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. Following on from yesterday’s feature on ‘The Feeding Of The Five Thousand’, we’re looking at another one of the newly released Crass reissues. Up this time is their ambitious and eclectic sophomore effort ‘Stations Of The Crass’.
Where ‘The Feeding Of The Five Thousand’ was a pithy listen with so much focus as to almost bring on tunnel vision, British anarcho-punks Crass broadened their horizons when faced with the recording of their second album. Recorded a few months shy of a year on from the group’s debut, ‘Stations Of The Crass’ saw the band begin to play with the notions of exactly what punk could be. Small steps were taken into the avant-garde; the mere structure of the album alone is bold for its time. Released in 1979, the concept of a punk double LP was still fresh – the only other notable example being ‘London Calling’ by The Clash, a band Crass seemingly came to despise for their perceived commercialism. In total honesty, ‘Stations Of The Crass’ isn’t a full-blown double LP in the strictest sense; the newly-penned studio material takes up the first three sides of the album and lasts around fifty minutes. The following half hour is squeezed onto side four in the form of a flagrantly raw live set. Although it’s entertaining listening from a historical perspective, much of the material included is available on other Crass sets – including, in some cases, the studio portion of ‘Stations…’ and the original versions are usually more polished and engaging than these live takes. The studio portion of the album is excellent, if a tad transitional. Not as hook-laden or straightforward as their debut, nor is ‘Stations’ quite as extreme in its experimentation as later records such as ‘Penis Envy’ or ‘Yes Sir, I Will’. Nevertheless, ‘Stations Of The Crass’ remains a compulsive and markedly unique listen even now.
In yesterday’s feature on ‘The Feeding Of The Five Thousand’, we noted with some pleasure just what a high quality vinyl release that title was. Unsurprisingly, this edition of ‘Stations Of The Crass’ is no less impressive. It’s clear that this rerelease is intended to replicate the original edition as closely as possible, especially considering the reproduction of the first pressing’s quirkier aspects as well as its more conventional ones. The first three sides of this double LP set are cut at 45 rpm but side four is actually cut at 33⅓ rpm. This is the only album we’ve ever encountered where both of the commonly found speeds are present on the same record, so that’s certainly something to set the album apart. There’s actually no obvious indication of this fact (such as markings on the labels) but it becomes clear as soon as the stylus is dropped onto side four that it runs at a different speed to the others. This slower cut is necessitated by the fact that a full 32 minute live set is included on just one side of vinyl. Under normal circumstances, this would spell trouble in the form of inner groove distortion, sibilance and compression. In this case the band actually gets away with this particular cardinal sin of vinyl, by merit of the fact that the recording quality of the set is so rough that some minor degradation from overcrowded grooves won’t be audible. As with the other Crass reissues, ‘Stations…’ has been remastered by Alex Gordon at Abbey Road and, although no amount of adjustments can make the live set sound great, the studio-recorded portion of the album does sound excellent. The pressing itself is also very impressive. Throughout the course of the eighty minute album, we only picked up on one minor pop and a few errant background crackles now and then, none of which came close to marring the listening experience. The weight of the vinyl is substantial and plenty of care has clearly been taken in the test pressing process, as the end result is two slabs of vinyl with very tidy playback indeed.
Much like the band’s debut, ‘Stations Of The Crass’ was initially released on vinyl in a fold-out poster sleeve. This was a classic design choice for bands at the more DIY end of late ’70s/early ’80s punk but is nonetheless a rarely seen form of sleeve. The fact that it was reproduced at all certainly shows a willingness to adhere to the album’s original aesthetic, which is great news considering what a striking and influential art direction the Crass discography has to its name. The gauge of paper used to produce the poster sleeve is good quality and the final product is one that feels great in hand. It certainly seems as sturdy as such a design could ever be. The labels are also faithful to those of the original pressing, once again helping to give this reissue the prestige of authenticity. One very welcome concession to the modern age is the inclusion of a download code slipped inside the poster sleeve, which can be used to download the album in lossless wave audio. While the inclusion of such a code is certainly appreciated, the lack of an option to download the whole album in a single click is a shame considering that there’re 37 individual tracks that have to be selected in lieu of an easier option. Of course, the fact that the audio is available in such high quality certainly makes up for this and in general this is a very impressively presented reissue.
This is a vinyl reissue done right. ‘Stations Of The Crass’ is as uncompromising a piece of work as the band ever produced and this new rerelease from the band’s own label and One Little Indian is a fantastic way to experience it.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!