Thursday, 26 November 2015

Comedy of Errors - Spirit


I have lived with this album off and on for the past month or so. It's a bit special for a number of reasons. Firstly a prog band from the West Coast of Scotland, my home turf is a bit rare. The artwork is based on scenes of Arran and Ailsa Craig, both so familiar to me growing up in Irvine.

This is the third album from the band who have quickly gained quite a reputation for their melodic, symphonic prog with classical overtones. But it's the lyrics for this new album that take centre stage. Basically the album comprises a single 45 minute piece, "Spirit" which is in essence a spiritual journey through grief based on traumatic personal loss. It covers the full emotional gamut which grief produces, from sadness, anger, confusion through to some sort of acceptance and ability to continue and move forward. Though written from personal experience, we can all somehow readily relate to the emotional experiences revealed in the songs honest, heartfelt words and for that the album takes on added gravitas. Musically, it's as strong as previous albums, with the classical motifs nicely woven into the rock arrangements. The mixing and mastering by Rob Aubrey (IQ, Big Big Train etc) is so detailed, warm and crisp, making for a very pleasing listen indeed.

To be honest this album is the rarest of things in prog. An album that openly explores the emotions which surface as a result of a deep, tragic personal loss. It's brave of writer Jim Johnston to lay bare his feelings in such a public manner. Maybe the process of writing and recording the album brought him some sort of peace and understanding. I do hope so!


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

England - Garden Shed 2015 Golden Edition

The only album by England is for me one of the great prog albums of the 70's. So why is it so unknown? Simply because it was released in 1977. If it had been released say in '73 or '74, I think it would be hailed as a classic of the Golden Age of Prog. It has never been easy to get on CD. The band did release a limited edition version back in 2005, but since then only available on Japanese, Korean or bootleg editions.

This new version is from a German label so still won't be easy to find for the casual prog aficionado. But it's worth tracking down. This 2CD edition includes the original album on one disc with the other collecting together all the bonus tracks available plus some other related stuff. The original album has been remastered, though from Tony Arnold's 1997 remaster with added tweaks by Robert Webb. It sounds pretty good, a bit beefier than other versions but overall nicely done.

The booklet is quite outstanding as it is beautifully put together and includes all lyrics, credits, notes by Robert Webb for each of the bonus tracks and nice reproductions of the colour artwork which was planned to be included in the original vinyl edition but was left out.

So all in all for now, this is the ultimate version of this classic album. It should really have been re-released on a label like Esoteric to ensure it reached a wider audience. But definately worth the effort to find for all fans of this lost classic.

Ps. I got my copy from the following on-line store:

Monday, 23 November 2015

It's Compilation Time!


It's that time of the year again. Time for compilations for the Christmas market. Well not really. Prog doesn't pander to such things. Or does it? Here are a couple of newly released double CD's showcasing the recorded output of two bands who have been going for over twenty years, believe it or not.

Spocks Beard are an important band as regards the current wave of interest and popularity in progressive rock. Their first album The Light was released in 1995 and for me as someone who had left prog behind it was a bold listen, hearing lengthy prog epics again. Thanks to the legendary Malcolm Parker of GFT for bringing albums like this to my attention back in those bleak years!

This compilation covers all their albums, pre- and post- Neal Morse. To be fair their sound has stuck quite firmly to their mix of Gentle Giant trickiness and Yes/Genesis symphonia. But for me the songwriting and playing is always so strong that I do love them very much. The bonus on this package is the newly recorded 19 minute piece which features members past and present. It's great, Well it's Spocks Beard, nothing more to say!

The Supersonic Scientists compilation (Suppers Ready reference?) shows the versatile Motorpsycho in all their glory. This Norwegian band has covered everything from stoner rock, alt-rock, psychedelia and of course prog. They are going through a high point at the moment with Reine Fiske in their ranks. Their last few albums have been bold and brilliant! This compilation doesn't fill out each disc to the brim with tracks but offers a concise delve into their ouvre, offering a wonderful snapshot of what they are about. It's not definitive, but it's all superb!


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Yes - Fragile 2015 Mix

The madness of it all! I mean how many versions of the same album do you really need? Why do we buy the same album over and over? For me, it's the search for the perfect sounding, perfect packaged version of a favourite album. That illusive search for the holy grail of an album. The one version where you feel it can never sound better or look as good. Below is all the versions of Fragile I have collected over the years. Each has its own merits. The newly released Steven Wilson remix I will come to.

