For those of us who still mourn the failure of the SACD format, it's time to raise the flag for the saviour of high resolution music. And what better band to demonstrate the ability of the blu-ray format than Rush. Always known for their instrumental prowess as well as their knowledge and exploitation of studio technology it is almost as if their music has been crying out to be presented in this way. 2011 sees the overhauling of the Mercury years, last remastered in 1996. Some will question the need to revisit these albums again as the previous remasters were far from disappointing. But 15 years is a lifetime in technology and the changes that have taken place in this time have made the need to re-evaluate music in both an artistic sense and technological sense much more important then ever. CD is in it's demise (sadly and uneccessarily I believe) and SACD and DVD Audio captured a niche market but in reality they arrived 10 years too late and were unable to cut through the apathy of the music buying public.
Moving Pictures, being the biggest selling album of their career, was always going to be a good place to start. It kind of set a new style of music in motion for Rush with an added emphasis placed on keyboards but without pushing the major traits of their music to the back. It is a very intricately layered sound and even listening to the original LP there is so much detail for the listener to absorb. With the blu-ray format we are now able to experience a new depth of sound - 256 times the resolution of CD - and it stands to reason that those intricacies are now heightened to an astonishing level. Moving the sound into 5 channels has allowed the layers to expand and breathe and, in that respect, open themselves up to our awareness. I have listened to Moving Pictures so many times on LP, tape, CD, remastered CD that I thought I knew everything that was going on in there. How pleasant and rewarding to know that I can now play this album but find detail that I couldn't hear before. Imagine if you've been holding your breath and suddenly you let it all out. It's a bit like that here. Suddenly all that detail that WAS there but inaccessible is now there for the ears to take in. The Camera Eye in particular is the highlight of this disc. It is quite overwhelming and you literally do feel enveloped in the soundscape. No gimmicks have been employed. There's no ridiculous sound panning. Instead the extra channels have created an amazing clarity and accuracy in which every layer of the mix can finally be heard. Dynamic and pure is what I would call it. To still be enlightened to such an extent by a 30 year old recording is testament to the skill which Rush and Terry Brown employed in the studio but also to the skill and belief in recorded sound that mixing engineer Richard Chycki has displayed. Having displayed his skills with the remixed Vapor Trails tracks on Retrospective 3, here is a man who is an absolutely brilliant addition to the Rush team. Long may their relationship prosper because if this the beginning of the regeneration of Rush's most beloved of albums then I think my faith in music is about to be restored.
Difficult to realistically assess if the new CD remaster is better than the 1996 version. If anything it has a more analogue feel to it. The 1996 remasters were perhaps a little clinical sounding. Here we have a wider stereo spectrum and the added clarity this brings. Dynamics are intact as they should be on a Rush album. Mastered at Masterdisk where the original first issue Rush CDs were prepared in the mid 80s. However, on this occasion, Andy VanDette is the man behind the faders. He did a superb job on Retro 3 and will hopefully be responsible for the rest of the catalogue later in the year.
Should be a good year for Rush fans. The Mercury era albums never tire of being heard - they are each unique and every exploration in to any of them reaps new rewards.
Kudos to Universal for getting behind blu-ray audio (as they did with Tom Petty also). All the major labels should realise that a whole new market for catalogue exploitation has just opened up and I, for one, am excited for the future of recorded sound.