Instrumental acoustic material meant to evoke the film’s scenery comprises at least half of the LP, with the rest having some of Dylan’s more easily accessible lyrics. Critics at the time disparaged the record (and understandably so – as a whole, it’s not terribly special), but “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” obviously became one of Dylan’s signature songs and is for many to the Pat Garrett soundtrack the main draw.

I have an original 1AB/1AB Columbia pressing (no embossed jacket) to compare to this new Mobile Fidelity pressing, strictly limited to 3000 copies with the Original Master Recording banner. The original pressing is already good to begin with – while side 2 is quite distorted, side 1 has a natural presentation with excellent clarity and imaging. The MoFi pressing is cut quieter, although with deeper bass and cleaner highs it’s sonically more relaxed. The MFSL’s side 1 is more a noticeable refinement rather than a steep improvement, although their mastering resolves most of side 2’s distortion issues. If you’re satisfied with the original, don’t bother upgrading (VG+ originals cost less than $10, vs MoFi’s $35), although for the album’s avid fans and those with seemingly unlimited record buying money, I recommend it. The 180g RTI pressing of my (opened) promo copy is quiet with velvet black backgrounds, and the Stoughton tip-on jacket construction is nice. The artwork scan resolution isn’t amazing (cover reproductions are among Mobile Fidelity’s consistent weaknesses), but all things considered, the MFSL pressing of Pat Garrett is well-done. (Side note: as generally good as their production quality is, I wish audiophile labels like MoFi would reissue more interesting material. There’s always room for reissues of the normal titles, but there are a ton of analog 90s rock recordings that haven’t been touched. Reissues of some of those would sell out in days; it’s mind-boggling that they haven’t yet been done.)

Buy: Music Direct

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music lover, record collector, and highly opinionated sneaker enthusiast. He unfortunately fell into Travis Scott’s “FRANCHISE” trap, buying CD, vinyl, and cassette variants just for the George Condo artwork. Follow Malachi on Twitter @MalachiLui and Instagram @malachi__lui.)

2_channel_ears's picture

Would be interesting sometime to hear a head-to-head debate of the merits of an album's worthiness. I wonder though if the sound rating here stems strictly from URP's botched job?

MalachiLui's picture

yes, stems from the vinyl sound quality. CDQ digital sound would be 8, and i assume the MPO pressing with proper plating and pressing would be 8-9.

Whizzy Stradlin's picture

...or Neil Young's AAA Psychedelic Pill vs his blu ray which supposedly has some of the most state of the art A/D converters.

Tom L's picture

I find the new release to be somewhat less than "Rough and Rowdy".
The JFK epic and a couple of others are OK, but otherwise it's more "Snoozy and Nap-Inducing".
It must just be me, as most reviews rave about it. To each his own.

MalachiLui's picture

there are a few AMAZING songs on it, but i do think that there are some more musically boring tracks and that the record is a little bit too long.

Mudfoot's picture

I got a copy of Rough And Rowdy Ways on the day it arrived at my friends record store. Had the exact same issue Malachi’s had. Second copy wasn’t much better. Sonically when compared to the hi-res download, the digital sounded spacious and natural and both my lp copies sound like ‘a golfball squeezed through a garden hose’. Thank for the recommendation on the UK pressing. Gonna order one.

Michael Fremer's picture
Don't want to start a Brexit fight!
Mudfoot's picture

Thanks for catching my slip up! I know better. My Euro friends would be so disappointed in me. Seriously don’t want to upset them, may need to crash on there couches next year!


Whizzy Stradlin's picture

I appreciate the Spiritualized review as I've been eyeing this reissue for a while. Looks like it delivers the sonic goods. I hope Fat Possum eventually does a mass market reissue of "Ladies..." so I don't have to join a music club and the price decreases.

My experience has been Plain cuts from cds as does a majority of 4 Men with Beards.

Absolutely agree with Mofi, Acoustic Sounds needing to move out of the 60's and tap into the 90's market. There is a mint to be made from Gen Xer's wanting to tap into nostalgia.

Michael Fremer's picture
I dropped the $50 big ones....
PotatoJunkie's picture

As did I, can't afford it but..... Must stop buying albums....Must stop.... Oh well who needs food anyway!

Anton D's picture

Dylan, like Wagner, is better than he sounds.

Get rid of Murder Most Foul and it would be a nine.

That song feels like a dirge version of “Life is a Rock but the Radio Rolled Me,” or “End of the World as we Know It.” Fine list songs, but it’s not my job to flip through Bob’s scrap book at call it a Da Vinci codex

Other than that and one middle song whose sound/tempo/mix didn’t fit the album and I’d go ‘9’ on it!

I think you have to encounter them in their individual time dreamed to fully integrate his combined work, Malachi.

Anton D's picture

I think I’m likely less than half right.

