Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For this latest instalment in the series, we’re looking at a stunning and unique release from British label Stylotone: Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 film ‘Marnie’
There’s an enormous poster included in the Stylotone release of ‘Marnie’ that replicates the original cinema poster for the film. In bold font, the poster excitably exclaims that “Only Alfred Hitchcock could have created so suspenseful a sex mystery!” If that is indeed true, then it seems likely that only Bernard Herrmann could have created a soundtrack quite so fitting. As both the score’s writer and conductor, Herrmann had the rare task of having to fit his own creative psyche into that of Hitchcock’s. It was a pairing that clearly worked well, as Herrmann ultimately scored many of the Director’s films – amongst a long list of titles from other auters. Upon listening to what he came up with for ‘Marnie’, it isn’t hard to see why the two had such a strong working relationship. It’s classy, elegant and sensual in a way that many of the best late ’50s and early ’60s film scores were. While undoubtedly the produce of a bygone era in music, Herrmann’s work retains an enduring appeal even now – much like the film it accompanies.
British label Stylotone have been active for a few years now, but their output remains relatively small. Clearly interested in quality over quantity, their previous output totals a couple of double LPs and a small clutch of 7″ singles – all of which focus on ’60s film scores. ‘Marnie’ continues their singular modus operandi and is, simply put, one of the most luxurious releases we have ever written about for Vinyl Corner. The fifty-odd minute soundtrack is stretched out over two LPs on this release, both of which have been cut at 45rpm for the best quality possible. Stylotone have opted to hire the services of GZ Media for the pressing – a possibly surprising choice considering that they’re hardly the go-to pressing plant for audiophile-grade releases. Even so, GZ have created a pair of beautiful sounding records here, which do full justice to the rich and nuanced music contained within the grooves. Both discs are clean and quiet, although neither one of them is entirely flat. Fortunately this is subtle and doesn’t cause any tracking issues – we would imagine that this is mostly due to the amount of inserts tucked in the sleeve alongside the LPs which may have resulted in uneven pressure being applied to the discs. Fortunately, it’s a minor issue at most and not one that causes any problems with the playback. Indeed, playback is really impressive across all four sides. We didn’t encounter a single pop or click across the course of the album – good news, considering how easily the fragile ambience of the music could be shattered by imperfections.
The noise floor is unobtrusively low and we picked up on only a few minor and infrequent background crackles here and there, none of which marred the listening experience. The choice to cut the release at 45rpm has resulted in incredible fidelity throughout; the sound is lively, spacious and realistic, with a dynamic soundscape that credibly realises the nuances of an orchestra. The album also boasts new and exclusive remastering from Abbey Road’s Sean Magee, whose previous work includes the excellent sounding Beatles reissue campaign from about a decade ago. His mastering reflects the subtleties of the music itself and allows plenty of space for the natural peaks and troughs in the score. The inevitably short sides that come with a 45rpm make for a spacious cut on vinyl that comfortably skirts around potential issues such as compressed sonics or inner groove distortion.
A few may grumble at each side lasting about twelve or thirteen minutes but we’d say that this is a small price to pay for sound quality so rich. It would be remiss of us to gloss over the fact that both LPs are also in a fetching shade of translucent red vinyl; they look great and sound even better. Rounding off the musical aspect of this release is a 7″ single on black vinyl, again pressed by GZ Media. Side A gives us Nat King Cole singing the film’s title song, whilst the B side gives an instrumental orchestral version of the same theme. Playback is just as clean as the LPs and the sonics are also solid here.
The quality of the vinyl pressing and remastering may well be very impressive on this release but that, of course, raises the question of just how well the packaging and presentation stack up. Very well indeed, as it turns out. Stylotone have clearly put just as much effort into the collectability and presentation of this release as they have the sound quality itself. This is a genuinely deluxe (or, indeed, super-deluxe, as the hype sticker would have it) package, clearly aimed at an audience fond of the finer things in life. The whole thing is housed in an extremely high quality tip-on gatefold sleeve. The cardstock used is very heavy indeed and the jacket feels great in hand. The sleeve is front laminated, with a matt back cover. Although not quite the same, it feels overtly reminiscent of the front-laminated flipback sleeves commonplace in the UK during the ’60s. Further subtle additions, such as the text: “File under SOUNDTRACK : Films and Shows” only reinforce this concept of a modern reimagining of something undeniably vintage. A newly penned essay appears on the back cover, and a candid shot from the set of the film is spread across the inner gatefold panels. Print quality is sharp throughout and colours are really strong as well. The modern-retro styling continues with the label designs, which feel faithful to the aesthetic of early ’60s label layouts whilst still being original designs from Stylotone. There’s also plenty to dig into in term of inserts. As briefly mentioned before, a huge 30″ x 40″ poster is included in the package. Although a certain subset of collectors would likely be too afraid to even unfold it, they’d be missing out as it’s a classy design with a great retro-kitsch appeal. A full-length CD version of the album is also included, appearing in a vinyl-replica sleeve that faithfully reproduces the main cover in miniature. If being provided with the album on vinyl and CD weren’t enough, a download code is also included in the package. It’s redeemable not only in 320kbps MP3, but also in lossless 24-bit WAV – kudos for that. Putting the finishing touches to the presentation is a wrap-around insert reminiscent of (though distinct from) a Japanese Obi strip. Although it largely serves as an advertisement of the contents, it can be safely flattened and stored inside the sleeve once the shrinkwrap has been removed. One final point worth mentioning is the fact that the generic black LP inner sleeves included here are polylined, providing great protection for the records inside.
Stylotone are clearly not a label interested in doing things by halves. In their release of ‘Marnie’, they have created one of the highest quality titles we’ve ever reviewed for Vinyl Corner and that, in itself, is no mean feat. Both in terms of sound quality and presentation, this release is a real treat.
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