When I abruptly stopped writing posts on A-Side Glance, I had just given by thoughts on the one and only album from the La’s. I’ve gone on record as saying that that record is one of my absolute favourites and a must-listen for anyone and everyone.
And conversely the band themselves went on record to say that the record that we got, after several years of tumultuous sessions and making Go! Discs dig through their wallets, was crap. What we heard was not what they had in their heads, and they felt that eventual producer Steve Lillywhite had butchered their vision. Alas, it’s the only proper record of theirs that we have so it’s all we can hold up and consider a musical gold mine.
Or is it?
Turns out there is a deluxe version of the album available out there which contains the same songs but with a sound that apparently satisfied the band the most. Out of the rumoured twelve sessions the band undertook it was their time with Mike Hedges, eventual producer of the classic Manics album Everything Must Go, that they would go on to deem as their most successful. According to John Power in an interview for Q Magazine the band felt that this was it, that they had cracked it, helped by Hedges producing through “an old Abbey Road Studio 2 desk”. Hell, if Lee Mavers, always striving for 110% perfect, turns round and says it sounds good then surely that should be it, right?
Nope. Long story short, there were divisions in the band regarding a holiday, Lee threw a wobbler, drummer Chris Sharrock (who would later tour with Oasis and join Liam for Beady Eye) quit, and guitarist Barry Sutton followed suit. As a result the recordings never saw the light of day, until we got the deluxe album in 2008 once Hedges had done some remastering. Question of the hour is does it hold up compared to the final album we all know and love? Only one way to find out.
As a quick aside, I will putting a more competitive stance on proceedings this time around as I compare and contrast the established Lillywhite sound with the sound of Hedges. When I finish summing up my thoughts on each song that both men worked on, I’ll give my verdict on which producer did better with what they were given.
Track #1 – I.O.U
In my original review I stated that of all the songs presented on the album that I.O.U was my least favourite. I still stand by that, as I find the lyric “On the street of knowledge/you must eat your porridge” a bit daft and I hated the fact the song would fade in. Having this as the opening track for the Hedges version did make me worry that we were going to start on the wrong foot but then we get two thwacks of a drum and I’m saying ‘Thank Christ’ as the show gets underway. The singing is also a lot better here, Mavers sounds like he is having a blast and Power’s backing vocals compliment proceedings nicely. There’s little touches here and there like a little whistle and a brief change in key for the third verse that makes this stand head and shoulders above the main album’s version.
It’s an early lead for Mike.
Hedges: 1 / Lillywhite: 0
Track #2 – I Can’t Sleep
Forgive me if I’m committing sacrilege by saying this but as this song gets started I swear it sounds like something from Pablo Honey-era Radiohead – The dirty licks of the electric guitar and the twatting of the drums ensure this sounds a lot more hard hitting than we’re used to from the La’s. And indeed, I could genuinely picture Thom Yorke stretching out the final “tonight” from the second iteration of the chorus as Lee does here.
But I digress. It’s fast becoming apparent to me that there is a lot more passion in Lee’s voice here than in the final album. Whilst I’ve been doing teacher training I’ve had the mindset that if I am passionate about something then that passion will translate well to the kids. Here, Lee’s passion is well and truly rubbing off on me.
I’m trying not to give Mike points solely based on the novelty of hearing different versions of established songs, rather on the merit of how good the songs sound. But as long as he is bringing out the passion in the band and doing his job right, the more he gets my vote.
Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 0
Track #3 – Knock Me Down
This was originally a non-album track so we’ll put the competitive angle to one side for now and appreciate we’re hearing one of the rarer songs from the La’s.
Here we have a jaunty tune that sounds like something you would hear from a busker. Apt as it appears to be about someone being evicted from their home and back onto the streets, where all that awaits them is drugs, pain, repeat the process, earning the name Jack-in-the-Box. Bit depressing considering how lively the song is. Then again maybe this is a deliberate case of juxtaposition, hinting that despite how much of a pithy existence this is, it’s one that ol’ Jack-in-the-Box is content with. To be knocked down is par for the course.
Track #4 – Way Out
This is where it first becomes clear that at point across the Hedges album that Mavers’ vocals tend to have a warbly reverb to them, sounding as if he is singing underwater. I don’t know if this was a favoured effect for him and Power, who I noticed had something similar peppered throughout his own band’s album Mother Nature Calls, or if this was a side-effect of the remastering of the sessions from the cassette that Hedges found. Either way I find it kind of distracting and detrimental to the raw sound of the La’s. Or then again, if they want to capture the sound and atmosphere of a stageshow on record then maybe it’s the right way to go. Regardless, not a fan of the technique. Oh you want to hear about the song itself? It’s fine, same feelings as I had on the Lillywhite version, just the sound of the vocals aren’t my cup of tea. Flip side of the coin after I Can’t Sleep.
Lillywhite is on the scoreboard.
Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 1
Track #5 – Doledrum
Not a lot of difference between this version and the final version. I’ve always been a little bit indifferent towards Doledrum honestly so there’s not much I can say here. We’ll call it a tie between the two producers.
The score remains the same.
Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 1
Track #6 – There She Goes
Right. Going into There She Goes, I knew it was going to be difficult to judge it on merit seeing as it is the one engrained into public consciousness and the sound of which is frankly irreplaceable. In fact, it would maybe feel wrong to hear a different version of such a legendary track. And alas, that is how I feel listening to it. The introduction here is quite flat, it doesn’t feel like there’s that spark which gets you hyped up, and the tempo is a bit slower which doesn’t work for me. I guess it can be argued that this is a side-effect of the band taking their time as opposed to rushing things as they did in the final album but it doesn’t do them any favours here. Unfortunately, it’s not a false start as when we get into the song proper the vocals once again sound like they are being sung underwater and hinder Lee’s wonderful falsetto.
