Friday, 7 October 2016

"Fire And Water" by FREE (2016 Island Remasters CD - Andy Pearce/Matt Wortham Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"... Let’s Raise The Parking Rate..."

There are few Classic Seventies Rock fans that don't worship at the unfussy feet of ILPS 9120. But it's another decade, so we get another version with yet another sound – and despite its niggling flaws – what a barnstormer this 2016 reissue is.

FREE fans will know that the October 2001 and February 2002 CD reissue campaign of all seven of their albums (six studio and one live) came with great Peter Mew remasters, decent bonus tracks and expanded booklets to match - and were mid-price at the time. Then fans were hit with the motherlode – the 18 March 2008 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' set of "Fire And Water" on Universal/Island 5306090 (Barcode 600753060902) with copious amounts of bonus cuts, previously unreleased material, tasty presentation and fab sound. There has been Japanese SHM-CD variants since and a recent beautiful Half-Speed Remaster on VINYL done at Abbey Road in 2016.

But here we are in September 2016 with another CD reissue campaign of all seven albums accompanied by an eight - the "The Free Story" compilation (a 2LP set onto 1CD). Unfortunately these new 2016 single-disc versions strip away those brilliant bonuses entirely and unwisely substitute the hugely informative liner notes of the 2001 and 2002 issues for booklets with only band photos. Essentially for "Fire And Water" and we’re back to a straightforward transfer of the 7-track 1970 LP as is – but is another purchase necessary? I'd argue its 'essential'.

Despite the neutering of bonuses and the information-less booklet and even the sloppy wrong-order of tracks on the rear inlay (see photos below) – this new 2016 reissue offers us one genuinely worthy consolation prize – a new 2016 ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM Remaster that breathes wonderful naturalistic vitality back into the album.

On buying and reviewing the underrated "Highway", "Free At Last" and "Heartbreaker" CDs in this 2016 reissue cluster and loving their audio – I splashed out on more and the results are equally magical. In fact I'd say that "Fire And Water" here has had more real work done on it than ever before and fans will need this in their homes. Also with most of the eight being offered on Amazon at less than five pounds including P&P – you can of course argue that the price is right - and with their generic 'Island Remasters' see-through side panelling on the jewel case – they look good too. Here are the details for Mr. Big and his great big hole in the ground...

UK released Friday, 9 September 2016 - "Fire And Water" by FREE on Universal/Island Remasters 473 187-4 (Barcode 602547318749) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 7-track 1970 UK LP and plays out as follows (35:43 minutes):

1. Fire And Water
2. Oh I Wept
3. Remember
4. Heavy Load
5. Mr. Big [Side 2]
6. Don’t Say You Love Me
7. All Right Now
Tracks 1 to 7 are their 3rd studio album "Fire And Water" - released 26 June 1970 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9120 and August 1970 in the USA on A&M Records SP-4268. Produced by FREE and JOHN KELLY (Engineered by ROY ROGER) - it peaked at No. 2 on the UK LP charts and No. 17 in the USA.

The six missing bonus tracks on the October 2001 Island Remasters IMCD 284 (Barcode 731458622727) version are: "Oh I Wept (Alternate Vocal Take)" from the "Bumpers" 2LP Island Sampler, "Fire And Water (New Stereo Mix)", " Fire And Water (BBC Session)", "All Right Now (BBC Session)", "All Right Now (Single Version)" and "All Right Now (First Version)". As you can see from this list of missing extras - your loss is considerable – most of these bonus tracks adding huge punch to the overall vibe of the 2001 reissue.

The new booklet is 16-pages and shows an 8-Track Tape-Box photo of their most famous song 'All Right Now' on Page 2 (dated 8 March 1970) as well as other black and white photos of the band and the lyrics to the songs (which is new and welcome). Even without any album release info or background details (not even a catalogue number) – its actually the prettiest of the booklets I've seen so far. Beneath the see-through CD tray are pictures of the seven reissued albums with the eight being "The Free Story" double-album compilation from 1974 (for catalogue numbers see notes below) and the CD label repro's the UK Pink 'I' Label logo design of Island Records in early 1970. There's no liner notes giving history, details etc. and the track list for the album on the rear inlay is sloppily in the wrong order (the booklet is right).

But a fabulous new master from ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM – who did such great work on Pentangle, Frankie Miller, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, the 2012 Rory Gallagher CD remasters and most recently the 2016 Budgie 3CD Box Set and the new 'Deluxe Editions' of the Emerson, Lake & Palmer Island catalogue (see reviews for them all) - resoundingly compensates for all of that distasteful compromise.

I've had the October 2001 single-disc Remaster and the March 2008 Deluxe Edition 2CD Reissues for years now – both of which rock – but this new September 2016 single-disc version is an entirely different aural beast. There's suddenly staggering naturality and presence to the whole LP. Pearce and Wortham let things breathe (it's a trademark of their work) – and this notoriously lo-fi recording which was apparently rejected by Island's Chris Blackwell on first hearing – has always been a brute to get right. In a recent interview with Andy Pearce on the old dog and bone – I've learned than he and Wortham (both huge fans of the band) spent more hours with “Fire And Water” than any of the others and are proud of the outcome (even if Universal forgot to credit Wortham in the booklet - a fact they're trying to rectify on the second run). The results are powerful to say the least. Their version is muscular and meaty. This is not loudness for loudness sake – not shrill so to speak – just in your face – huge power and presence - like an original tape should be. In short this CD sounds fabulous. On to the music...

