Vinyl Review Explosion: The Doors, The Mars Volta, Outkast, & Wu-Tang Clan

(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. This particular Review Explosion discusses four Vinyl Me, Please releases from June-September 2021.)

The Doors - The Doors

Elektra/Rhino/VMP Essentials RCV1 653797/081227891176 green and gold galaxy colored vinyl 180g mono LP + clear vinyl 7” EP

Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Engineered by: Bruce Botnick
Mixed by: Bruce Botnick
Mastered by: Bruce Botnick (digital), Bernie Grundman (vinyl)

Music: 7
Sound: 7

Yet another reissue of The Doors? Yes. There’s not much more to say about the music, aside from that while I find The Doors overrated, this first album is for fair reason highly acclaimed and historically significant. Michael Fremer’s 2012 review says it well: “The album holds up incredibly well, which is why it's revered both by boomers and their children and their (gasp!) grandchildren. The raw power contained in Jim Morrison's voice, combined with uncommon precision still dominates but appreciating everyone else's contributions becomes easier with the passage of a lot of time and especially with the improvement in one's audio system.”

In June, VMP Essentials reissued the original mono mix on 180g green and gold galaxy colored vinyl with a clear vinyl 7” of the “Light My Fire” French EP. Bruce Botnick newly digitized the original mono masters at 384kHz/32bit digital using the Plangent restoration process (which eliminates unwanted tape playback artifacts—Botnick says these transfers are “so close to analog it’s imperceptible”), and Bernie Grundman cut the vinyl on his tube system. This 2021 mono remaster differs from Rhino’s 2017 Botnick/Grundman mono pressing in that the latter isn’t Plangent-processed, though both reissues replicate the original speed issues and have the censored “Break On Through” (Botnick plans to eventually release a speed-corrected mono/stereo vinyl “twofer”). How does the VMP pressing sound? I don’t have any other copies to compare, but despite the inherent distortion this mono pressing is pleasingly transparent and punchy. I’m sure this VMP edition improves upon the 2017 reissue, though whether it’s enough to justify the $40 cost, I can’t say. The clear vinyl 7” featuring “Light My Fire,” “Take It As It Comes,” and “The Crystal Ship” sounds the same as the LP, with more inner groove distortion.

In the packaging department, VMP’s reissue excels. The glossy tip-on jacket feels luxurious, Jeff Weiss’ liner notes booklet is informatively well-written, and Kii Arens’ illustration print is one of VMP’s better art inserts. The 180g green and gold galaxy vinyl pressed at GZ is noisy (as good as it looks, the galaxy combination of green and gold vinyl seems designed to maximize surface noise), though the 7” is quiet. While I find the 7” to be package filler, its glossy flipback sleeve is nice (even though the odd identification tab is susceptible to creases). Is VMP’s mono The Doors reissue worth your money? If you’re a diehard Doors collector and prefer this album’s mono mix, yes. If you’re a casual listener or prefer the stereo mix, then you can skip this one.

The Mars Volta - De-Loused In The Comatorium

Clouds Hill/Rodríguez-López Productions/VMP Essentials CH 182 gold and black marble colored vinyl 2LP

Produced by: Rick Rubin and Omar Rodríguez-López
Engineered by: Dave Schiffman and Andrew Scheps
Mixed by: Rich Costey at Cello Studios
Mastered by: Chris Von Aautenkaanz and Florian Siller at Soundgarden Mastering/Clouds Hill Studios

Music: 7
Sound: 7

Following their previous hardcore band At The Drive-In’s dissolution, vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist/producer Omar Rodríguez-López formed The Mars Volta, a progressive rock group. Their 2003 debut album, De-Loused In The Comatorium, is a dizzying concept record about Cerpin Taxt, a character who following a morphine- and rat poison-induced coma dies by suicide (the story alludes to Bixler-Zavala’s friend, the late Julio Venegas.) For an entire hour, The Mars Volta Group, here comprised of Rodríguez-López, Bixler-Zavala, Flea, keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens, drummer Jon Theodore, and soundscape specialist Jeremy Michael Ward (who fatally overdosed on heroin a month before the album’s release), takes listeners through a whirlwind of frenetic drums and spacy guitars, layered into sophisticated, virtuosic compositions. While Bixler-Zavala’s verbose lyrical narrative is difficult to understand (there are no printed lyrics), the music impresses and commands listener attention. For all its complexity, near-incoherence, and abrupt dynamic shifts, there’s no question that De-Loused In The Comatorium advanced prog rock into the 21st century.

