THE NEW AUDIO BENCHMARK
BOB | LOS ANGELES, CA | 10/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 2006, after painstakingly purchasing and comparing all the Nilsson domestic, European and Japanese CD versions, I posted a review on the best-audio edition of each title. That was split between four UK, one domestic and six Japan CD's.
However, time and technology have marched on. In Q307, the entire Nilsson pre-1978 catalog (except "The Son Of Dracula", announced but subsequently canceled), were remastered anew and released in mini-sleeve format by BMG Japan.
So, what was slightly confusing before, with all the different international and domestic versions, has now been simply resolved: In terms of the best audio available, the fifteen new BMG remasters are head-and-shoulders superior to any pre-existing Nilsson CD. While the older versions were no slouches, these new BMG's are absolutely GLORIOUS. And, finally, there's complete, matched-mastered sound through the entire catalog, in contrast to the dynamic range variations in the older releases from varying remastering schemes.
In A/B comparisons between the new and older versions, it is also obvious different masters were availed of, because there are snippets of additional audio on the BMG's that never appeared elsewhere.
In addition, there are now approximately seventy bonus tracks spread out through the new BMG set; demos, alternate takes, singles and non-album tracks. Only one previously-available track is not in residence on the BMG set: "Waiting", which is found only on the "Harry/Nilsson Sings Newman" UK 2-fer.
If you are a true Nilsson fan, then don't delay in getting these, as all mini-sleeve releases are limited edition. It is possible, of course, that BMG will release these as less expensive jewel-case releases down the road. However, as the original Nilsson LP jackets were often wonderfully imaginative affairs, having these exact replicas only heightens the joy of ownership.
Amazon only allows 10 product links per review, so below are the first ten titles. The remainder, you'll have to find on your own (TIP: look for the 2007 release date when searching):
Pandemonium Shadow Show
Nilsson Sings Newman
Aerial Pandemonium Ballet
Son Of Schmilsson
A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night
Duit It On Mon Dei
That's The Way It Is
WHAT IS A JAPAN "MINI-LP-SLEEVE" CD?
Have you ever lamented the loss of one of the 20th Century's great art forms, the 12" vinyl LP jacket? Then "mini-LP-sleeve" CD's may be for you.
Mini-sleeve CDs are manufactured in Japan under license. The disc is packaged inside a 135MM X 135MM cardboard precision-miniature replica of the original classic vinyl-LP album. Also, anything contained in the original LP, such as gatefolds, booklets, lyric sheets, posters, printed LP sleeves, stickers, embosses, special LP cover paper/inks/textures and/or die cuts, are precisely replicated and included. An English-language lyric sheet is always included, even if the original LP did not have printed lyrics.
Then, there's the sonic quality: Often (but not always), mini-sleeves have dedicated remastering (20-Bit, 24-Bit, DSD, K2/K2HD, and/or HDCD), and can often (but not always) be superior to the audio on the same title anywhere else in the world. There also may be bonus tracks unavailable elsewhere.
Each Japan mini-sleeve has an "obi" ("oh-bee"), a removable Japan-language promotional strip. The obi lists the Japan street date of that particular release, the catalog number, the mastering info, and often the original album's release date. Bonus tracks are only listed on the obi, maintaining the integrity of the original LP artwork. The obi's are collectable, and should not be discarded.
All mini-sleeve releases are limited edition, but re-pressings/re-issues are becoming more common (again, not always). The enthusiasm of mini-sleeve collecting must be tempered, however, with avoiding fake mini-sleeves manufactured in Russia and distributed throughout the world, primarily on eBay. They are inferior in quality, worthless in collectable value, a total waste of money, and should be avoided at all costs."
