5.1 SACD/DVD-V Review
Finally, after years of waiting (and I really have been waiting!), the Genesis 5.1 releases are finally, well, imminent.
Originally discussed a couple of years ago, Nick Davis has been working quietly in the background getting the Genesis back catalogue brought into the 21st century. With home cinema systems becoming increasingly common, 5.1 releases that take advantage of the technology available are more than welcome.
It was first hoped that the 5.1 catalogue would be released on Super Audio CD. However over the past couple of years, SACD technology has gone largely un-noticed and has even now been dropped by Sony. Thankfully though, these releases are going to be available on both SACD and standard DVD-Video, making them widely available to pretty much anyone who owns a DVD player.
I don't claim to be an audiophile to any great extent. My hearing is no worse, nor any better than most others. However, when I start to make comparisons between the various formats that the Genesis albums have been released on over the years, it really is now that the biggest difference becomes apparent.
The original CD releases back in the late 80's were like all other releases from that period. At best, a straight transfer from the master tapes to CD with little or no attention paid to the mastering process, at worst, direct transfers from a copy of the vinyl pressing! Thankfully we were never subjected to the latter.
In the mid-90's though, Genesis fans were treated to a remastered series of albums. Re-transferred from the original tapes and subject to a remastering process, these releases knocked the old transfers for six, giving us far superior audio clarity.
Something was still lacking though. I always felt that my ageing copy of Wind & Wuthering on vinyl had a warmth that never quite came through on CD. Not even on the Japanese mini-vinyl releases from a few years ago. Time moved on, I moved house and the turntable was relegated to the attic.
The 5.1 promo was given away to journalists at the reunion press conference on the 7th November 2006. How many of them will have actually taken the time to sit down and listen to the 'freebie' is debatable given the lack of emphasis paid to the 5.1 releases. The only comment being at the beginning - "You've just been listening to the 5.1 version Turn It On Again. Anyway..." Hopefully some will have listened to it though, as they will have been astounded.
A great opener on Duke, Behind The Lines gets another outing as the first song on the 5.1 Promo DVD. The first thing I noticed after the initial raw power, is how much more evident the layered vocals are. My first experience of Genesis in 5.1 was an odd feeling of familiarity, together with something slightly unusual. The same song, but sounding very different. As I found my feet again, I immediately started to appreciate the magnitude of what I was being faced with.
We now turn back the clock four years to A Trick Of The Tail. Although admittedly, Trick was never one of my favourite albums, Entangled begins with Phil’s vocals adding to the instrumentation of Mike’s guitar and Tony’s keyboards. The listener is surrounded by the acoustic simplicity of the song. Images from the ‘In Concert’ film fill my head as they always do when I hear this music. I start to drift far away now, nothing is quite what it seems….
In an odd twist that often accompanies compilation and ‘Best of..’ albums, Dodo / Lurker follows. In contrast with the simple Entangled, this song demonstrates the beginning of the more electronic era of Genesis. There are drum parts in Dodo that I don’t honestly recall from the original album, however the biggest change comes as the Lurker section begins. The bass pedals signify the start and suddenly Phil’s voice sounds different as he utters the immortal words – ‘meanwhile, lurking by a stone in the mud…’. Then, again, more percussion pieces that I swear I haven’t head before.
It is with some trepidation that I sit as we approach One For The Vine, the first song from Wind & Wuthering. As I mentioned before, I've never felt comfortable with CD releases of this album. However, as Steve's familiar guitar starts and Phil's vocals kick in, a smile raises across my face. I'm beginning to become a happy man. The song demonstrates how Nick has managed to transform 30 year old tapes into an audio feast for the 21st Century. The clarity of the first section of the song is followed by the immense musical power of the instrumental section that comes at you from behind. As we’re returned to the second vocal section of the song, the layering of Phil’s vocals again becomes evident and it makes you realise how much the band used this affect as an instrument in itself.
As Vine finishes, and Your Own Special Way begins, I finally realise that justice has been done to the album. The warmth that I always felt existed on the vinyl version is finally present on the DVD. The music sounds full and bodied with the guitar and keyboard parts merging together. Tony’s keyboard solo in the middle of the song sounds beautiful.
Forward on to 1980 with the song that opened the press conference a few weeks ago. Although it didn’t sound great on the webcast, Turn It On Again sounds amazing in it’s 5.1 glory. The bass and percussion basis of the song is balanced perfectly with Phil’s vocals.
Follow You, Follow Me begins with Mike’s guitar at the rear, then followed by Phil’s minimalist drum line in the front. As the keyboard and backing vocals come in, we again have the feeling of being enveloped in the music.
The sudden start to Abacab blasts to bring the listener back to his senses after being lulled by the previous song. The bass dominates, only to be broken by the Phil’s percussion. To me, parts of this song sound busier than normal to the extent that it’s a little difficult to focus on the music. However, as we listen to the instrumental section, we hear bird calls that were never so clear on the stereo originals.
One of my all time favourite songs has always been Many Too Many. So I was a little nervous as I started to listen to it, hoping that it hasn’t been ‘broken’. How could I ever have worried? The song now sounds even more beautiful than it ever did before. The lump in my throat returns as it has so many times before during this song. From the piano intro, as Phil’s voice echoes as though standing in an empty theatre, the music moves me.
With images of Phil on the stage at Knebworth in 1978, filming the mimed promo to Many Too Many still in my mind, the last track, the only fully instrumental track on the promo begins. Aptly, Los Endos closes the 5.1 Genesis experience with an awesome power and magnificence that exhumes from the speakers.
Whilst the promo DVD only focuses on the first batch of albums to be released, it is the clear that subsequent second set (Genesis to Calling All Stations), will sound just as amazing. I do wonder though how the 5.1 treatment will work with the Gabriel era albums. I can imagine how great The Lamb is going to sound, but it will be interesting to hear how the earlier albums cope with the 5.1 treatment. Still, they're twelve months away and there's a lot happening before then!
Nick has done us proud!
The first set of 5.1 SACDs / DVDs (A Trick Of The Tail / Wind & Wuthering / And Then There Were Three.. / Duke / Abacab) should be available in March 2007.