Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Continuing on from the last couple of Crass-focused articles, we’re taking a good look at the newly released reissue of their 1986 singles compilation ‘Best Before… 1984’.
Like rock ‘n’ roll before it, punk was in large part a musical movement propelled by the humble 7″ single. There were albums, of course – and plenty of them, at that – but practically every great punk act released a far greater number of singles than LPs. Crass were no exception to this rule, producing substantially more singles during their existence than they ever did full-length releases. Although the group disbanded two years before its release, 1986’s ‘Best Before… 1984’ collection assembles the band’s non-album output into a useful double LP package that runs damn close to the eighty minute mark. Although one or two of the numbers included here do appear on their mainline studio albums, the vast majority of the material here is unavailable outside of the original 7″ releases from which they were plucked, making this an indispensable part of the Crass canon. Indeed, ‘Best Before… 1984’ actually features some of the best material the band ever created. ‘How Does It Feel? (To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead)’ and ‘Sheep Farming In the Falklands’ take a bellicose look at Thatcher’s impact on the world and do so with a righteous fury that ends up propelling the songs into the punk stratosphere. Powerful as that material is, certain of the other tracks on the album find the band experimenting with the form of punk itself, taking cues from ‘Stations Of The Crass’ but ultimately bettering quite a bit of what appeared on that album. The gut-wrenchingly powerful ‘Shaved Women’ is almost transcendent in its horror-fuelled rage. The breath-taking eight minute avant-rocker ‘Nagasaki Nightmare’ is one of only a few pieces to deal with nuclear annihilation that actually does some degree of justice to the sheer abhorrence of its subject matter. ‘Blood Revolutions’, meanwhile, demonstrates a degree of street-smartness and foresight that few of the group’s contemporaries could even begin to display. Ultimately, ‘Best Before… 1984’ serves as one of the most cohesive, intense and cathartic albums in the Crass discography. It collects together some of the group’s strongest material and its roughly chronological sequencing lends it a satisfying sense of artistic progress across the eighty minute runtime.
We’ve been very impressed with the quality of the vinyl pressings on both of the previous Crass reissues we’ve looked at and ‘Best Before… 1984’ is no exception. Both LPs are heavyweight black discs boasting clean surfaces with strong sheens. As with the other reissues in this series, the audio has been remastered at Abbey Road Studios – always a good sign, considering the quality of the audio engineers employed there. True to that, the sonics are excellent on this reissue. The hype sticker attached to the shrinkwrap proudly proclaims that the audio is “as close as possible to the sound of the original release”, which evidences that the original must have sounded great because this version does too. As with the other Crass reissues, it’s worth remembering that this is gritty anarcho-punk, not refined audiophile jazz. There’s certainly a degree of auditory focus on these recordings and the instruments all sound excellent but, like most punk, this isn’t the kind of material that exactly screams high-fidelity. Even so, the remaster has only embellished the soundscape and ensured that the various frequencies are well balanced, with a precise high end, fresh mids and an impactful yet controlled bottom end. Playback quality is very strong here, boasting a low noise floor and clean sound almost entirely free of even minor background noise and certainly clear of more audible imperfections such as pops or clicks. Far too many modern pressing plants operate on a basis of slack quality control, so it’s refreshing to hear a series of reissues that bear playback as consistently clean as these Crass rereleases.
Where the reissues of ‘The Feeding Of The Five Thousand’ and ‘Stations Of The Crass’ came in poster sleeves which replicate the original editions, ‘Best Before… 1984’ was never presented in such a way. As with the original release, this reissue comes in a standard gatefold sleeve. There’re pros and cons to this when compared with the poster approach: on the plus side there is a chunky spine which helps to find the album on a packaged shelf, on the other hand, the poster design is certainly more unique than this traditional gatefold. Nevertheless, this is a very attentively presented reissue with a clear intent to fully reproduce the original release’s presentation. In addition to the gatefold sleeve, two inserts are included here: one is a fold-out lyric sheet spread over four sides and the other is a double-sided essay on the group and their history. The sleeve itself is nice quality; the cardstock used here is not massively heavy-gauge, but it’s solid enough to feel decently strong in hand and print quality is good throughout, as is the quality of the colours used to reproduce the artwork. The records themselves are included in very high quality generic black polylined inner sleeves, which are certainly sure to keep the vinyl in great shape. Rounding off the package is a download code that can be used to access the album in lossless wave audio. Even in 2019 most labels still only provided lossy MP3 audio with their download codes, so it’s always commendable when lossless audio is made available with a vinyl purchase.
As with the previous Crass rereleases we’ve written about on Vinyl Corner, ‘Best Before… 1984’ is a fantastic reissue that puts back into print a scarce yet highly important chapter in the group’s story.
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