Friday, October 3, 2014

Big Country's 'Steeltown' Gets Bigger

Slowly, but surely, Big Country's back catalog has been getting spruced up and expanded. It started with 'The Crossing' in February 2012. The followup, 'Steeltown,' has been on the docket for ages. It was due to come out this past April but was pushed back to this week. I assume this lengthy delay was designed to coincide with the 30th anniversary tour that's on the road right now. As some of you may know, as a lad in 1983 and 1984, Big Country was my favorite band. Period. Although 'The Crossing' was the only hit here in America, I have always ranked 'Steeltown' right beside the debut album as Big Country's best work. 'Steeltown' is dark in theme and tone. The patented Big Country guitar riffs are fewer, and the songs don't have that same sing-along feel as earlier singles like "Fields of Fire" and "Harvest Home." In other words, the listener is challenged, and Americans didn't like that one bit. Meanwhile, in the UK, the album debuted at No. 1 and spawned three hit singles. I'm just sayin.'

The deluxe edition of 'Steeltown' has many more highs than lows. Let's get to the best and most important news first. If you're familiar with the original CD release, you know the sound barely passes muster. To these ears, it wasn't as good as my old vinyl copy I bought the day 'Steeltown' was released. Subsequent remasters, remarkably, made matters worse. Now, I'm no audiologist. I haven't broken down the various channels and checked for compression, volume, etc., but I have listened to the album several times (in fancy headphones, no less, impressive, eh?), and I proclaim this the best sounding version of 'Steeltown' on CD.

For me, the second disc is more about what isn't here. Like the deluxe edition of 'The Crossing,' producer Steve Lillywhite's amazing 12" extended versions are nowhere to be found. If you haven't heard the nearly eight minute remix of "Just a Shadow," you are really missing out. We do get a few B-sides, and my two all-time favorites are here (a cover of "Prairie Rose" and "Winter Sky"), but the rest of the songs are either radio edits of singles, which I find kind of boring, or rough mixes. Now, these mixes have superior sound and are miles away from the usual demos you find in packages like these, and I was completely floored by the jam-packed final two minutes of "Where the Rose Is Sown," but these are for die-hard fans. The 12" singles would have appealed to more listeners than radio edits and rough mixes.

Like the deluxe edition of 'The Crossing,' the CDs are housed in a paper cover that's a little on the flimsy side. I will be handling with care. The booklet is a whopping 22 pages, and the liner notes by Tim Barr do a great job of taking you back to 1984, a real up time for the band but a real low time for the United Kingdom. By the end of the read I felt I had a new appreciation for the themes Stuart Adamson was tackling in these songs. For example, before yesterday I never knew "Flame of the West" was about Ronald Reagan.

The new-and-improved 'Steeltown' will be released here in America on Tuesday. Amazon has it listed at roughly $32.50. Yes, that is rough. Well, I bought it at Amazon UK and paid about $23.50, and the shipping was more or less the same cost as a domestic order. Furthermore, I got it a week earlier. Yes, there is a way to make your import music feel like a domestic purchase. I would be remiss if I didn't mention there is a vinyl version of all this, and none of the songs were cut to make everything fit on the double album. That's a real rarity for these deluxe editions.

To get you in the mood, here are those aforementioned 12" versions that didn't make the cut.

Big Country - East of Eden (Extended)
Big Country - Where the Rose Is Sown (Extended)
Big Country - Just a Shadow (Extended)


Uncle E said...

I am very much looking forward to getting this, although based upon your recommendation I shall buy through amazon UK. Thanks!

Brian said...

Hey E! Yep, it's time. The best part will be your pal Kamerman and myself will finally leave you alone about not having it.

Uncle E said...

That's the funniest thing I've heard in ages, Brian. True, also! I'm really looking forward to it.