Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Review: Al Jardine "A Postcard from California" (Japan "SHM" CD Pressing)
I don't quite know how it happened, but I have ended up with no less than FOUR copies of Al Jardine's "A Postcard from California." How did this happen?
Well, some may recall that back in 2010 Jardine literally snuck the album out as a download-only release. After years of waiting and Jardine yakking about how he was still working on it, it just randomly appeared for sale. So I downloaded that version. Soon after, Amazon offered a "CD on Demand" burned version of the album. No different than the download version, the main draw of this configuration was simply to own a physical copy, and to have the album in full CD quality as opposed to lossy download format.
Flash forward to 2012, where Jardine has "re-released" the album, this time on an actual record label, complete with several bonus tracks (and apparently a few other bits of tinkering/mixing to the album).
Just in case three wasn't enough, we now have the latest permutation of this album, the Japanese pressing made on the dubious "SHM" CD format (short for "Super High Material", whatever that means). I've read a bit about "SHM" CDs in the past, and I came away thinking that there's really nothing here beyond a marketing gimmick. They don't even coat them in 24k Gold like other audiophile labels. Supposedly, the construction of the disc is of higher quality, which nobody has been able to objectively prove actually makes the CD sound better. On this count, I don't know if it's any different from the old "green marker" urban legend about making CDs sound better. Maybe SHM CDs will survive the apocalypse or something, but they apparently don't sound any better.
The lure here for this Jardine release is additional alternate/bonus tracks. The "Waves of Love" confusion debacle of 2012 is not helped with this release. For the uninitiated, Jardine added "Waves of Love" as one of the bonus tracks on his 2012 reissue of the album. Intentionally or not, the "download" and "CD" versions of the 2012 reissue contained entirely different versions of the song. The CD included a more laid-back, live soundcheck-sounding version with Carl's lead buried among other voices, while the "download" version contained a much more "produced" and punchy version in a different key and with Carl's lead brought to the fore.
So what does this Japanese pressing bring us? Not one, but two versions of "Waves of Love." Confusingly, we first get the "download" version, making its debut on the CD format. Then, we get a ever-so-slightly alternate mix of that same "download" version. The mix of instruments sounds just different enough to be noticeably different, and we also for some reason get Al's lead mixed out of the middle of the song, leaving it as an instrumental for several measures. Weird.
Finally, we also get the only truly "new" song, titled "The Eternal Ballad." This song actually popped up several years ago when Al and his sons peformed it in a bizarre concert setting. Here we have a studio rendition. Al's voice sounds lovely, and the whole thing is not surprisingly pleasant but kind of bland. It sounds like something Al could have put together to try to stick on "MIU" or "Keepin' the Summer Alive."
So is this worth purchasing again? Depends on whether you want to hunt it down on Amazon or eBay and probably, at least within the US as an import, pay in the $35-$40 range, maybe more.