4 1/2 Stars: A Remarkable And Unique Debut Album
D.C. Hanoy | Athens, Georgia | 03/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Harry Nilsson's debut album Pandemonium Shadow Show was notoriously loved by the Beatles, and it's easy to see why. This is the only record of its time that feels akin to Sgt. Pepper and, in some ways, it's every bit as impressive. Nilsson works on a much smaller scale, leaning heavily on whimsy yet cutting it with sardonic humor and embellishing it with remarkable song and studiocraft; it's as if McCartney and Lennon were fused into the same body. Pandemonium can't help but feel like a cheeky show of strength by a remarkably gifted imp, spinning out psychedelic fantasias and jokes and trumping his idols by turning out a cover of "She's Leaving Home" (recorded ten days after Sgt. Pepper's release) that rivals the original. Beneath all the light playful melodies ("There Will Never Be" is swinging London, L.A. style) or glorious laments (he rarely equaled "Sleep Late, My Lady Friend"), there are serious strains: the lyrics of "Cuddly Toy" are as unsettling as the melody catchy, the circus-stomp "Ten Little Indians" is a darkly addictive retelling of the Ten Commandments, and "1941" is quietly heartbreaking beneath its jaunty cabaret. Throughout it all, Nilsson impresses with his humor, cleverness and, above all, how his songwriting blossoms under his shockingly inventive studiocraft. Psychedelic-pop albums rarely came better than this, and it remains a thorough delight. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AMG
A combination of nursery rhymes and the ten commandments set to music, "Ten Little Indians" is one of the more dramatic songs on Nilsson's debut. Essentially a march, the song builds into crescendos with each verse (or commandment). A bit dated, but still effective. The Yardbirds did an interesting cover of this song on their 1967 album, Little Games.
Little did Harry Nilsson's audience know that the opening track on his debut album would give them an excellent overview of his gifts. "1941" is a lovely, Beatlesque song that is autobiographical in nature. A slow, lilting pop waltz, the song goes through the author's early decades, his father leaving home, and his own restless nature. Aside from the excellent sense of craft that embodies the song, Nilsson's incredible scat singing gets a whole verse devoted to just that. Pretty adventurous for an unknown artist.
A swirling melding of at least ten Beatles songs, "You Can't Do That" is one of the most clever tributes of all time. What makes it even more special is the fact that it came out during the group's heyday (1967). Built on a sweet and subtle bossa nova groove, Nilsson sings snatches of Beatles verses and somehow ties it all together, utilizing the title song and "She's a Woman" as the basis. The final line, "Strawberry Beatles forever" is an awesome and evocative capper. The Beatles apparently loved it, too.
One of Harry Nilsson's standards, "Without Her" is one of the most evocative songs of his early catalog. A simple set of pop chords are set against a gorgeous, ascending cello figure that breaks down into a countermelody, performed on a flute. Despite all of these complexities, the song is based on only about a half a dozen chords, and it's a stunning exercise in economy. The sadness of spending a day without a loved one goes straight for the heart; yet there is a glint in the eye when Nilsson sings the words, and it's ultimately a joyous song. Nilsson was always great at juggling insights -- this is the first example. Blood, Sweat & Tears did an excellent, jazzy cover on their debut album. - Matthew Greenwald, AMG
William R. Nicholas | Mahwah, NJ USA | 02/08/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Beatle covers were as common as sliced bread in 1967 and '68 when this came out, but Nillson must have really done something amazing with his Beatle suite on Shadow Show, because when John Lennon caught wind, he wanted to sign Harry to the freshly cut apple.
Lennon must have had a lot of confidence in Nillson's potential, or really liked retro-music. Shadow Show really is not a rock and roll album. Like, say, Randy Newman or Laura Nyro, Nillson was drawing from ragtime, vaudvile, sometimes even children's-like music on this album.
And it all works. His voice is amazing--he has a great jazz little improv motif going with his clean voice. The songs are well written and the arrangements warm with nuice subtle horns.
Today, this sounds a little dated--maybe just a little to cute. You are never ever going to blow the roof off with Shadow Show, and you probably won't even shake one of your hips.
For me, it is a little sleepy and just a tad sacrine, but that is my problem. It does not have the conviction or the experimentation of, say, Nyro's Eli & The 13th Confession (Exp), where old sources are turned into music completely fresh and edgey.
But for what this is, and it never claims to be anything else, this is well done."