Reissues — June 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm

XTC reissuing ‘Skylarking’ on double vinyl ‘as it was intended to sound, but never has’

XTC, 'Skylarking'

Hey XTC fans, Andy Partridge has some news for you: That copy of Skylarking you’ve come to know and love sounds “…how shall we put this?… wrong,” thanks to a heretofore undiscovered studio flub.

That’s the word from Partridge’s Ape House Records, which today announced plans to reissue the 1986 album on double vinyl “as it was intended to sound, but never has due to human error.” No release date has been announced, nor plans for another CD reissue.

According to Ape House, mastering engineer John Dent was working on a vinyl reissue of the Todd Rundgren-produced Skylarking — which the band long had felt “sounded a little too thin and bass light” — when he discovered that all previous vinyl and CD editions (including the pricey Mobile Fidelity gold CD) were manufactured with the sound polarity reversed.

For the casual fan, Ape House explains, that means “sound waves that should be pushing out from your speakers are actually pulling them back and projecting from the rear,” resulting in music that sounds “distant and thinner” than it should.

Dent reports that the “original tapes appear in very good condition,” and Ape House now plans “to present to you shortly a splendid double deep vinyl cut of this classic XTC album as it was intended to sound.” More information is promised “shortly.”

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14 Comments

  1. Exactly what I was maintaining at the old XTC site, IDEA records. It sounds like there’s an instrument missing, it’s thin in the middle.

  2. It explains some things I’ve felt about this album as well. I just thought there was too much gloss over the details at mastering time, rendering the sound flat and too echoey. I haven’t been this excited about a pending record release in a very long time.

  3. Darrell C.

    Wow. I’ve adored this album for years and never questioned its sound fidelity. It was 1986. I must have subconsciously assumed that that was the best they could do then.

    Anyway, (and this is not to be construed as forgiving such a rookie mistake as mass-releasing a polarity-reversed album) the fidelity never caught my attention because I’ve been permanently distracted by Rundgren’s genius in recognizing that XTC had (unwittingly?) written a ‘song cycle’ – a collection of songs, played in sequence, that tells a chronological story (in this case, the quintessential story of birth, life, love, death, and renewal).

    I’m thrilled at the possibility of hearing it the way XTC intended.

    Ultra-cool that the first re-issue is on vinyl, but for those of us without record players, when’s the CD release scheduled?

  4. Wow, I never knew that Skylarking was out of phase. I don’t own a copy yet, I suppose I’ll wait longer for the CD re release (Whenever that’s going to come out) By the way, I’ll add that I’m eagerly awaiting news of more reissues.

  5. If polarity is the only issue and your version sounds “thin”, then all you would have to do to fix it is to flip the speaker terminals at both speakers.

  6. Darrell C.

    @tv: Good idea! Except – if I understand the problem – you would need to reverse the polarity of only one speaker. Phase cancellation works by having one speaker ‘pushing’ and one ‘pulling’…this is the source of the ‘thinness’ that has been described…one speaker works as normal and the other ‘swallows’ the pressure field of the other…it is this ‘push-pull’ that thins out the sound by attenuating the full effect of the ‘normal’ speaker, if you see what I mean.

  7. Dick Hertz

    That’s really super, Supergirl!

  8. I’ve bought this record (vinyl, cd, and iTunes) a few times since its original release, and it always consistently has sounded thinner and quieter than any other album I’ve had. It was evident on early mix tapes I made and consistently so when it pops up on my iPod shuffle. If this is the reason, it justifies a lot of frustration I’ve had but never really voiced.

  9. I am a sound designer for theatre and have done more than my fair share of recording and editing, and I call bull. “Polarity reversal” is about as likely a cause of thin-sounding recordings as a lack of deoxygenated rare-earth speaker cables (costing $1000+/ea from online sources, mind you) would be.

  10. Why even get it on CD? The vinyl is uncompressed and the way it was intended to be heard. As an audiophile, I hope they never release it on CD, although I’m sure they will as all the previous issues have the polarity problem.

    I’m sure this will still cost a good $25 dollars, which is a little ridiculous for an album I have three times over. Two versions on vinyl and one on CD.

  11. Total bull. There aren’t a ton of details given here but it sounds like what he’s talking about is not phase cancellation (which is very obvious) but total phase reversal from both channels, which means that (as someone noted) all you have to do is reverse the leads on your speakers and voila – there’s the sound he wants. Now both speakers are pushing when the material tells them to pull.

    Nope. That ain’t it. Either we’re not getting the whole story here or this is a CYA for an “on the cheap” mastering job.

  12. Total bull and not even sound according to the laws of physics. Either we’re not getting the whole story here or this is a CYA for “on the cheap” mastering jobs.

  13. Total bull, and not even sound according to the laws of physics. Either we don’t have the whole story or this is a total CYA from some mastering boob.

  14. Stephen Bob

    What an utter embarrassment for fans and the band. For them to typically be considered brilliant music – this one hurts.

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