Vinyl Vlog 441

Vinyl Vlog 441

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the LP + 7” reissue of Peculiar by The Slackers. I remember the first time The Slackers released Peculiar in 2006 (back then, it came our on Hellcat Records). At that time, I was only a few years into working in the music press. I had a pretty good relationship with Epitaph, and they sent me a CD copy of Peculiar for review. Back then, I wasn’t too into ska – I was more of a humorless hardcore and street punk kind of guy, but I did my best to limp my way through a review of the album. It wasn’t a bad album to my ears, at the time (just sort of static, really), so so it wasn’t too hard to just knock through and ultimately forget about – but the beauty of reissues is that they bank on the power of nostalgia and, fourteen years later, Peculiar has proven to age peculiarly well, in my opinion.

All the above is really just a lengthy way of saying, “It took a while, but I eventually grew into Peculiar – and this vinyl reissue of the album marks a far finer representation of the music, I think, than the CD that I originally reviewed was.”

As soon as needle catches groove on the A-side of Peculiar and “86 the Mayo” opens it, listeners long familiar with the song will be absolutely floored by the fidelity of the sound. Here, multi-instrumentalist Vic Ruggiero’s keyboards sparkle brighter and more vividly than ever before, while the crack off the rim of drummer Ara Babajian’s snare rings with crystalline clarity. It’s not an overstatement to claim that listeners long familiar with this song will be impressed, and when Ruggiero enters the frame with the words, “When all your good intentions just leave you feeling old,” they’ll get excited. The remastering job applied for this vinyl reissue enhances Ruggiero’s vocal spectacularly here; the scruffiness of the vocal performance sounds so crisp, it feels as though it could have been recorded yesterday.

Listeners will find that they’re no less surprised as the side continues, too. Peculiar‘s title track follows “…Mayo” and sees Glen Pine’s trombone play a key position in the mix with its brassy flavor, while the horns play a great counterpoint to the dubbier elements of the other instruments on “Propaganda,” and the “songs about girls” punk center of “Set The Girl Free” has the ability to shine with the brassier production of this reissue.

It does need to be said that ending the A-side with the Doors-y keyboards workshop of “In Walked Capo” (which also happens to feature this critic’s least favorite vocal performance on the entire album – it’s just too repetitive and subdued) could easily be called a pitifully bad choice on the production team’s part (the track list gets augmented later in the album’s running to facilitate better play so it could have happened here too – but more on that later), but it could be contended that the intention of this reissue was to at least try and keep the running as close to the original release as possible, even if it didn’t leave the best impression. When the needle lifts from “In Walked Capo,” it will put the decision of whether or not to continue with the album’s B-side into sharper relief than has been the case on other records released since the return of vinyl several years ago, but those who are already familiar with the music on Peculiar will already be well aware of the treasures housed on the album’s B-side and will be ready to flip the record over.

The upside to this reissue is that the B-side does indeed restart smoothly from the A-, as one listens. Opening with a gently strummed acoustic guitar and Vic Ruggiero’s voice scaled back to a bedroom whisper, the first step is a decidedly intimate one and sees “I’d Rather Die Happy” snag listeners and draw them in for the duration because it is (from an emotional standpoint) completely different from everything on Peculiar‘s A-side. That start proves to be solid and, not terribly inclined to fall backward, the cut which follows “I’d Rather Die Happy,” “What Went Wrong,” keeps the introspective angling of its predecessor but puts a greater focus on a full-band recording which also causes it to feature a more outward-looking viewpoint. It plays very, very well here and, by song’s end, there’s no question that The Slackers are ready to move forward (for fear of getting too same-y).

The first, far more energetic, step past the introspective end on which the B-side of Peculiar began, “Keep It Simple,” sees the band bounce back into their best form. There, every member puts work into the very SoCal-sounding ska angle that the band puts onto the song, and the results are hypnotic. Ruggiero puts just the right amount of snot in his vocal performance to appease the punks, and also puts enough heart in to satisfy the girls in the audience – it’s a perfect storm. From there, the band lifts a live instrumental cut for a bit of filler (which, on this vinyl reissue, really doesn’t need to be present) before closing out the album with arguably the best reggae song on the album, “I Shall Be Released.”

“Hang on,” you might be exclaiming. “Something doesn’t feel right here! There’s a song missing from this reissue!”

That’s true, reader. “Rider,” the song which was supposed to appear right before “I Shall Be Released” in this runtime (that’s whereit appears on the CD, anyway), is absent from this LP. Why? Presumably, this is where technology waivers, between formats; because the amount of space available on a single 12” vinyl record is shorter than the amount of music which can fit onto a CD (by a fairly significant margin) Pirates Press had to get a little creative with the assembly of this set – because the runtime is longer than an LP allows, but is nowhere near long enough to necessitate a second 12” vinyl platter. A quick search of the record’s sleeve reveals that Pirates Press included “Rider” (a slow and fairly ominous cut which stands out as being completely unlike everything else on Peculiar) on the A-side of a 7” single which had been included with the set so it is complete, and which features a dub version of “Propaganda” on the single’s B-side.

Now, some critics (as well as some of the band’s fans) may complain that augmenting the regular running of the reissued album is more than a little ridiculous in both spirit and practice, but the concessions made for the Peculiar reissue really expose the heart of the release, as well as both the band’s and label’s desire to give fans all of the Peculiar experience. That obvious drive definitely makes this reissue even better and worth its’ asking price. [Bill Adams]


The Slackers’ reissue of Peculiar is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press.

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