It can be a risky gambit re-recording your old albums. To those of us who love the original, it’s more likely to resemble the work of a highly competent tribute act than a new, improved version. In the case of Robin Armstrong’s Hampshire-based project Cosmograf, though, his 2011 release When Age Has Done Its Duty never got as much attention as it should have done, and any chance to shine a new spotlight on it is to be taken with both hands. He also does (or rather, doesn’t) something very important with this minor refurbishment: he resists the temptation to throw the baby out with the bathwater. He may have redone several of the bass and backing vocal parts as well as a couple of production tweaks. But he hasn’t tinkered any further, with the result that the songs remain very much in place – and it’s the quality of those that still stand out.
Characterised by superbly atmospheric piano-based passages and use of sound effects (chattering voices in the background, ticking clocks, brass bands), it marries a powerful command of emotionally wrought melodies with a real clarity of storytelling. Armstrong’s concepts are not the baffling sci-fi fantasia of some prog contemporaries, but very human themes – in this case, the subject of ageing and mortality.
On this new version Armstrong has also performed a trick you rarely hear in the modern age – he’s made the sound less compressed. It’s now standard practice to make the loud bits very loud and the quiet bits, well, just a little bit less loud, but one of the great things about old school mastering is that the fortissimo and pianissimo have real contrast between them, and radio programmers be damned.
The result is that tracks such as In Which We Stand and White Light Awaits benefit from that extra dramatic edge. But if you’re coming to Cosmograf’s music for the first time, never mind all that. You don’t need a remaster or a remake to realise this is an outstanding piece of 21st century prog. Just open your ears.