Vinyl Corner : David Bowie ‘Hunky Dory’

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 presentation and packaging to expect, as well as a brief overview of the music itself. Today we’re taking a look at an introspective classic of early ’70s songcraft – David Bowie’s ‘Hunky Dory’

The Music:

When David Bowie released ‘Hunky Dory’ in 1971, he surely had no way of knowing that it would mark the end of one era and the start of another for him. His fourth album was every bit the huge stylistic leap that its three remarkably different predecessors had been. Likewise, it was totally different to the album that he would follow it up with, namely 1972’s landmark ‘Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’. While Bowie’s late ’60s/’70s run is astonishing by anyone’s standards, it’s perhaps ‘Hunky Dory’ that stands as the finest of his early works.

Mature and introspective, it was a largely quieter offering than the rambunctious proto-metal of 1970’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. Although the feisty glam-scuzz of ‘Queen Bitch’ packed a punch and the dramatic overtures of ‘Life On Mars’ gave the song a sense of bombast, ‘Hunky Dory’ was generally a thinking man’s album: ‘Quicksand’ traded in Buddhist philosophy whilst ‘Song For Bob Dylan’ paid homage to reigning king of high-brow lyricists. Although David Bowie would create many masterpieces in his lifetime, ‘Hunky Dory’ remains among the best.

The Pressing:

We’re looking at the gold vinyl edition released back in May here. Although advertised as a limited edition, it’s a large pressing and can still be found in some stores; however, aside from colour, the pressing itself is the same as the 2016 black vinyl edition, so if you’re unable to find a gold copy then the black should theoretically sound the same.

Pressed by popular German company Optimal Media, this is a well made, weighty pressing that sits nice and flat on the platter. Playback is excellent with a low noise floor, but it’s not flawless. Between a couple of songs, we noticed a quiet whooshing background noise; not a significant issue as it’s nowhere near loud enough to be heard over the music but it is noticeable between a few of the songs when played at volume. Generally however, playback is actually very nice here – our copy has no pops and presents a nice, clean soundscape free of distortion.

Sonically, this version uses a 2015 remaster originally produced for the ‘Five Years 1969 – 1973’ boxset that came out that same year. As with all remasters, it’s really a matter of taste as to what version to recommend but generally this is a really nice mix. Mids are punchy, Bowie’s vocals sounding particularly strong, especially on the chorus of ‘Changes’, where the backing vocals have been brought out of the mix a little. Bass is occasionally a little overbearing for our tastes, however, with ‘Kooks’ in particular having a bit too much low-end boom, although we were able to off-set that with some amplifier adjustment.

The Packaging:

Packaging and presentation is actually really nice on this issue. Labels are very fetching, essentially reproducing the vibrant orange RCA labels found on the original pressing, albeit with updated text on the labels. The sleeve is simple but well made, too – nicely printed, it does justice to the now iconic cover art and the reproduction of the original lyric inner sleeve is another thoughtful inclusion; it’s printed on fairly thick matte paper, too. The sleeve is made of mid-weight card and although it’s not particularly thick, it’s certainly enough to make for a fairly solid cover and more than meets expectations given the price point. The included inner sleeve is a nice quality black poly-lined one that actually looks as though it would keep the record in nice shape, so brownie-points for that.

Final Thoughts:

This 2017 Parlophone gold pressing is a great version of a classic album. It’s well pressed, sounds dynamic and the attention to detail in the presentation serves as a knowing nod to collectors and ardent fans. ‘Hunky Dory’ is essential moment in the David Bowie timeline and this is an excellent way to hear it.