So what we have here is as follows:

  • Vinyl, a Christmas present from the parents 1975. This pressing must be around 1972 or so, not original as it has the orange and green Atlantic label.
  • CD, Joe Garstwirt remaster form 1999. First time this was remastered with artwork restored by Roger Dean and the Gottlieb Brothers.
  • The Rhino remaster from 2003. Remastered by Bill Inglot and included a host of extras. The nice glossy digipak with slipcase came with notes and new photos.
  • SHM-CD. Remastered by Isao Kikuchi in 2009. Fully restored papersleeve representation of the vinyl edition even with the Roger Dean booklet fixed to the inside of the gatefold. Sonically and content wise, based on the Rhino with a few tweeks.
  • SACD. Based on Tim Weidners DVD-A surround and stereo remix. Sonically was the cleanest to date.
  • SACD. From the High Vibration box and remastered again by Isao Kikuchi. A bit compressed showing up all the imperfections of the masters especially on what was the first vinyl side, but the second side tracks are really good!
  • Box set CD. The Rhino remaster in a papersleeve edition. A nice gatefold reproduction.
  • 2015 Remix.

The Steven Wilson stereo and surround remix. As per the other titles in the series, the blu-ray is packed full of extras. It not only includes the Wilson remixes, but flat transfers of the original masters, a vinyl needledrop, instrumental remixes and even the Tim Weidner remix. This is stuffed full of extras including unreleased demos, rough mixes and run-throughs. The track "All Fighters Past" is of particular interest. Saved from being erased during studio rehearsals, this includes elements which would later resurface on The Revealing Science of God and Siberian Khatru. It's a slight gem, but a gem nevertheless. At its conclusion, Steve Howe holds down a wonderful sustained guitar note allowing Rick Wakeman to solo on top of. What a find!

The new stereo mix is exceptionally clean. This recording is one of Eddie Offords best and the sharpness, clarity and distinctiveness of the instrumentation is really brought out in this mix. The interesting thing about the flat transfer of the original mix on the blu-ray is the distortion on Rick's piano solo on South Side of the Sky is clearly evident. What I thought was a result of over compression and was in fact on the original master tapes. This could be down to tape degradation as there is no distortion on the multitracks. It's as clear as a bell! I think Wilson's remix is probably more reflective of the original mix than Tim Weidners as that, in the SACD form anyway sounds much fuller and warmer. I do like that though, but again Wilson has produced a very nice remix and the whole blu-ray package is a dream in terms of content and how well the sleeve is reproduced as a replica vinyl, including Dean's booklet. Again, informative notes by Sid Smith with lots of archival photos round off this perfect exercise in how to do deluxe releases.

Sadly, if Steven Wilson's comments are to go by, this is the last in the series for now. What about Tales from Topographic Oceans? Well, Wilson has worked on it but to what extent is not clear. The impression is that the powers that be only wanted Wilson to concentrate on the "hit" albums. At the time TFTO was a big hit, following on from Close to the Edge. It did suffer badly at the hands of the press over the years, but I feel a Wilson remix would enable the beauty of the album to be reassessed and given the credit it deserves. The funny thing is, many fans have expressed their wish for TFTO to be given the full Wilson remix treatment, so there is a real demand for this to be released. It does seem strange to have such a gaping whole in this series and I know Wilson is a big fan of Drama, so would love to carry on and do a few more. Not 90125. He don't like that!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Gentle Giant - Octopus 2015 Mix


That man Wilson remixes another Gentle Giant title. This time what many consider their greatest achievement, Octopus originally released in 1972. The Blu-Ray Disc of this package includes the obligatory surround and stereo mixes of Wilson's new mix, instrumental mixes and a flat transfer of the original album. But here's the thing three tracks had their multitracks missing and so Wilson had to create pseudo-surround mixes from the original stereo masters as he did recently for the Steve Hackett box set. To make the whole album seamless he has included the original stereo remastered tracks alongside those tracks which are newly mixed. But you can tell the difference. It's not huge but the newly mixed tracks sound much "cleaner", whereas the tracks from the original masters sound a tad rough round the edges. Maybe not surprising as the multitracks haven't been touched for many a year, whereas the stereo masters have been handled more to produce different CD versions over the years.

I compared the "new" version of Octopus, via the 24/96 LPCM version from the blu-ray against the Japanese SHM-SACD from 2010. Now that disc is one of the best sounding digital discs I have ever heard. They did a mighty job on that transfer and that was taken from a Japanese tape copy! If the SHM-SACD is anything to go by, then the quality of that tape is far superior to the original master. Maybe it is in better condition. The Wilson mix is slightly quieter and doesn't have the same crisp detail of the SHM-SACD which offers a much warmer, natural listen. So for me the SHM-SACD is still the best sounding digital version yet. The Wilson version is good, but not that good! It was going to be a hard act to follow anyway!