fri 22/11/2019

Reissue CDs Weekly: Crass | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Crass

Reissue CDs Weekly: Crass

The anarcho-punk legends back catalogue is treated with appropriate respect

As impactful as possible: Crass's Steve IgnorantTony Mottram

Abbey Road Studios and the anarcho-punk legends Crass seem an unlikely pairing. The new, vinyl-only reissues of The Feeding of the Five Thousand (The Second Sitting), Stations of the Crass and Best Before 1984 each bear a sticker saying “Remastered by Alex Gordon at Abbey Road Studios, as close as possible to the sound of the original release. ‘as it was in the beginning’.”

“Unlikely” springs to mind because of the disconnect between the apartness and individualism of this most wilful of bands and the historic, national-fabric nature of the North London studio: the place where The Beatles, Edward Elgar, Matt Monro and Cliff Richard recorded. It used to be owned by EMI, whose subsidiaries included manufacturers of weapons systems – hardly baggage which would have been ignored by Crass when they were still extent.

Crass_The Feeding Of The 5000  Second Sitting 2019 reissueThirty-five years after Crass called it a day, their album masters have come into the hands of Gordon, a mastering engineer based at Abbey Road whose speciality is dealing with analogue tape – the reel-to-reel masters which used to be the final stage in the production of record before it was pressed, back when music wasn’t reduced to ones and zeros. The music of Rita Ora and Sigrid has come through his hands but so have reissue projects, including Cocteau Twins’ Treasure Hiding and the A Kaleidoscope Of Sounds: Psychedelic & Freakbeat Masterpieces packages; both recently covered by this column.

Now, Gordon’s latest brush with the past hits shops. The three new reissues are the opening shots in a complete-catalogue Crass reissue campaign, and represent their earliest releases and a post-mortem-style summing up: the beginning and the obituary. The Feeding of the Five Thousand (The Second Sitting) and Stations of the Crass were last repackaged in 2010 on CD, as part of a series of releases titled The Crassical Collection.

A further disconnect is endemic to the music itself. Crass could be as sonically coarse and ostensibly inchoate as a snarling dog. However, with their always thoughtful cover art, packaging and well-defined messages, everything about Crass was considered. Making what was heard as impactful as possible was part of the deal. So taking the care to render a reissue “as close as possible to the sound of the original release” makes sense.

Crass_Stations Of The Crass  2019 reissueNonetheless it is not all quite “as it was in the beginning,” as it says on the stickers and on the right of each sleeve. The Feeding of the Five Thousand was initially issued in late 1978 by the Small Wonder without its intended opener “Asylum" (aka "Reality Asylum"). The pressing plant engaged by the label would not include track one as it was supposedly blasphemous. Crass reissued their debut in 1980 as The Feeding of the Five Thousand (The Second Sitting) on their own label and restored the AWOL “Asylum". This is the version reissued now.

Stations of the Crass was their next album. Issued in 1979, it was double with the final side taken up by an ear-bashingly bracing/unlistenable live recording. Best Before 1984 was a double album collected their singles which was released in 1986 following the band’s split. It first appeared on CD in 1989.

The trio have never been hard to find. Original pressings don’t fetch masses on the collectors market. For example, a close-to mint Stations of the Crass sells for no more than £60. Good condition copies are £30–£40. Notwithstanding the Abbey Road aspect, the core issue is whether the reissues capture the physical and sonic spirit of the originals.

Crass_Best Before 1984 2019 reissueUnsurprisingly, considering the band’s conscientiousness, they are a triumph. The fold-out sleeve of The Feeding of the Five Thousand (The Second Sitting) is as as per the original as it possibly could be. Once unfolded, a card drops out with a download code for the music. The pressing is clean and sounds like the original but has a fresh, wider dynamic range. The cut is louder too. The same then, but different. Stations of the Crass bears the same attention to detail and – the challenging live side aside – remains faithful to the original while sounding more vibrant.

Best Before 1984 is the real test. As a compilation drawing from the multiple sources of the various masters of the band’s singles, it was a disjointed listen on CD. The raucousness of “Shaved Women” sat uncomfortably alongside the fuller sounding “The Immortal Death”. Now, a gentle evening-out has been undertaken – especially apparent in the ever-wonderful “Gotcha”. Overall, the jarring distance between the peaks and troughs has been reduced. Whether this was achieved digitally is not specified in the promo material or the sleeve credits.

Hats off then to Alex Gordon, and also to all those behind these releases. The new The Feeding of the Five Thousand (The Second Sitting), Stations of the Crass and Best Before 1984 work as entry points and as upgrades. Doubtless, this is exactly what was intended.

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