With the public desire for quality formats seemingly on the rise there are a number of classic albums reappearing on vinyl in various different configurations. Following the teaming of new label Music On Vinyl and What Records, we are now treated to a limited edition (just 500 copies), audiophile pressing of Alice in Chains’ seminal album ‘Dirt’ on dirty red vinyl and for the analogue music fan the advantages are clearly obvious although not everything is perfect…
Vinyl is rightly seen to be the format of choice for serious music fans. The argument runs that the predominant reason is the audio quality and there is certainly much mileage in this argument. However, talk to any vinyl fanatic and you’ll rapidly discover the other reason – the artwork. You see the digital era (and even that of the ill-fated cassette) saw the endless downsizing of album artwork and reduction in packaging. This is tragic as many artists pride themselves on the quality of their imagery and, indeed, there are many album covers that can legitimately be called iconic – consider the elegiac and mysterious cover of Led Zeppelin IV, the striking baby chasing a dollar of Nevermind or the all-but-invisible snake of Metallica’s black album – all of these images helped to keep the albums in the public’s consciousness, but would they have had the same impact if first unveiled on an IPod screen? The artwork for ‘dirt’ is an iconic cover for hard rock fans and the reason for my digression is that with this limited edition it would have been nice to have seen some expansion. Certainly the package is true to the original pressing, but in these days of deluxe reissues a gatefold effort would have been nice rather than the original booklet spread around the sleeve – it gives this limited edition piece a rather cheap feel.
Nothing, however, feels cheap about the vinyl itself. In recent years there have been multitudinous reissues of varying quality but the sound quality achieved here is remarkable. The vinyl itself is heavyweight (180gm) although not spectacularly so, but nevertheless it barely crackles at all, even on the fifth run through, a fact made all the more remarkable as the album is pressed onto red swirl (or ‘dirty red’) vinyl which normally engenders a slight loss in quality. Moreover the album was originally mastered for vinyl (‘dirt’ was released back in the days when vinyl was expected rather than a luxury option) and the highs and lows stand out with remarkable clarity. Listen to the roar as ‘Them Bones’ kicks off the first side, the vicious riff that opens up ‘dam that river’ or the creeping horror of the bass-line that announces ‘would?’ it is all represented here with a clarity you’d barely believe possible and immediately any sins of the cover are forgotten.
Of course ‘dirt’ isn’t all about fire and fury as fans of the album will already know. ‘Rooster’ has a mellow vibe to it which is bought out perfectly by the detailed mix on the record whilst the sombre, haunting ‘down in a hole’ moves from elegant to brutal on a knife-edge with no loss of clarity and credit has to be given to producer Dave Jerden who coaxed remarkable performances from the drug-damaged band and then imbued them with such warmth and clarity. Indeed, it is arguable that of all the celebrated grunge records of the early nineties, ‘Dirt’ has the most apt and metallic production – something well represented on this vinyl release.
Although clocking in at almost an hour, ‘Dirt’ comfortably fits on a single platter with no discernible loss of clarity even during the run in and lead out sections of the disk and it is clear that this is a real treasure for fans still possessed of a turntable. Individually numbered (although sadly via a label on the plastic wallet that protects the sleeve, rather than on the sleeve itself) this is a wonderful, audiophile pressing of one of the best albums of the nineties. Best snap one up whilst you still can!