Long sought after on vinyl, Clouds Hill (which now controls the Mars Volta catalog) recently dropped several De-Loused reissues: one is their own black vinyl pressed at Optimal, another is a standard weight gold and black marble colored vinyl VMP Essentials reissue, pressed at GZ (a limited-to-1000-copies dark green and gold third variant appears sold out). Both pressings use Chris Von Aautenkaanz and Florian Siller’s vinyl-oriented remaster, though Optimal and GZ did their own plating. While the Clouds Hill De-Loused remaster clearly beats the Vlado Meller-mastered digital versions, the mix is already very compressed. Macrodynamics are impressive, but microdynamic details are lost. Further, VMP’s gold and black marble vinyl appears engineered for maximum surface noise; while the cut is loud enough to obscure most of it, it’s still annoying. (Due to many customer complaints, VMP ordered a repress. However, the nature of this colorway means that, no matter what, there will be abundant surface noise.) The spot-varnished tip-on gatefold jacket (which rearranges Storm Thorgerson’s outer jacket artwork) and printed inner sleeves are nice, though I find the album art poster and photo print unnecessary. As nice as this De-Loused In The Comatorium reissue looks, I can’t recommend the noise-riddled VMP colored vinyl over the (admittedly more expensive) Clouds Hill standard pressing.

Outkast - ATLiens

LaFace Records/Sony/VMP Hip-Hop 19439881721 neon green and blue galaxy colored vinyl half-speed mastered 2LP

Produced by: Organized Noize and Outkast
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Various
Mastered by: Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering at AIR

Music: 8
Sound: 8

At a time when the East and West Coast scenes ruled hip-hop, Atlanta duo Outkast edged their way into public consciousness: “The South got somethin’ to say.” On their 1996 sophomore LP ATLiens, Andre 3000 (Andre Benjamin) and Big Boi (Antwan Patton) built upon their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’s ideas. Gone (but only for this album) are the obnoxious skits, though here to stay are infectious hooks, incredibly smooth beats, and skillful verses. Produced by Outkast and Organized Noize, ATLiens demonstrates a fully realized vision, with the duo’s introspective lyrics about success (“Elevators [Me & You]”), religion, their upbringings (“Babylon”), aging (“13th Floor/Growing Old”), and more complemented by the immersive, otherworldly sonic palette. While their following work further explored this record’s R&B embellishments and space-themed atmospheres, ATLiens is Outkast’s clearest and most concise album—it gets across the point without wasting any time.

For ATLiens’ 25th anniversary, Sony released several vinyl reissues: one is their own 4LP set with instrumental tracks, another is Get On Down’s similar 4LP set with a bonus 7”, and the other is VMP’s August Hip-Hop Record Of The Month edition, featuring just the core 2LP album. (I can’t speak on the 4LP editions, though I wouldn’t trust the Get On Down pressing.) VMP’s edition, pressed on standard weight neon green and blue galaxy colored vinyl at GZ, is half-speed mastered by Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering at AIR. While the recording isn’t particularly hi-fi, the mastering is immaculate, with clear bass definition and a somewhat glossy, extended top end. Vocal presence is excellent, and the instrumentals are spaciously rendered. Unfortunately, VMP insists on using green vinyl, which results in quite a bit of low-level surface noise. The otherwise well-pressed LPs come in a thick, embossed widespine jacket with a not particularly interesting 8-page “Listening Notes” booklet. It would’ve been nice to have the 4LP editions’ extra artwork, but sound quality is most important; in that regard, the VMP Hip-Hop pressing succeeds. If you can obtain the currently sold-out half-speed ATLiens for a reasonable price (and aren’t fazed by surface noise), confidently buy it.

