Mini-Review: Eric Clapton – “Slowhand”

After more restoration work on our turntable yesterday, we decided to turn our last Christmas voucher into some new pristine vinyl – and had a rather tortuous experience with various HMV stores in Central London to find some worth the stylus time.  In the end we settled on “Slowhand” by Eric Clapton – a “Back to Black” remaster pressing on 180g virgin vinyl.  The disc is spinning as I write and it’s a mindblowing experience.  There have been many of these over the last few weeks we’ve been dipping our toes in the sea of black stuff, but this has just become my reference disc for what analogue playback is capable of – it might yet be digitally recorded for me (while it’s still clean) to use for PA system setups when 88.2KHz 24-bit digital playback is possible, either from my Mac laptop directly or via my EMU 0202USB.

About the disc itself:

Universal / Back To Black / RSO 0042281718816

Track listing:

  1. Cocaine
  2. Wonderful Tonight
  3. Lay Down Sally
  4. Next Time You See Her
  5. We’re All the Way
  6. The Core
  7. May You Never
  8. Mean Old Frisco
  9. Peaches and Diesel

The first three tracks are well-known Clapton pieces, and I’ve heard all of them performed live.  This recording really shines – and brings those songs to life in a way I’ve never heard before.  Throughout the disc the soundstaging is pin-sharp – vocals are delivered in the centre of the room when needed, and the rhythm section both fills the room and underpins the mix without dominating.  The guitar work is exquisite.  I’m not really able to deliver much of a musical review as that’s beyond my expertise, but from a technical perspective this work really is beyond anything else I’ve heard in a good long time.  I’d buy the remastering engineer(s) a drink if ever I get the chance to meet them.

A special mention should be made here of those first three well-known tracks, which I’ve known well from an early CD pressing of “Time Pieces”.  Actually I should say I *thought* I knew them well.  There’s so much more detail on offer here than on the compilation CD.  “Wonderful Tonight” I shouldn’t say it, but really does live up to its name.  The sound is warm, lush and highly musical – so much more than the bland compressed middle-of-the-road song we all know and think we love, even if we don’t admit to it.  “Peaches and Diesel” is one of the few blues-rock instrumentals I can listen to – and I can get lost in it, there’s so much space and atmosphere on offer.  I feel like I could get up from my chair and walk around the instruments as they’re presented in front of me.  No mean feat in a very distracted listening environment with noisy neighbours, passing traffic and a busy dance recording studio in operation nearby.

From the perspective of a newly converted vinyl lover trying to justify what is about to become an expensive new habit – this disc really does bring out the best the format has to offer.  Wide soundstaging, pin-sharp vocals that never creep into sibilance.  It also says something of the restoration works done to our Dual 505-2 that the recordings are played without audible tracking distortion, rumble or other nasties wherever they happen to reside on the disc.  Usually the last track on a side tends towards sibilant distortion due to mistracking of the current or previous equipment being used to play it – there’s no sign of this here.

I’ll be interested to try playing the free MP3’s of the album that were offered along with the purchase of the vinyl – I’m sure I’ll be able to better those by recording myself, which could be an interesting experiement sometime in the future.

Meanwhile I can sit back with a delicious beverage of choice and relax with this set, knowing that both the music and the equipment relaying it are top-notch.