Albums

Five classic albums you really should listen to on CD

CD fans, who since news of their revival broke, have been coming out of the woodwork in droves, will be relieved to hear the re-acceptance of humble records in society continues apace.

In some circles, it has been called “the most punky format”. Nobody knows what that means, but as the owner of thousands of them, I’ll take it.

It has, at home, inspired “CD evenings”. These are just like previous “vinyl parties” but with far fewer ups and downs. And, just like vinyl parties, has inspired many gasps of “I’ve never heard music sound so good.”

Our enjoyment had been tempered somewhat by an article in which older men who love CDs were referred to as “Media Dads”. At first I found it funny. “How do they even know that I work in the media?” I asked, until it was explained to me that I didn’t, and that it didn’t concern me specifically.

No, a “media dad” is a father who is very committed, even obsessed, with the medium on which his music is played, whether it is vinyl, CD or streaming. I do not know such a man. Honestly, does the media ever rest?

That said, there are some powerful reasons why you should enjoy your CDs, and to be honest, I’m not happy you’re going on with your life until you know them. So sit down, don’t try to leave, I locked the doors anyway, and let me tell you why the CDs sound so good and which ones are the best to listen to.

Vinyl, while such a good midrange we really didn’t deserve it, was actually a bit limited in the amount of bass and treble it could reproduce. The CD removed all of these limitations and its arrival ushered in a new breed of producers eager to amaze listeners with rumbling lows and crystal-clear highs.

In came names like Brian Eno (U2, Talking Heads), Steve Lilywhite (The Pogues, U2, XTC, Smiths), Rick Rubin (Run DMC, Beastie Boys) and Bob Clearmountain (Simple Minds, Bowie, Bruce).

Rubin in particular stands out for me. His work with The Beasties and Red Hot Chile Peppers was mind-blowing, but his ideas for American recordings with Johnny Cash were inspirational. It’s not without reason that people started saying that the four most important words in music were “Produced by Rick Rubin”.

It was a generation that picked up where Brian Wilson and George Martin left off. Not so much in terms of hardware, but in terms of sound, arrangement, assembly and mixing. The sound palace had never been able to accommodate such color.

The buzzword was DDD, which meant that an album was digitally recorded, digitally mastered and available on a digital format, the CD. In the 1990s, as producers got used to their new digital toys, the sounds produced, the clarity, the definition became breathtaking. So can I recommend:

1. Aerosmith, pump: Produced by Bruce Fairbairn, this is a surprisingly good sounding CD. ‘Jamie’s Got a Gun’ including: vocal sound, snare drum explosion, miscellaneous effects. It’s a symphony on CD. Fairbairn also produced AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, a song used to test PA systems around the world.

2. Mass attack, mezzanine: Impossible to imagine this album without the kind of bass that knocks the cups off the tables. He establishes a kind of bass universe on which and inside great vocalists hover. It sounds cliché to say, but we honestly hadn’t heard anything like it before.

3. Depeche Mode, Violator: It took that same low end, massive sound systems, and songs like Personal Jesus to really capture that dark, powerful, machine-like world of Depeche Mode.

4. Nevermind Nirvana: A degree of Nirvana’s charm was based on the Pixies’ quiet/loud approach. The silence was great, but the volume, that degree of loudspeaker noise, CD, defined 1991.

5. Tears for fears, sowing the seeds of love: Perhaps the time when studio production was starting to go a bit too far. It cost too much, it took too long but it still sounds like the record of the Gods.

Others you need to check too:

  • Overcrowded House – Woodface
  • Air – Lunar Safari
  • Pierre Gabriel – So
  • REM – Automatic for the people
  • U2 – Baby Achtung
  • Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
  • and Music, the Madonna album produced by Mirwais