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CULTURE : All I want for Christmas is a record player.

Byline: RICHARD McCOMB

There is a recent development in Christmas shopping trends that can best be described as the "me present."

In the past, it was sufficient to buy a pressie for a loved one but contemporary gift-giving largesse knows no bounds.

Some might deem it egotism or the epitome of crass consumerism to treat one's self to a gift at Christmas; others, with some justification, might feel that having lavished so much cash on everyone else, they should ensure they have at least one present they like.

Usually I would support the former point of view and advocate a policy of strict economic restraint, eschewing the perils of buying goodies on credit.

But then I became re-acquainted with the joys of vinyl - and now I really, really, really want a record player for Christmas.

Like millions of others, I have walked the road paved with white iPods and have sung the praises of the digital age. Who wants to hear scratchy old records when you can have such crystal clear sound delivered from a machine the size of a Toffee Crisp?

Until a few days ago, I would have said: "A record player? Not for me, granddad." I considered vinyl was the last resort of jazz enthusiasts or drug-addled rave DJs. That was before I heard the clarion call of five flouncing lads from Birmingham emanating from the room next-door.

As the Sunday roast sizzled away in the kitchen during a pre-Christmas bash with my wife's family, I was drawn to the music. It took no time to recognise the album; it was unquestionably that quintessential Eighties' classic Rio.

But there was something different about the sound reproduction. It was, undoubtedly, dodgy. Simon Le Bon's vocal was more nasal than I had heard it in years; the sweeping synthesizers were more tinny; the bass so very muzzy. It was bad, awful even - but brilliantly bad, and brilliantly awful. In fact, it sounded just like it used to back in 1982.

Sticking my head around the door, I soon realised why. Rio was back where it belonged, plucked from the clinical format of the MP3 player and transported back to its spiritual home on a turntable.

It wasn't only Duran Duran who were given a new lease of retro life. As the hits kept on coming, each and every Eighties album was born anew. ABC's The Lexicon of Love and Heaven 17's Penthouse and Pavement sounded like they were meant to sound, pop gems replete with the occasional jumps or sticking caused by scratches, stray hairs or adolescent belly fluff.

The album sleeves were a thing of wonder. I know CDs have booklets but they are not the same as a whopping great piece of gaudy coloured sleeve artwork. Most sought-after are the record covers with mug stains, beer can outlines or encrusted remnants of late-night Chinese takeaways. Every stain tells a story; you can't buy those sort of memories.

If anything, the experience of listening to singles was more thrilling. Apart from a wonderful Toyah four-track EP, cunningly called Four From Toyah, most of the records lasted little more than three minutes. Everything, however, naff was a joy on vinyl. Nena's 99 Red Balloons may have been stretching credibility but I did find myself recalling the singer's tight leather trousers and Germanic sneer. And what can you say about Siouxsie and the Banshees' Happy House. On CD, it's great, but on vinyl it's elemental.

So chaps - do yourself a favour this Christmas. By all means treat yourself but forget the Gameboy. Get in a spin and go low-tech/post/mccomb
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 6, 2005
Words:601
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