Masters of Production 4: The Allure of Albini
The Man sure has a bleak sense of humour.You'll no doubt recall that recently a Dadrockrape Supadupadicklux 20th Anniversary Idiotion of Nirvana's somewhat over acclaimed third album, In Utero, is now about for purchase. Included is a cheap, dishonest copy of a four page proposal for a Production deal from the nuclear natural force that is The Steve Albini.It is a gross ironic insult about which this most singular of soundsmiths will be no doubt totally indifferent.And, being not just a true gentleman but also a proudly pragmatic jobbing technician Steve ensured that the new vinyl version was a triple pack Direct Metal Mastered 45rpm deal and the CD too sounds better as funnily enough at the time tech limitations and a rush to get the product out shat on it all. He was treated appallingly at the time, but these are now "old injuries" and despite it all he doesnt blame the band.Albini loves bands.Steve grew up in Montana listening to and loving the best bands of the time and before. The Stooges, Wire, The Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk and beyond were his education. He is an anti Producer whose militant humility stands in violent opposition to the Science of Spector and the Meddlings of Meek. He hates the term - demanding to be uncredited or else listed just as an Engineer on the 2000+ records he's Touched. He was inspired by the UK producer John Loder, who realised that not only was it just Crass to refuse to work with artists but that important records could be made cheap, fast and respectful.If you don't know much or anything about Steve, he'll be well pleased.Part of his vision is to reduce the chances that you knew he recorded your record. It's best if he speaks for himself. In a time of purile PR puffery that passes for music journalism Albini is often referred to patronisingly as a "pundit". His writings and thoughts are dimished as "rants" - "controversial" or "provactive" rather than incisive, prescient and often moving.If you want a timeless take on the big money bubble bullshit that still is the music biz read Albini's 1993 essay, The Problem With Music.It demonstrates that even after selling a solid quarter million LPs and embarking on a successful tour a member of a typical band with an off the shelf major label contract nets $4,000 at best and a big chunk of debt at worst. He also viscerally vivisects the greed and dishonesty that ensures even Right On Dontyoudareforgetit labels such as, ahem, Sub Pop are only too happy to pimp talent out to the Majors and keep collecting cash on it all forever. Bands have few true friends, and he tries to be one of them.To properly understand the perspective of Steve on a visionary and technical level this detailed interview from Sound on Sound is so worth your attention. And shows how the hacks, shills and sluts of our slushed out sugar puff planet warp humble genius into eccentricity and wisdom into nostalgia.The idea really is to be a technically titan facilitator of making the best record of a band possible at the time said band happens to be at Electrical Audio. Like any good lawyer, doctor or architect Albini will work with whomoever comes calling and will pay his modest fees. No diva of the mixing dials here, and those faders are really real.Analogue is favoured there not from arrogance but for the total truth that there is no better way to make audio permanent than tape. No forgotten file formats or wiped hard drives there. Simple, analogue focused kit and crucial craft skills like mic placement can be majestically mastered by a single individual. ProTools cannot.And software delays making records as it provides more options than solutions to the producer, and therefore burns more production cash. Not to mention the fact that the proper way to record a sound is in the moment, not in the mix. Albini marvels that Brian Eno at his most ambitious manipulated recordings far less after the fact than any self respecting pop producer would do by default today.The idea is not to shape a record beyond solving the challenges of getting the best performance possible, close to Live, out of the artist, right now, and to solve any problems in doing so.And Nirvana sure had problems.Four sides of Letter Size paper encapsulated the chance for the most seemingly credible pop rock act of the day to recognise and record its own genius.This needed a clean, clear, crisp and quick approach to a record that would inevitably distance and disappoint so many, regardless of how great or not it was.It was a full on fool's errand from the first for Steve.Forget the fact I was never a fan of what seemed to me to be pretense painted flannel clad fusers of The Pixies; Black Sabbath, Latter Day Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Plenty of genius people I love and respect feel plenty from it. But anyway you cut it, from the first moment these SeaTac sages became label mates of the likes of Aerosmith they became compromised in such a manner as to ensure any encounter with Albini would leave scat on all sides.It is a separate issue, but any band that will even silently consider creating a self mutilated version of their CD for slinging in WalMart, Kmart and Sears deserves permanent dumping by the soulful.The flaccid excuses from Cobain and Grohl, that as kids they could only buy music from fascist downmarket dives stinking of insecticide and wanted to ensure the children of the day "unable" to buy music from "Mom and Pop stores" could get Nirvana's art from the same skip, would shame a North Korean Human Rights Spokesman. In Saudi Arabia.In 1993 the USA was covered with countless BIG regional and local CHAINS of record stores. For every WalMart there would have been two dozen such outlets before you got anywhere independent. Nirvana were full collaborators in the big money pop system of the day.2 Live Crew come off as the real rebels in comparison. When the same Big Retail Bods shut them out, they hit back hard to defend free speech, not the Geffen Merchandising Department.Long before WalMart wobbled over stocking the biggest pop LP of the year or a single note had been played, the mainstream media was awash in leaks and rancid rumours about In Utero. Once Steve had recorded the first version, the bad noise became a septic tsunami of bummers. My stupid side likes to think his taping of the risible non tribute act Bush a few years later was a kind of prankish revenge. The plastic poses of Grunge, which the ingrate horde call him The Godfather of, revealed as Golden Earring with an Emo fucking dressing on top.Yet I know this cannot be the case.Alibini is bigger, better and wiser than me. He is like a swordsmith or Samurai Sensi - humble and perfect in his craft forever. A life in service of art, friends and his deep love of bands.