This is the “Ur” record of progressive rock. It is by turns jarring and aggressive, lush, gorgeous and ethereal, depending on the track. It is an essential album because, even if you don’t think you like “Prog Rock,” it has such a variety of sounds, styles and moods, there is bound to be something you’ll find appealing.
At the time of its release in the States, the track that seemed to get the most play was “21st Century Schizoid Man” a disturbing piece of sonic violence. But, there’s “I Talk to the Wind,” a guileless song with harmonies that remind me of sixties soft pop. “Moonchild (including the Dream and the Illusion)” is a narcoleptic study of contrasts, a mix of sparkling cymbal play over Ennio Morricone -stylized string parts (played, as best I can tell, on a Mellotron), transitioning to a series of softly ringing vibraphone sounds, discordant jazz guitar, keyboards, drum rattles and cymbal swells. In short, there is something for everyone, if you are willing to take the trip.
Pressings: there’s lot’s of controversy and some degree of mystery here. The early UK pink labels have matrix information showing A2/ B 2 or 3 or 4; there are even earlier copies with at least an A1 side and some that apparently share an A1/B1 matrix. (My copy is an A3/B3).
Then there’s the legend of the missing tape; the misaligned tape heads and the nasty distortion on the original mix down tape. (I always thought that was by design on Schizoid Man). My UK pink rim, with “U” designations has quieter surfaces than the earlier pink label, but doesn’t really sound any better. There’s a George Peckham (‘Porky’) mastered version floating around (I think those are all pink rims, not pink labels, so they shouldn’t bear a heavy price tag). There are multiple reissues, most of which I haven’t heard.
I did buy the 2010 vinyl re-do, re-mastered digitally and taken from the “missing” first generation mix tapes that had been re-discovered. That “re-do” sounds flatter and less full-dimensioned than either the pink label or pink rim, but that’s most apparent on the “soft” tracks; however, when I switch to the pink label, where I can get more “dimension,” I’m also hearing more distortion and surface noise, particularly on these softer tracks. If you are going head-on with Schizoid Man, it’s a toss up- a biting, nasty piece of work at best.
The Steve Wilson remix, which is offered in a variety of formats (I have yet to see or hear a vinyl version of that), with alternate tracks, apparently relieves some of the distortion. If you are into obscurities, the album was originally released in New Zealand as a Vertigo Swirl!
Which one(s) would I buy? Probably an early Island UK pink rim if it is cheap enough. The sonics of this album are challenging, but it is worth having a copy when you are in the mood, and possibly, even when you are not.