Mobile Fidelity has just released My Aim Is True, the first of three promised titles from Elvis Costello. With this 1977 release, Costello mixed elements of pub rock, rockabilly, and reggae and delivered them with a punk attitude that would come to define a large segment of the popular music scene of the late Seventies and early Eighties, with artists like Joe Jackson following in his footsteps.
Costello is backed on his debut effort by the band Clover — except on the single, "Watching the Detectives," where he plays with what would become his regular backing band, The Attractions. "Detectives" was not included on the original UK Stiff album release, but was added just in time for the U.S. Columbia release. This Mofi pressing is likely one of the only vinyl releases to both use the original analog tapes and include *"Detectives."
In preparing for this review, I pulled out my original laminated George Peckham mastered (Porky cut) UK Stiff as well as the original U.S. Columbia pressing to compare to this new Mofi release. Let's get this out of the way right now — listening to the Columbia vinyl can be a bit of a chore. Sounding like it was mastered from an inferior copy tape, the original U.S. pressing has occasional moments where the bass or the highs seem right, but all of the elements never really come together to deliver the goods. Open your window right now and toss it like a frisbee.
(*Rhino previously issued this title on vinyl without including "Watching the Detectives.")
Mobile Fidelity continues to prove that R.T.I. is capable of producing some of the highest quality vinyl pressings on the market. While other premium audiophile labels are starting to flock to Pallas, Mofi continues to use R.T.I., and somehow their final product is consistently flat, clean, and is virtually silent during play. The copy of My Aim Is True I received was no exception.
The 180 gram vinyl is housed in Mofi's own rice paper style poly inner sleeve. The gatefold cover is made of heavy cardstock and features the original black and white cover photo from the U.K. Stiff release. Inside the gatefold, are photos of the original UK analog tape boxes, perhaps to emphasize their use of the original masters.
Immediately upon listening to the Mofi vinyl, it is clear that mastering engineer Shawn Britton worked with a much higher quality source than was used for the original Columbia vinyl. Most would agree that to this point, the original UK Stiff vinyl, while not perfect, is the best this album has ever sounded. The Stiff has a characteristically British sound to it — rich in the lower mids, and somewhat rolled-0ff in the upper frequencies. And those original EQ choices present the songs with a smooth, never-bright sound and deliver Costello's voice with a full, lower-midrange richness. The weakness of the Stiff is that the sound can get a bit muddy when vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums are all competing for a place in the mix.
This new Mofi mastering addresses the primary shortcoming of the Stiff — the tendency to get muddy — by mastering their version with more upper-mids and highs, and a bit less of the lower midrange richness found on the Stiff pressing. The overall result is a more balanced sound than the Stiff, with songs such as "Miracle Man," "No Dancing," and "Blame it on Cain," holding it together better than they do on the Stiff. Similarly, on the Mofi, the kick and snare drums seem to come out from underwater during songs such as "Alison," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," and "Waiting For the End of the World." One song, "Sneaky Feelings," that sounds congested and flat on the Stiff, really comes to life on the Mofi and should be an improvement to even those who shudder at the hint of any brightness.
The tradeoff, of course, is that on less-complex compositions such as Costello's signature ballad, "Alison," Costello's vocals and single-coil electric guitar each lose a bit of the midrange complexity heard on the original Stiff. It is certainly fair to describe the original Stiff as a warmer mastering with richer lower mids, and the Mofi as a brighter (not bright, just brighter than the Stiff), more audiophile-oriented interpretation that is mostly successful at fixing the problems of the original U.K. release.
Do you really need this new mastering of what is certainly one of the greatest debut albums ever? For those who already have the relatively rare original U.K. Stiff and love the sound, this release is not mandatory unless you want a highly improved "Sneaky Feelings" or still need "Watching the Detectives." For those who want a somewhat brighter, cleaner-sounding interpretation than the original Stiff or are still spinning an original Columbia and haven't been able to find a clean Stiff, it's time to throw out the Columbia as this release from Mofi is superior in every way.