Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fleetwood Mac- Then Play On reissue/remaster review

 Fleetwood Mac - Then Play On
Fleetwood Mac
Then Play On
1969
Rating: ****
Bonus tracks: ****

Some might find it hard to believe that before their success with albums such as Rumours and Tusk, Fleetwood Mac was actually a blues rock band then they were formed by guitarist Peter Green in 1967. Fleetwood Mac’s third album, Then Play On, is often considered by many to be their best effort when Green was in the band. The album is also the last the band would make with Green, as he left the band a year after the album’s release in 1970. Now in 2013, the album has been reissued and remastered with the original UK tracking list and segues.

Fleetwood Mac was formed in 1967 by guitarist Peter Green. With Green was guitarist Jeremy Spencer, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. Green named the band using the surnames of the band’s rhythm section of McVie and Fleetwood. By 1969, the band had released two studio albums- a self-titled debut and Mr. Wonderful. Both efforts were simple blues rock albums and good enough for the band to make a name for themselves. IT was also around this time the band added a third guitarist, Danny Kirwin. The band soon achieved success with a hit single in the UK, the instrumental “Albatross”.

An album like Then Play On was a huge step for the band. Green decided that while sticking to their blues roots, why not dabble in progressive rock? “Coming Your Way” is a great intro and fits with the album cover painted by Maxwell Armfield. Green, Spencer and Kirwin all get to shine on this track. Blues comes in the form of the instrumental “Fighting for Madge”, Kirwin’s 12-bar “One Sunny Day”, the boogie riddled “Rattlesnake Shake”, and the sorrowful “Like Crying”. Songs such as “Closing My Eyes”, “Without You” and “When You Say” are beautiful ballads while “Underway” and “Searching for Madge” create this a sort of psychedelic atmosphere.

As for the sound, it’s fantastic. Then Play On is an album that has been retooled and messed with by the record labels for years. As mentioned before, this reissue is a remaster of the UK version. The US version was released twice in 1969. Both versions omitted songs from the UK version and rearranged segues. For example, the giggle at the start of “Like Crying” is moved to the end of “Searching for Madge”. When first released on CD in 1990, the album was changed up again. While mostly following the US versions, the segues were put in different places and once again, omitted several songs.

One major criticism of the 1990 issue that had fans complaining was the sound quality of the digital transfer, citing that there was too much hiss and distortion. I’ve done several sound comparisons of the 1990 issue and the new remaster. The 1990 version sounds much louder but very hissy and perhaps a little too much reverb. The new remaster does not sound distorted nor does it sound hissy. In fact, it sounds perfect. I’ve never heard the original vinyl but I can believe this is what people heard back in 1969. There’s no need to worry about any massive clipping either.

There are a few bonuses with this reissue. Insightful liner notes are written by Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke and there are a few bonus tracks. First, there’s the band’s hit single “Oh Well”. Unlike the 1990 issue in which the track as one nine minute track, the song is split into its original two parts like the original 45 single. Also on is another single, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” and its B-side “World in Harmony”. The former may sound familiar as it was covered by Judas Priest in 1979 while the latter is seeing its debut appearance on CD.

If you were disappointed by the 1990 issue of Then Play On, this is a no brainer: get this remaster immediately. If you are a stranger to Fleetwood Mac’s bluesy beginnings, Then Play On is a pretty good place to start. 

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