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Vinyl Corner : Bob Dylan ‘Blonde On Blonde’

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 a brief overview of the music itself. This time we’re evaluating the 2015 Mono reissue of rock’s first ever double album, ‘Blonde On Blonde’

The Music:

Released in 1966, ‘Blonde On Blonde’ was the follow up to a duo of the most remarkable albums of the decade. Released in 1965, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ saw Bob Dylan experiment with surrealist folk ballads and, more shockingly, rambunctious electric garage blues. The same year’s follow-up, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ was a direct continuation of the themes and sounds explored on its predecessor; both deeply revelatory, many wondered what dramatic left-turn Dylan was to take with his next album. In some ways ‘Blonde On Blonde’ was the daring act of self-reinvention many were expecting and in other ways not so. Sonically the album wasn’t anywhere near as huge a change as ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ had been from 1964’s sparse, solely acoustic ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ but, bearing its (at times debated) status as rock’s first double album, there’s no denying the raw invention found on the album. The 70 minute runtime allowed Dylan to put together his most eclectic album of the time, bouncing blues (Pledging My Time) sitting side by side with his brightest nearly-pop songs (I Want You), the odd transcendent acoustic moment (4th Time Around) thrown in to lever the album with a vivid sense of variety. Incredible work though it may be, it’s a testament to Dylan’s sheer creative power that it isn’t by far his best album – indeed, there’re at least another five albums all eagerly jostling for that title. Wherever ‘Blonde On Blonde’ sits in the Dylan canon, however, one thing is clear: he was firing on all cylinders when he made this album.

The Pressing:

We’re looking at the 2015 Mono reissue released via Colombia and Sony here. There have been other reissues (including a Mofi deluxe version and a Sundazed Mono reissue from 2002) but this is the only version of the album readily available in stores right now – no bad thing seeing as this version is phenomenal. It’s long been argued that Mono is the way to go with ’60s Dylan (and, arguably, much ’60s music in general) and, whilst the stereo mixes of Dylan’s material from around the time of ‘Blonde On Blonde’ by and large sound perfectly good, there is a clarity, precision and – yes, cliché as it may be – warmth to the Mono mix of the material that means this version still has an important place even now

As with the original pressing, this reissue is spread over two LPs but – unlike the 1st issue – this version is heavyweight vinyl. Although advertised as 180g, we weighed our copy and it actually came out at 200g, so there’s certainly no faulting the build quality of this pressing. Playback is as clean as the LPs look, with not a touch of surface noise throughout and only one random pop during the entirety of the album’s 72 minutes. Both of our discs came with small edge warps that caused visible undulation during playback but this didn’t affect tracking so it’s no more than a superficial issue.

Sonically this pressing is rich and striking; there’s a clearly defined soundscape that’s totally free of distortion and which also boasts a mix that doesn’t favour any one instrument or frequency, lending the overall mix real balance and poise. It’s nicely mastered – loud enough that there’s no need to crank the volume up but still dynamic and never overbearing, this is a quality release throughout and a great way to hear ‘Blonde On Blonde’.

The Packaging:

Packaging is attractive if relatively simple on this pressing, with an aesthetic that seeks to replicate the look of the original US pressing where possible. The gatefold is sleek and reproduces the original artwork in high quality both on the inner and outer gatefold. It is printed on fairly lightweight card however and certainly doesn’t feel especially heavy duty or luxurious (when free of records, the sleeve has barely any weight behind it) but, then again, the pricepoint on this issue – £20 or less – is cheap enough that expecting anything more would be unreasonable. Labels are very attractive, however, accurately replicating the eye-catching, fetching red Columbia labels found on the original US issue of the album. The records also come in nice quality poly-lined generic sleeves which is a definite plus and something that not enough new releases include.

Final Thoughts:

Sonically illustrious and beautifully defined, this is a great mix and remaster of ‘Blonde On Blonde’ and the pressing itself is simply fantastic; providing a quiet, well pressed platform for the music. Even if the sleeve is a little on the lightweight side, the low retail price of such a high quality pressing is more than enough to make this release very easy to recommend.