Tom L's picture

is "Goodbye Jimmy Reed".
That's the song I liked. Has the bluesy sound I loved on Love & Theft etc.

hans altena's picture

The MPO vinyl version is extremely good (though also here in Holland some have received lp's that had minor defects), mine is perfect and the details and spaciousness of the album are accentuated without losing the great dynamics. And yes I am talking about the sound! For the first time since the great trilogy of the sixties you can listen to Dylan for the expertise of the studio-recording and the instrumental back-up (maybe the ones with Lanois come close, but he's too intrusive for me). Granted, some may find the trance-like ambience of this masterpiece boring in places, it surely is not a rock record, it aims for a precious listening experience where the beautiful and clear and emotive speaksinging of the baffling and intimate lyrics comes to the fore. But the intricate playing in the background, where there's a constant and mesmerizing shift in seemingly repetitious motifs that swell and retreat like the sea, is something to behold. You simply have to sit down with a whisky or whatever and concentrate, or you'll miss what's going on. This one is not for the fast new generation, maybe it is for those of the young who no longer want to participate in the modern madness of the smart toaster addiction. I would say, a 9 for the music (one off because it just is not easy listening or pop enough, so in fact for me it is 11) and 10 for the sound. And by the way, notice how Dylan infuses this album with dark humor and emotion! It definetely belongs to his classics. Murder Most Foul may be an appendix, but it has had a great impact already.I mostly listen to it seperately, because Key West makes such a good finale and after that you just have to get yourself together before you dive into the big end of Murder Most Foul (where the drumming of Matt Chamberlain is something to behold, it reminds me of Elvin Jones with Coltrane.

arlissed's picture

The Atari sequencer used is just a midi sequencer - no hard disk recording here. Whatever gear being sequenced by it would be recording to tape, along with everything else

Rcrd's picture

That Spiritualized record really is something special... I wasn't aware of this pressing - Definitely need to look into it.

I don't agree with the Music note on Dylan's record either.. sonically isn't a masterpiece, but from a music perspective it's one of my favourite records of the year - Not quite on par with blood on the tracks, but still pretty amazing.. That being said, i'm happy not everyone likes the same stuff!

Glotz's picture

No comments there or to, but I liked what I read.

I did get the gold Euro pressing of 'Rowdy' and I really dig it!

Been a while since I've heard the Spiritualized... nice! Qobuz if not an LP purchase..

MalachiLui's picture

DEFINITELY worth getting the VMP vinyl. this is one of those albums where the vinyl exponentially increased my appreciation of it - digital (especially CDQ) doesn't do it justice.

Whizzy Stradlin's picture

I've listened to my copy of "Ladies..." I got it for $49 and I would suggest those interested buy now as the prices are only going up.

I agree with Malachi's review. This is the best sounding version of this album I've ever heard and I was happy I bought it and it's clear from the sonics, to the vinyl and packaging quality a lot of love went into this release. I am a little skeptical "Ladies..." won't one day get wider release on Fat Possum, but we'll see.

MalachiLui's picture

hopefully it'll happen for those who can't afford VMP (reasonable, since it's a high-end reissue subscription), but fat possum/VMP did el-p's 'i'll sleep when you're dead' earlier this year, saying VMP's edition was the deluxe version before a wider reissue "later this year." ofc covid changed everything [smh], but there's been no word since on a standard 'i'll sleep when you're dead.'

DigMyGroove's picture

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones. My United pressing purchased at Barnes & Noble is flat, quiet, and sounds quite good overall. While I like the album, I can't see springing for an MPO too with mine being a fine player as is.

MalachiLui's picture

i have a few records like that too, where i have a decent copy of the united pressing and don't feel like upgrading further. i returned my 'rough and rowdy ways' united pressing to amazon, and didn't even bother getting the MPO version. i just don't like the album THAT much...

Glotz's picture

Yeah, these days when a company drops the ball so profoundly, it sours me out, especially when one tries to get a better copy and the whole run is hot garbage. OK NOT OK Computer anyone? Uggh.. so painful for such a beloved album.

While I do feel it is a landmark 'writing' album for Bob and I love Bob producing music - period - I do agree that it doesn't have the impact that his pre-Infidels material has.

I still dig it and it just needs more time on the table for it to sink in below the skin...

MalachiLui's picture

i have the super deluxe set which was an EU (optimal) pressing for all territories. pressing on that one is fine, remastering not as much.

Anton D's picture

Wait a few months and go for a White Hot Stamper.

Glotz's picture

Thanks for the tip..!

Rashers's picture

as Europeans - we are always fascinated about how great American Audiophile labels are (Music Matters, Impex, Audio Fidelity, Analogue Productions, MOFI) and how utterly crap the quality of mainstream vinyl pressings seem to be. At least you can import our vinyl at a reasonable price!
I totally agree with you about Mobile Fidelity (and to a lesser extent the remainder of the Audiophile labels) - they all seem to be stuck in a 60s and 70s timewarp selling vinyl to baby boomers and Gen Xers. If they are not careful, they will see most of their business usurped by VMP and other adventurous record clubs. There are a whole pile of digitally recorded albums from the 90s, and particularly the 00s that were compressed to death at the time that would benefit from both digital and vinyl audiophile reissues (imagine actually being able to listen to "Californication"?).

Whizzy Stradlin's picture

To an extent albums from the 90's - 2000's are seeing release through the majors, Sub Pop, MOV and Porterhouse. The sonics are usually an upgrade over their cd counterparts. The problem is labels like 4 Men With Beards, Plain, and Scorpio have already released a lot of these albums as well, usually cutting from cds, thereby undercutting the demand in the market and possibly eliminating the chancde of these albums being released in the near future.

malansanni70's picture

The world's music scene is constantly changing

Timothy Ferriss's picture

Wow, that's quite a comprehensive review! You have a deep appreciation for Spiritualized's "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" and a keen eye for detail in both the music and retro bowl the vinyl pressing.