Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson
Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2219
Mastered from the Original Master Tapes and Limited to 2,500 Numbered Copies: SACD Brings Beautiful Vocals and Brilliant Melodies into Clear View
Harry Nilsson was many things in life – revered songwriter, razor-sharp wit, gifted singer, studio pioneer, daring poet, cult icon, creative maverick, fearless interpreter, larger-than-life inspiration, man of mystery and intrigue. All these hallmark facets come together in a resplendent symphony on Nilsson Schmilsson, a go-to standout in the beloved artist's vaunted canon and most commercially successful release. For the first time in decades, it features audiophile sonics that bring the record's brilliant melodicism, sophisticated soulfulness, subtle shading, and sure-handed production into full view.
Mastered from the original master tapes and limited to 2,500 numbered copies, Mobile Fidelity's hybrid SACD of Nilsson Schmilsson features unadulterated transparency and visceral solidity. The Brooklyn native's three-and-a-half octave range and beautiful phrasing come across with captivating depth, crystalline purity, and an emotional scope that stretches from tenderness to melodrama to sarcasm and beyond. Appealing as Nilsson's bizarre quirks remain, given how they stamp his music with personality and charm, his tremendous singing – of which Bud Scoppa memorably wrote possessed "a slight sawtooth buzz to add resonance when required" – takes center stage.
Ditto the eclectic arrangements that lend an organic cohesiveness the four-time Grammy-nominated record, named by Pitchfork as one of the Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. Produced by Richard Perry, known for his work with Barbra Streisand, Nilsson Schmilsson walks a tightrope between streamlined accessibility and mischievous, whimsical individualism. Providing a prime example of its architect's breadth, a surfeit of exceptionally played organs, mellotrons, horns, strings, guitars, piano, and more paint daring soundscapes that on this reissue teem with color, texture, and detail. Reference-level spatiality and separation contribute to full, three-dimensional imaging and the ability to identify distinctive instruments (and their tones) in the mix.
Anything lesser wouldn't befit the legend Rolling Stone proclaimed "a crucial bridge between the baroque psychedelic pop of the late Sixties and the more personal singer-songwriter era of the Seventies" and named the 62nd Greatest Songwriter of All Time. Nilsson's prolific skills shine throughout Nilsson Schmilsson, whose star-studded galaxy also involves session pros Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, Bobby Keys, Paul Buckmaster, and Gary Wright. Factor in the better-sounding options then available at London's Trident Studios, Perry's deft touch, and Nilsson's knack for songcraft, and every note here sings.
None more so than those on "Without You," of course. Nilsson's sublime rendition of the Badfinger song climbed to the top of the Billboard charts and became a staple still heard in films and television shows. A pinwheel of point and counterpoint melody, and ringed by accordions, trumpets, and trombones, the bright, upbeat albeit melancholy "Gotta Get Up" also has enjoyed new life via its prominent appearance in the Netflix series "Russian Doll."
More famous still is the indelible "Coconut," a Caribbean-flavored novelty smash that zoomed into the Billboard Top 10 and witnesses not only Nilsson's savvy lyrical acumen but finds him singing in a variety of different voices to suit the characters. Indeed, character abounds on Nilsson Schmilsson, one whose genius gets spotlit in solo form on the spooky, shivering, sleepless-at-2AM blues "Early in the Morning" with the same effortlessness it handles the raucousness of the romping, groove-laden "Jump into the Fire." (Just listen to those bass strings growl!)
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