The Kinks – ‘Low Budget’ An SACD review by Brett Rudolph

The Kinks are one of those bands that if you grew up during the 70s and 80s, are likely to be instantly recognizable. This work, ‘Low Budget’, to be released on May 6th by Mobile Fidelity, is one of their most popular recordings and home to many of their best-known songs.

The original Kinks line up was Ray Davies (guitar, vocals) one of rock music’s most respected songwriters, his brother Dave Davies (lead guitar, vocals), Mick Avory (drums) and Pete Quaife (bass). The band was at the forefront of the British rock invasion of America in the mid sixties, but even then their unique style had come to the fore with a fusion of musical genres and social commentary, even satire that inspired the likes of Madness and the Jam. The 1970’s saw a more focused group – once past Ray Davies’ series of ‘concept’ albums – and 1979’s ‘Low Budget’ offers up a harder edged, live concert-honed series of tracks with greater mainstream appeal.

This re-released version of the album is a stereo hybrid SACD, which means that it will not only play on all SACD players, but also most CD players. Therefore there are really two different copies of the same album contained on the disc, one that conforms to the Red-book CD standard and one that is delivered by the ‘higher-resolution’ capabilities of DSD. Although many of my comments apply to both layers, I chose to audition the lower resolution version first, as it is sometimes hard to listen to the superior resolution and then go back to 44.1kHz PCM.

The CD layer on this disc is certainly worthy of mention; in fact, this is an album that really stands out as a standard Compact Disc. While many of the CDs that were produced during the time of this album’s original release were for want of a better term, somewhat lacking, what is heard on this version of the album is anything but. Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs definitely took the time and effort, going back to master tapes and remastering the album to come up with something special.

For example, there are actually two interpretations of ‘(Wish I Could Fly) Like Superman’ on the disc. The first is the original version, which can be found on the earliest release, the second is the disco extended mix. While they both hold their own it’s the second version that really makes the case in point for the work undertaken to make this release something special. The disco mix was originally designed for a club environment and as is usual in such cases, not best suited for home listening where deafening, distorted playback (the method of imparting some character) is uncommon.

But if that were what you expect from this disco mix, you would be totally wrong. In fact regardless of what volume you use to listen to the track, the first thing you will find is that it really is stunning in content, resembling more an audiophile recording then a rock album. You can hear not only distinct sounds and vocals, but you can actually tell where they are coming from and how the band played and sang it while they recorded the song.

Another song that stands out is track three, ‘Pressure’. The track begins with a guitar playing distinctly from the right side of the soundstage. The chords are readily apparent, sound extremely life like and flow effortlessly from the speaker to your ears. There is no apparent degradation from either the original source or the mixing, thereby making it extremely easy to listen to and enjoy.

The SACD layer, which contains a stereo version of the same recording only in a higher resolution format, is worthy of purchase without the red-book layer. However, I must admit, that unlike many SACDs I have reviewed in the past, the CD version was so good that the higher fidelity only served to make the album better in small ways. That doesn’t mean that the SACD recording isn’t commendable, but that all it adds is an additional layer of detail rather than a different perspective altogether.

For example, take the second version of ‘(Wish I Could Fly) Like Superman’; what the SACD version adds is a richer experience. The finer details allow the recording to possess seemingly human qualities. The wavering of instruments and voices makes the presentation seem less like a recording and more a live show within your own listening space.

Moving to track thirteen, the original extended version of ‘Catch Me Now I’m Falling’, one finds yet another example of the attention lavished on this re-master. The instrument sounds are distinct, yet have been blended together in a way that makes the song sound more coherent and more enjoyable, if that’s possible.

A final example of the SACD “edge” is track seven, ‘Low Budget’ the album’s title track. The CD version does an extremely respectable job of accurately reproducing the sounds as they were recorded and mixed, but it doesn’t quite capture them perfectly. The music is so well punctuated on the SACD version that you can not only hear the actual placement of instruments, but the decay of the notes is also discernable. You might not think much about it, but the sounds after a note is struck are as important, if not more, then the note itself. So, while you can hear the notes in the CD version, it is only with the SACD version that you can actually hear them decay only to be replayed again and again, enriching the experience even further.

The track itself exemplifies just how good an SACD re-mastered from original tapes can sound. The true sound of the instruments combined with the increased ability to capture timing and localization information, create a rich tapestry, which ultimately comes together to form the song itself. You only need to hear the track once to find yourself wishing to enjoy it again and again, finding more and more subtle nuances each time you do so.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am very impressed by the quality of this particular album, especially since I had a chance to listen to the prior release before writing this review. To me it shows just how much better even older rock recordings can sound if they are re-mastered with care and patience. The re-release is worth owning even if you’re limited to the CD layer, especially when you compare it to what is currently available in the market today.

However, if you add to that the additional SACD layer, you have a combination worthy of anyone’s collection. Regardless of what your favorite music genre may be, you will discover things within this recording that will make listening to it a pleasure. I know in my case I found that even songs I didn’t like before had a draw to them that I never found in the past. I can honestly say that had not received an advance copy, I would have been one of the first at the record store to purchase this disc, and I humbly suggest you do the same. You won’t be disappointed.