What does it sound like?:
Tony Visconti has reached the point in life, at nearly eighty, when he is taking stock, looking back on his career and weighing up how big a difference he has made in the frivolous world of Pop. Naturally, being American, he is not shy in coming forward. With the help of Edsel, he has put together two luxurious box sets, one for 77 tracks on 4 CDs and the other with 73 on 6 LPs. Licensing issues mean that the four Bowie tracks on CD are dropped for the vinyl. There is also the option of a 30 track double LP. The book in the boxes includes an essay by Mark Paytress and detailed notes of Visconti’s thoughts on each song, plus lots of period photographs. He curates the whole thing and personally oversees the remastering by Phil Kinrade. Produced By Tony Visconti is the best representation of his life’s work, according to the man himself. It is a blatant vanity project. He even provides the sales pitch: Tony says, “This boxset covers five and a half decades of my efforts in the art of making iconic recordings. Some of it is familiar and some will have a eureka moment, ‘I didn’t know Visconti produced that one!’”
He is best known as David Bowie’s producer, the constantly changing chameleon, involved in very different sounding albums, including The Man Who Sold The World, Young Americans, Low, Scary Monsters, Heathen and Blackstar. He fashioned a wonderful noise for T.Rex, thick guitars, eery strings and wailing voices, but he didn’t replicate it for anyone else. He’s great at orchestration, pays special attention to the bass and is very sensitive to an acoustic ballad. He is fond of a recorder. He has been accused of using too much compression, sounding shrill and overindulging in gadgetry. His records are clean, polished, even, but he doesn’t have any magic fairy dust bringing an inevitable string of big hits. He has no real signature, unlike, say, Phil Spector, Trevor Horn or Brian Eno. Bowie wanted each album to be different. Perhaps, that’s why he turned to Visconti so often, a man willing to do whatever it takes to make a great record.
The consequence is an eclectic, incoherent collection, without anything you can hang your ear on. Most of the best known acts enter his orbit well after their first flush of success. The sequencing is chronological on vinyl but mysteriously random on CD. It has a very British feel about it, starting with Folk, then Prog, Rock, Pop, Glam and Indie, plus a splash of Rockabilly from The Polecats. There’s no RnB, Dance or Hip Hop. Biddu, a key figure in early seventies UK Disco, contributes a track but only as a crooner. The Surprise Sisters’ La Booga Rooga is the closest we get to the dance floor but it comes across as a pale imitation of Lady Marmalade. It’s as though all the American was removed from him as soon as he hit these shores. There are some cracking tracks, of course. He makes Damon Alburn’s voice palatable on Lady Boston by The Good The Bad The Queen, by deploying a gorgeous male voice choir. There is something quite beautiful about the pure simplicity of the two Ralph McTell songs. Debbie Harry is persuaded to go against type and add a flamboyant flourish to Luscious Jackson’s Fantastic Fabulous. The Seahorses track suggests he would have been perfect for The Stone Roses. Remarkably, he forces us to take Hazel O’Connor seriously. There are some peculiar selections, of course. In his autobiography, he is disparaging about Altered Images, saying they couldn’t play their instruments but, drenched in strings, they make it onto the double vinyl edit. Poor John Hiatt is poached in a synthesised soup. He was just a mixing engineer on Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends, yet it’s included. The producer was actually Denny Corwell, the man who persuaded him to come to England to help record Georgie Fame. In 2021, he chose a playlist of his favourite productions for the Far Out website and hardly any of them appear here. All three T. Rex tracks he selected then were from Electric Warrior and Edsel do not have access to those. Morrissey seems to have disappeared, too, but there may be other reasons for that.
Producers are meant to work away from the spotlight, doing their best to help their charges to realise their vision and find their artistic voice. Tony Visconti is an excellent producer, one of the greats. He rarely writes songs and doesn’t often play an instrument, though Annie Haslam’s Rennaissance may have a word to say about that. He understands the nuts and bolts of record making and how to give life to a song. He has enjoyed a long, busy career for good reason. However, his default is to make records sound lovely. There is no sense of jeopardy. Sadly, without a real creative to bounce ideas off, Produced By Tony Visconti errs on the side of caution. He’s just too adaptable for this box to work
What does it all *mean*?
Produced By Tony Visconti is the product of an ego massaging itself.
Goes well with…
The internet. It’s best to dip into the stream.
20th October 2023
Might suit people who like…
No idea. It’s impossible to tell who this is pitched at. Bolan and Bowie fans will already have the songs representing them here.