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Loud/RCA/Sony/VMP Essentials 19439893981 gold galaxy colored vinyl 2LP

Produced by: RZA (co-production by Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Method Man)
Engineered by: Ethan Ryman and Carlos Bess at Firehouse Studio, NY
Mixed by: RZA at Firehouse Studio, NY
Mastered by: Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering at AIR

Music: 8
Sound: 8

Before it became a name-driven entity that sold a $2 million CD to pharma-bro Martin Shkreli, Wu-Tang Clan was a nine-member Staten Island rap crew scrounging for recording money. Recorded in an inexpensive basement studio, their 1993 debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is an undeniable hip-hop cornerstone. Atop RZA’s rough-edged yet subtly melodic production, the lineup of him, Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Masta Killa, and GZA/Genius exchange energetic performances of descriptive verses. There’s nothing that others haven’t already written about this record, though I’ll add that Enter The Wu-Tang is one of few early 90s hip-hop “classics” worthy of such high praise; it’s a revolutionary LP that beneath the bombastic, raw aesthetic carries immense precision and intent.

Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) isn’t a traditional “audiophile recording;” it was recorded to reel-to-reel analog tape and DAT then mixed down to a TASCAM Portastudio. All previous vinyl pressings cram a rearranged tracklist onto a single LP; VMP’s new 2LP pressing fixes those issues. Cut by Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering at AIR from an unspecified source (probably hi-res digital), this is the best you’ll ever hear Enter The Wu-Tang. The sonic transparency truly transports you into Firehouse Studio, and RZA’s production envelops you. Unfortunately, VMP’s seemingly endless obsession with gold vinyl, here in a galaxy colorway pressed at GZ, renders the discs noisy. For a loud cut of this music it’s not particularly distracting, but it symbolizes a larger VMP problem. The set comes in a foil-stamped widespine jacket, with a “Listening Notes” booklet and underwhelming VMP-designed art print. Overall, this is an excellent package deviating from the typical audiophile reissue material, though VMP needs to rethink their color choices.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter: @MalachiLui and Instagram: @malachi__lui)

COMMENTS
xtcfan80's picture

Agree that the Doors are overrated...I'm also of the mind that VMP is carried away with the colored vinyl bit but they know the under 40 market and that market seems to love colored vinyl. Sad to hear RMAF is no more. Many great years in Denver learning about hifi with the help of Marjorie, Ramsay and crew.

Analog Scott's picture

The Doors title is a no brainer for me. I need to keep a closer eye on VMP. They are doing some very cool stuff

ishmaelk's picture

It cracks me up when someone says "X is overrated", meaning "I don't like it as much as other people". Not liking The Doors is totally fine.
But the "X is overrated" never fails, I guess. It makes our opinion more substantiated, even though what that means is only that we don't get it.
It's specially funny when it's said of someone whose influence is acknowledged by many bands even half a century after they released their debut.

jamesgarvin's picture

When I read a comment that someone or something is "overrated," my first question is "By whom?" By music fans? So, you mean that you are smarter than them? They have pedestrian musical tastes? Is the person voicing the comment a self appointed guru? By music critics? If so, then who do you mean? And how was that critic overrating so-and-so? So, yea, the statement so-and-so is overrated, without clarification, is a meaningless statement. And one of the worst things a writer can write is meaningless prose.

xtcfan80's picture

Yup...all artistic evaluation is subjective. As a possible interesting comparison view the Doors at the Hollywood Bowl video right after viewing The Dead Sunshine Daydream video from 1972....stark contrast to this listener with the Doors coming off as a show, not great musical interest. You could rightly say it's not an apples to apples comparison and that in part make my case...One band a so-so pop group with an attractive/magnetic front man... The other band a mind expanding, in the moment unit of epic interaction and improvisation capability encompassing every element of about American music that is lasting and meaningful.....to me

Analog Scott's picture

You don't get The Doors. I think we can move on from that though

vinyl1guy's picture

HI Malachi; could you direct me to the rating guide that you use. I notice you will state that this record or that record is either unrelated or over rated etc. If there is not a guide you use; who is doing the rating? would be good to know. BY THE WAY The Doors first album was as solid a rock record as you could find in 1967 and still holds up today.