Prepped by the edited single of "All Right Now" in May 1970 which raced up to number 2 in the British charts (Island WIP 6082) - the vinyl album delivered what the public seemed to already know - here was a truly great British Rock band hitting its stride. And while Lead Singer PAUL RODGERS and Guitarist PAUL KOSSOFF always pull the plaudits – both SIMON KIRKE the Drummer and especially the Bassist ANDY FRASER added so much to the mix too. Andy Fraser was only 18 at the time and along with Rodgers they co-wrote five of the sevens songs - "Fire And Water", "Remember", "Heavy Load", "Don’t Say You Love Me" and of course the mighty slayer "All Right Now". Kossoff co-wrote "Oh I Wept" with Rodgers and Fraser also had a part in the fabulous "Mr. Big" as it was written by all four.

The simplicity of "Fire And Water" is still touching somehow – barely any credits – no inner sleeve – just the basic cover and the music. The rear sleeve of the American LP on A&M Records (Tan Label) simply referred to the big hit single as "All Right Now" (5:32 minutes) - but the British album had been preceded by a truncated 7" single in May 1970 with the instrumental "Mouthful Of Grass" from their 2nd album "Free" as its B-side (superb two-sider if ever there was one) - so they called it '(Long version)' on the original Island LP sleeves so that fans would know there was a difference between the LP cut and the 45.

It opens with "Fire And Water" where the elements have apparently '...made you their daughter...' and immediately you're struck by the power of the band. The remaster is fantastic – FREE in your living room – drums and guitars - all hairy and wearing unbuttoned shirts as they leer at your worryingly interested underage daughter. The surprisingly lovely "Oh I Wept" feels incredibly clean - that strummed guitar and gently patted high-hat followed by Fraser's clear-as-a-bell Bass - a wonderful job done. "Remember" still has that slightly odd guitar arrangement with the riff upfront and the licks in the background - it's clearer as Rodgers sings '...wish I had you near me...' like he's already pining for a less cluttered life. "Heavy Load" closes Side 1 on an 'ancient song' where the Piano features strongly - adding a Soulfulness to Free's brand of 'rawk'.

Side 2 is perfection to me - only three tracks - but each an absolute balls-to-the-wall winner. "Mr. Big" has Rodgers warning a potential suitor of his girl to watch out no matter what his connections are. The thud of that opening Drum followed by superb Kossoff Guitar and Fraser's wickedly effective Bass run make "Mr. Big" feel the single that should have followed "All Right Now". The Bass is incredible in the Remaster - dominating your speaker cones throughout even as Kossoff sails off into that drawn-notes solo before the big chiming build-up. Surely they're best ballad - "Don't Say You Love Me" is unfortunately still smitten with heavy amounts of tape hiss which I noticed was dampened for the 2008 version. Here its way more obvious but does sound warmer as the band kicks in around 1:30 minutes. And what can you say about their signature song "All Right Now" - it comes roaring out of your speakers here like it was recorded yesterday and not 46 years ago. This transfer alone should sooth the savage naysayers - well done Remaster boys...

Across the seven new 2016 reissues we probably loose thirty to thirty-five genuinely cool bonus tracks of old and all that enlightening info in the booklets too - so buying their catalogue yet again may become a chore for some fans. But they’re cheap at a fiver and we do gain fabulous new audio - and for many that's probably going to be the deciding factor.

"Fire And Water" is back with a bang - and how good is it to hear FREE sound so awesome again after all these decades...

PS: FREE titles in the 9 Sept 2016 Island Remasters CD Reissue Series are:
1. Tons Of Sobs (March 1969 debut UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-5 (Barcode 602547318152)
2. Free (October 1969 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-1 (Barcode 602547318718)
3. Fire And Water (May 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-4 (Barcode 602547318749)
4. Highway (December 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-9 (Barcode 602547318190)
5. Free Live! (June 1971 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-6
6. Free At Last (June 1972 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 183-9 (Barcode 602547318398)
7. Heartbreaker (January 1973 UK Final Studio LP) - Island Remasters 473 182-6 (Barcode 602547318268)
8. The Free Story (March 1974 UK 2LP Compilation) - Island Remasters 472 262-9

There is also a VINYL Box Set "FREE - The Vinyl Collection" on Universal/Island 473 187-9 released 9 September 2016 with seven LPs (Barcode 0602547318794)

PPS: Amazon have typically lumped the 2001, 2008 and 2016 issues into the same review and it would appear - the same product entry – even though they’ve three distinct barcodes and prices. Even if you use the correct Barcode 602547318268 for the 2016 single-disc reissue it will bring you to the 2008 2CD Deluxe Edition entry. So if you're specifically after the 2016 reissue with its different remaster - ask the supplier you're buying from what version it is they're selling. If you’re just buying the Amazon Store issue for £4.99 – it will always be the 2016 7-Track remaster you receive...

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