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Peter Gabriel's ‘So’ and the limitations of vinyl

2 minute read

Shutterstock.comVinyl close-up: you can get more bass on the outside

RedShark Replay: Peter Gabriel’s iconic ‘So’ was one of the records that had a high-profile half-speed vinyl remaster treatment in 2016, but the 1986 original highlighted one of the many drawbacks of the format.

Following the successful 2LP reissues of Gabriel’s first four solo albums last year (all eponymously titled, but nowadays referred to as ‘Car’, ‘Scratch’, ‘Melt’ and ‘’Security), the following three — ‘So, ‘Us’ and ‘Up’ — are all being released on the format next month.

“It has been heart warming to see the return of vinyl,” says Gabriel. “Even though I loved being free of its limitations in the digital world, there is still a warmth and presence to vinyl that somehow makes it a more natural human companion. It is great to see a new generation learning the secrets of the grooves.”

All three have been half-speed remastered and cut to lacquers at 45RPM, with ‘So’ released across two heavyweight 180g LPs (‘Us’ and ‘Up’ were CD-native albums at release, and are thus a bit longer and require five sides each). What’s more, the half-speed version of ‘So’ corrects for the first time on vinyl the problem with the running order — one of those original limitations that Gabriel refers to — that the original record ran into.

Gabriel had always intended ‘In Your Eyes’ to be the closing track on the album, but there was just too much bass for it to be cut near the centre of the disc. So it was swapped with the slightly quirkier ‘This is The Picture (excellent birds)’ recorded with New York-based avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson.

Which was all very nice, but did slightly rob the album of a proper closing track.

“I always wanted ‘In Your Eyes’ to go at the end of the record,” said Gabriel in interviews around the ‘Back to Front’ tour a few years ago. “But to get a fat bass line on a full vinyl record, you can’t put it near the end, because there isn’t enough room for the needle to vibrate in the groove as it got close to the centre. You have to have it nearer the beginning, so it went on the start of side two.

“When CDs came along, I was able to take that track and put it back on the end where it always should have been.”

For CDs in this case read 45s, though, of course, even these are not immune from problems. United Record Pressing’s oft-quoted maximums for vinyl list 12 minutes of music as the ideal for a 12” running at 45RPM, whereas the fourth side of ‘So’ lasts for 13:12 and will probably take a consequent hit on overall loudness as a result (which URP reckons for conventional 33RPM albums is one decibel in volume for each minute over 13 minutes per side).

If we’ve been counting properly, this is the fourth time ‘So’ has been remastered. “As long as people keep buying it, we'll remaster it,” said Gabriel back in 2012. Don’t bet against a fifth one in the future…

Vinyl close-up from shutterstock.com

Tags: Audio