OldschoolE's picture

to the ear of the beholder, it never ceases to amaze me how many will try to give themselves some air of expertise by using superlatives like "overrated" when they don't like something.
Nobody has to like The Doors, CSN&Y, Jethro Tull, Rush, CCR and on and on just because someone else does. However, to give an artist the label of "overrated" without backing or reason is not informative. It is an opinion, like everything else, which there is nothing wrong about that, but it should be clearly stated. The opinionated should also be open to education to either cement said opinion (nothing wrong) or even change said opinion (nothing wrong there either).
I'll use The Doors as example: To state that the band is overrated in this case needs to be backed up. Yes, some artists are indeed overrated, but this is one who can not shoulder that description due to history for one thing. My personal opinion is that I like the Doors a lot and yet even I think that perhaps a few of their songs are overrated, I would agree. However, I tend to look deeper into artists and such and even individual LPs. Maybe it is natural as an ex-musician, I don't know. If you look at the creative forces of The Doors and pay close attention you can come away with a sense of high-end musicianship and artistry. For example, just focusing on John Desmore's drumming: His complexity is only rivaled by the likes of the late Neil Peart for example. Complexity can be admired. We can also look at Ray Manzarek and his double duty of bass and melodic keyboard work done at the same time. (It should be noted that this was the case during live concerts! It should also be noted that this is easier in studio because you can lay down and record separate tracks of course). It also must be accounted that The Doors are routinely cited as being very influential by other well known artists, both within and outside the genre. I will readily admit though that I do not understand the accolades about Jim's lyrics. Nothing wrong with them and better than any pop artists these days in context, but I'm also not a poetry fiend myself, so I can't claim full understanding on that.

Another example is that personally, I always thought Ringo Starr was "overrated" and saying that to any Beatles fan of any level or even other drummers is enough to almost get one killed. Only a few years ago I decided to go deep and try to find what would redeem Ringo to perhaps change or solidify my opinion. Turns out, that my opinion was changed. While Ringo is not impressively complex like the likes of others such as Neil Peart, John Desmore, and even Buddy Rich to name a few, it is his sense of timing and minimalist approach that is impressive! In my opinion now, he is beautifully simplistic and throws in a keenly timed fill or accent that takes things to a new level. In other words, I have grown to appreciate Ringo Starr as a drummer through a deep dive into the music.
At the end of day though everything I said is 100% subjective just as is music.

jamesgarvin's picture

We can boil down comments like something or someone being "overrated" as follows: (1) Arrogantly meaning "I'm smarter than most people, or (2) Ignorantly meaning "Other people have figured out something I can't."

I'm not a fan of Springsteen, never have been. I have friends who have sold their souls for Springsteen. I don't get the attraction. But I'd never call him overrated, which is a subtle way of saying those fans are not so smart. Or they are suckers. In any event, experience has taught me humbleness.

Andy18367's picture

...has the arrogance of youth and the certainty of inexperience. Yet for all that he is a good writer with his own style and a gripping read. He will only get better as he continues to pursue his craft.

The fact that Fremer brought Malachi to AP is validation enough for me. Outwardly, Mikey has cultivated an image of the (one and only) cranky old vinyl iconoclast. But when you look at his longer takes, you find that he is a highly talented writer with a deep knowledge of his subject matter. As a case in point, check out his piece on the ATMP 50th anniversary release, https://www.analogplanet.com/content/all-things-must-pass-remix-quiet-be...

