Vinyl Corner : Crystal ‘Music Life’

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, we’re getting a shot of fluorescent, feel-good disco-boogie with a 2016 reissue of Crystal’s rare LP ‘Music Life’.

The Music:

There’s a seemingly never-ending supply of rare, sought-after funk, disco and soul LPs out there; mostly known to few but obsessed over by those that are clued in on such things, these albums can often find themselves revered to the point of exchanging hands for hundreds of pounds on the online market. One such release is Crystal’s ‘Music Life’ – a super rare disco/soul LP from Martinique, originally released in 1984. Reissued back in 2016 by France’s Favorite Recordings, this pressing makes the album available on wax for the first time since the original issue – a blessing for collectors, seeing as the 1st pressing has been known to trade hands for anything between £100 and £350, depending on condition. Musically, it’s a sun-drenched collection; one that seems to be unmistakably suggestive of the warm waters and sandy beaches of the islands that form the record’s thematic backdrop. Stylistically, the album takes the form of a winning blend of West-Indies rhythms, authentic, rich instrumentation and a smooth, polished disco backbeat. Vocals vary between male and female, as well as English and French and the rhythm section of drums and bass boast the kind of dancefloor-friendly oomph you’d expect from any disco-inflected album. Despite the obvious disco influence, however, the whole record is executed with a delicacy and nuance more in line with soul music tradition than the buoyant slap and pop of funk, giving the record an interesting and fairly unique dynamic. Covering six songs over the course of 35 minutes, Crystal allow themselves time to settle into a gleeful groove and stay there, never cutting their songs short for the sake of brevity. It’s a bright, cheery collection of songs and one that certainly has plenty to offer to aficionados of the style.

The Pressing:

This Favorite Recordings reissue is a solid pressing throughout. Vinyl weight is decent – it’s not 180g but it is, by our guess, around 140g or so (not that weight actually has any bearing on sound quality) and it feels sturdy when handled. Sonically, it sounds excellent. We’re unsure if there’s been any remastering on this reissue or if it sounds as-was on the original pressing but, either way, the soundscape is pleasing, with shimmering, bright highs and strong, full-bodied bass. Our copy did have a touch of very minor warping on the edge during playback however this did not cause any issues with tracking, wow and flutter or overall sound quality and it was subtle enough that the pleasing visual element of watching the record in action as played was not hampered. Playback itself is clean here, with just the faintest touch of occasional light noise audible in the background at times. The noise floor is practically silent and the run-in grooves and spaces between songs remain very quiet throughout. Our copy is also free of the likes of pops or clicks and, all in all, sounds great.

The Packaging:

Packaging is highly attractive on this release. The sleeve is a well made tip-on affair, made out of thick stock, heavyweight card. The artwork is well printed and reproduced with clarity; modern tip-on sleeves always have an air of high quality about them and this release is no exception. The back cover reproduces that of the original release well, faithfully presenting it as-was on vintage copies, the only difference being the updated label credits and copyright information. The spine is well defined and fairly thin without being so slim that it’s hard to make out – a definite positive for anyone whose record collection is large enough that shelf space economy is an ever-present concern. Thoughtfully, the barcode has been placed on a hype sticker on the shrinkwrap rather than directly onto the sleeve, which is always a big plus in our books.

Final Thoughts:

This Favorite Recordings pressing is a really solid reissue and a great way to hear an album which previously would have cost any disco loving wax-enthusiast a painfully large sum of money. It’s a generally very clean pressing and one certainly worth investigating for fans of smooth, melodic soul-inflected disco.