Universal Music Recordings 4868197
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Empty Glass (1980) was Pete Townshend’s second solo album, but his first to consist of songs he recorded with an eye toward official release under his own name. The album that preceded it, Who Came First (1972), included demos of songs recorded with The Who, tracks Townshend wrote in tribute to his spiritual advisor, Meher Baba, and one tune each by Billy Nicholls and Ronnie Lane, who were also followers of the Baba. The tribute songs originally appeared on limited-edition releases.
Townshend recorded Empty Glass between late 1979 and early 1980, and the songs reflect his struggles at that time with alcohol and drugs, as well as his feelings about the death of The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon, two years earlier. The album also dealt with his ongoing concerns about remaining relevant as punk rock and other trends in pop music gained in popularity.
This vinyl reissue of Empty Glass by Universal Music Recordings has been mastered by Jon Astley, who has overseen the reissues of The Who’s albums since 1996. Miles Showell used Astley’s digital master as the basis for his half-speed lacquer cut. Both men have done the same functions for recent Who reissues, including Sell Out, which I reviewed for SoundStage! Access last year.
I have an Atco Records copy of the LP, pressed in the US at Specialty Records Corporation, a plant in Pennsylvania that Warner Communications owned. Specialty did work for several major and minor labels. My copy was pressed in April 1980, when the album was released worldwide.
Chris Thomas produced Empty Glass and the result is very ’80s—somewhat forward, with prominent high frequencies. When I listened to the reissue, I noted that Astley and Showell had given the album a stronger low-frequency foundation and brought the midrange up, which put some sonic meat on the music. Astley’s remaster also improved separation between instruments and voices, giving Townshend’s vocals a more centered, out-in-front prominence.
Townshend dedicated “Rough Boys” to his children Emma and Aminta, and to the Sex Pistols. The song’s subject is Pete’s sexual ambiguity, as well as his simultaneous admiration and ambivalence for punk rock. The song opens the album with a sliding synthesizer line from Townshend that settles into low-frequency synth notes in the left channel, answered in the right channel by other synth effects. On the new pressing, the low-frequency synth notes sounded more forceful than on my 1980 version, and the effects were more audible while still being placed in the background.
Townshend’s rhythm guitar on “Rough Boys” had a sharper tone on the high strings and a more satisfying low-string fullness on the new pressing. His acoustic guitar on “I Am an Animal” also benefited from that attention to the lower frequencies, especially in the opening, when Townshend and John “Rabbit” Bundrick, on piano, bring the song in with a low-register chord. Townshend’s fingerpicking during the chorus had more body and shimmer on the new pressing, and Tony Butler’s bass was much more satisfying, with more punch and strength than on the earlier release. What is a good but thin-sounding song on the original LP is much more dynamic on this vinyl reissue.
“Let My Love Open the Door” was one of four singles released from Empty Glass, and the only one to reach the top 40. Even then, it was only a hit in the US and Canada. Townshend’s synthesizer trills on the opening section of the song were more substantial on the new pressing, and the keyboard lines in the right channel were also more fleshed out. Simon Phillips’s kick drum and cymbal accents had a stronger impact; and when Butler’s bass enters as Pete starts to sing, it really jumped out on this reissue, and it gave the song a burst of energy and drive that it lacked on the original pressing.
Showell’s half-speed masters usually result in stronger low-frequency detail, and, as I noted earlier, the new pressing has a stronger midrange, which I attribute to Astley’s work. The result is more muscular and assertive. Townshend’s guitar chords were richer on “Keep on Working,” and James Asher’s kick drum thumped harder when I compared the reissue with the 1980 pressing. “Cat’s in the Cupboard” rocked more convincingly because the guitars have more growl. The synths on “A Little Is Enough” will always be stuck in the 1980s, but they sounded more substantial on this release, and Townshend’s guitars kicked harder.
The Townshend reissues have been pressed in the Czech Republic, very likely at GZ Media. My copy of Empty Glass, pressed on a healthy 180gm of vinyl, arrived flat, quiet, and centered. I’ve had some issues over the last year with GZ’s pressings, but the ones I’ve bought recently have been fine. Like Universal’s Who reissues, the LP came with a certificate of authenticity that describes the half-speed mastering process. Also included was a poster version of the cover, which was not part of the original packaging.
I think these reissues are overpriced at $39.95 (in USD), but this pressing of Empty Glass is a sonic improvement over the Atco release from 1980. I also compared it to a 1994 CD reissue of the album, which was remastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound. Through my system, the CD had a slightly more pronounced low end than the original LP, but the bass lacked the definition that makes the new LP so enjoyable, and the guitars had less gleam and immediacy. For many Pete Townshend fans, Empty Glass is his best solo album, and this new reissue is the version to own.
. . . Joseph Taylor