Ok, that's enough praise for one day. I need to go take a shower now.

dial's picture

You find The Doors overrated oh fantastic in this case give 0 to their music. If I don't like something I can't tell if the sound is good.

Anton D's picture

Can we have a day where everyone has to post his age?

I'm 62.

Art and music change over time. When we were young, the arrival of The Doors was pretty impactful, and Don Rickles was regarded as funny and The Andy Griffith Show was the top rated show of that year.

Nowadays, a young person that has already heard many/all the resulting influences of what has come before might not experience the degree of impact I may have felt the first time I ran across The Doors' first album (that, and 'Light My Fire' does absolutely suck.)

If I say Sid Caesar is hilarious, Malachi might say, "Getting hit in the face by a pie is overrated." He'd be right, but the first pie in the face was probably epic in its comedic impact and some of us may have nostalgia for it.

Beethoven's Fifth is a tired meme now, but was probably quite impressive in its time.

If The Doors album was released today, we might all just sigh and say, "Oh, another Killers album."

The Beatles albums up until Rubber Soul are also overrated. ;-D

When was the last time you played the album "Please Please Me?"

I get both sides, both are semi-correct these days.

Cbcry's picture

Since it’s obvious Malachi really stirred the pot by daring to insult a 60’s rock band which we know never goes over well here, I would like to offer up a defense. I’m sure his overrated comment wasn’t the best choice of words, at least not without an explanation. He did say that he finds they were overrated which is a acknowledgment of that statement being his opinion. So everyone writing that he stated his opinion as a fact then you didn’t read the whole sentence. I find Malachi’s statement pretty innocent and I’m sure you older listeners have said far more insulting comments about current music both hip hop and pop that someone like Malachi reveres so maybe give him a break.

M1chael's picture

Mikey, you’ve got to check this guy at the door. The Doors are tied for the 3rd best rock act of all time with the Stones & Zeppelin. The Who round out at number 5, you know this is true. I know music is subjective, but you have to have some perspective and this guy doesn’t have a clue. He shouldn’t be writing for this column. Maybe a fashion magazine!

Anton D's picture

I am happy to see your Commodore 64 allows you to get online. It is objectively the third best computer ever made.

Are record lovers the biggest snowflakes, or what?

You guys are embarrassing us fellow codgers.

If y'all are out there are claiming to be playing The Doors' first LP with any regularity....then you are liars.

Tom L's picture

You admit that musical taste is extremely subjective and then promptly contradict yourself with a personal ranking. We all have a right to our own opinions about music, be it Beethoven, Brubeck or bubblegum.
I enjoy Malachi's work, even when I disagree with him.

Anton D's picture

Thank you!

jamesgarvin's picture

you missed the irony of his post.

Tom L's picture

BTW, OldschoolE needs to know that the Doors had real bass players on their studio recordings. Manzarek wrote many bass parts and played keyboard bass for live shows and some studio cuts, but Larry Knechtel, Doug Lubahn, Kerry Magness, Harvey Brooks, Ray Neopolitan, Lonnie Mack, Bruce Botnick and Jerry Scheff all played on the albums released while Morrison was alive. The barely remembered post-Morrison albums had even more studio musicians playing bass.
Full story here: https://ultimateclassicrock.com/doors-bass-players/

JoeESP9's picture

I'm with Malachi on this one. I was there when the doors burst on the scene. I thought then and still do that they were overrated. But then, I also thought Janis Joplin was overrated.

After hearing Aretha I began to believe most other female pop/rock/blues singers were overrated.

jamesgarvin's picture

when I heard Whitney Houston, I thought Aretha Franklin was overrated?

Anton D's picture

;-D

Vinyl On Tubes's picture

It might be the mono mix. If you haven't heard it, you aren't missing anything. It's boring and flat compared to the stereo mix most of us are familiar with. I would not call this record "punchy" one bit. I would skip this. If you like your original mono mix, there isn't anything on this record that sway you away from it. For others, stick with the stereo version. I'm partial to my DCC. Others might like the AP 45s.

stretch35's picture

….appropriately rated.

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