Still a good song to be sure and John’s basswork is top notch, but Mike did not do it justice. Easy victory for Lillywhite.
Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 2
Track #7 – Feelin’
Third time I’ve talked about Feelin’ on the blog! It’s more akin to the Leckie version than the Lillywhite version, with Lee’s vocals sounding more focused and melancholic and having time to breathe thanks to the slightly slower tempo. Sharrock’s drumming is much more pronounced too, and I love how it signals the next verse after the signature guitar riff as if to say ‘Ok let’s go!’. However, the opening bluesy riff is a little lacking and I’m mixed on the prominence of the acoustic guitar during the riffs that set up the verses. It’s interesting the way they tried to fuse both acoustic and electric by having the latter in your right ear and the former in your left, but I think it is a little overambitious. I think it’s better when it’s the electric on its own.
It’s a tricky one this one, I really want to like this more than I do and I respect the use of stereo sound by fusing the guitars. It’s just not quite punchy enough.
Lillywhite takes the lead.
Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 3
Track #8 – Timeless Melody
Bloody hell. After the last few songs I was not optimistic but then Mike had to take my favourite La’s song and blow it out of the water. This song is firing on all cylinders; bassline, drums, vocals, the whole nine yards sound excellent, and the middle eight is beautiful. Pretty sure if the Hedges album was the real thing then this would have been the perfect choice for lead single. I love it.
Tied up again as we enter the final third.
Hedges: 3 / Lillywhite: 3
Track #9 – Son of a Gun
As opposed to Feelin’, the intro here is a lot more compelling with the gritter guitar chords. Once again though there’s not a lot to add from last time, Son of a Gun is a fine song that sounds a wee bit livelier here but at this point you can say that for the entire album.
Nothing new to add, nothing to put on the scoresheet.
Hedges: 3 / Lillywhite: 3
Track #10 – Clean Prophet
Time for some more dropped songs, starting with one that lived its days as the b-side to Timeless Melody. The guitar chords are once again nice and scratchy and have a ‘Get ready for this’ feel to them aided by Sharrock’s marching drumbeat. I do wonder if this song really meets the requirements of the La’s as they chased raw sound because this does sound a bit overproduced. Despite that it is still a cracker of a song and makes good use of stereo sound. Ideal for headphone users like myself as both ears hear different pieces of the puzzle neatly slotting together. My only real complaint though, if I have to pick a very tiny nit? Chris Sharrock really didn’t have to hit the cymbal at the end, it would have been better if the song just stopped when the guitars did.
Track #11 – Come In Come Out
Sorry, just had to. Song’s good.
Track #12 – Failure
Ok this is by far and away the most rockin’ track from the band, it’s 100 miles an hour and in your face, I got it before, I want it again, let’s have it!
It was only 80 miles an hour, but that meant the lyrics had room to breathe and sound a lot more guttural, and the drumming was brilliant as it evoked an accelerated heartbeat from the fear and panic of the consequences of failure.
Lillywhite’s best hope now is a draw.
Hedges: 4 / Lillywhite: 3
Track #13 – Looking Glass
Positives first. The acoustic on its own is a very intimate start that gets your curiosity going, and Lee displays some good vocal range as he goes from low to high and back. The instrumental breaks after the verses (around two minutes and four minutes in, respectively) are very space rock, on the way to being reminiscent of something from Pink Floyd. It’s almost spine-tingling.
Unfortunately, this lacks that grand finale feeling that we have on the final album. While ending with elements of previous songs floating in the background was probably an element that Mavers and co. disagreed with Lillywhite on, it was nevertheless instrumental in closing the album in style. We know Looking Glass for building and building on itself and making you grin from ear to ear as you realise just what a fantastic album you’ve listened to. This version would not have provoked the same reaction; it doesn’t build on itself, it peters out and it lacks the finishing touch of Mavers repeating the lyric “The change is cast”. It sounds unfinished and for that reason I cannot let Hedges run away with this.
It’s a draw. Stand down.
Hedges: 4 / Lillywhite: 4
Bit irritated by that final score honestly, I was hoping to make a point by saying “So clearly Hedges is the better producer and the La’s were wrong to ditch him” or “Guess Lillywhite knew what he was doing when he helped bring the La’s into the public eye”. The Hedges album is a mixed bag to say the least.
On the one hand, it’s a real eye-opener as it shows what the band could produce when they were playing at their best and, crucially, they believed it. This shows them taking their time, putting the effort in, and not racing to the end because they have been told that it’s now or never. Hedges has certainly done justice to some of the songs from the La’s and it has been very intriguing and refreshing to hear what he had for the band.
On the other hand, it’s not perfect as the scoreline reflects. While he may have done a cracking job with songs such as I.O.U, it would be safe to say that some of the band’s most famous efforts like There She Goes and Looking Glass wouldn’t be half as famous if they had been released as they were here.
I’ll conclude by saying that at least with the ability to pick and choose our playlists, we can mix and match songs from both producers and hear the La’s how we want to hear the La’s; at their very best, as one of the most underappreciated bands of all. No matter who was producing for them, no matter how much of a shit they gave, they were fantastic.