Everything about 1969 comes back to me when I hear this album. The cross pollination of British and American rock, the infusion of blues into rock n’ roll, the sense of adventure and possibility in rock.
I play Brave New World at parties, I play it to let my wife know that if she doesn’t like the Steve Miller hit stuff, there’s so much more, and I sit with a glass of wine and relax as it washes over me. It vividly brings back the late 60s in the same way Are You Experienced and Surrealistic Pillow do.
“Space Cowboy” would be a great background to a story about a 60s hippie trip to outer space (c’mon, you know it would be a cool movie), and “My Dark Hour” could segue into “Fly Like an Eagle” (same riff) to show a shift from the 60s to the 70s and 80s in a film about the transition of boomers into subsequent decades (and their loss of ideals).
The Steve Miller Band’s third album continued a terrific run of LPs that started with 1968’s Children of the Future and Sailor.By the time the group recorded Brave New World the following year, original members Boz Scaggs and Jim Peterman had left, and Miller carried on with Tim Davis on drums and Lonnie Turner on bass, getting help from Ben Sidran on keyboards. Paul McCartney sat in on bass on “My Dark Hour,” from which Miller would recycle the guitar riff for the far more popular “Fly Like an Eagle.”
Brave New World, like its predecessors, combines elements of L.A. and San Francisco rock with blues and British psychedelia. In its time, “Kow Kow,” with Nicky Hopkins on piano, received some FM airplay. But the best-known track remains “Space Cowboy,” one of several of Miller’s personae that made it into his first big hit single, “The Joker.” While Miller’s first two LPs carry the excitement of a band discovering what’s possible in a recording studio, Brave New World is more focused.
In 2018, Miller and Kent Hertz mastered the first nine Steve Miller Band albums in high-resolution (24-bit/96kHz) digital and used those masters as the basis for the vinyl reissues. The sound of a rocket lifting off opens the title track of Brave New World, and on the original pressing, it is louder and more enveloping than on the new master, which pulls it back. The guitars and voices that soon enter also feel more subdued, but when I turn the volume up a little, some of excitement of the original track returns. The reissue is cut at a lower volume, but the updated mastering gives the sound more space so that the layers of Miller’s multi-tracked vocal harmonies are easier to hear. Davis’ cymbal work also comes across more audibly and his snare is sharper, if less forceful. Turner’s bass sounds snappier and has a cleaner attack.
The new pressing also possesses more balance than the original, which gives more space to Miller’s guitar on “Celebration Day” and “Got Love ‘Cause You Need It,” and lets the texture of his solos register more solidly throughout. Each of the toms on Davis’ drums on “Can’t You Hear Your Daddy’s Heartbeat” now boasts a distinct tone, and Miller’s lead vocals on the album are more centered in contrast to being occasionally smeared between channels on the original pressing.
By extension, Miller’s 12-string guitar on “Sunshine” has more shimmer and brightness on the reissue, and a less-emphatic bottom end that allows drum details and vocal harmonies to spring forward. The fuzz guitar on “Space Cowboy” feels nastier on the original pressing, but on the new LP, Davis’ cymbal work proves more subtle—and I notice how confidently he hits drum rolls. Miller’s voice across the channels near the end of “Space Cowboy” is also more exquisitely rendered, and his acoustic guitar on “LT’s Midnight Dream” more natural and reverberant.
The first couple of times I played the new pressing, I missed some of the hard boogie drive of the original on the harder-rocking tracks. But after a few spins, I enjoyed the subtle touches in the recording, such as the distinctive sound of each guitar playing the signature riff on “My Dark Hour” and the clear, sustained notes of Hopkins’ piano on “Kow Kow.”
However, the reissue suffers from a digital flatness that causes the music to stop at my speakers rather than blossom into a deep soundstage. The sound on the original is expansive and comes out into the room. If you can find one, buy it. (Avoid later pressings, such as those from the mid-70s, which sound bloated and dark). In the meantime, the newer pressing features enough likeable qualities to recommend it.
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