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A review of the 2014 boxed set.
on 20 May 2014
If you are considering purchasing this boxed set, then obviously you are familiar with the album, the group's 5th, and most popular, featuring the lengthy progressive rock epic "Karn Evil 9", plus four shorter selections.
A general summary of the boxed set's contents: CD 1: the original 1973 mix. CD2: outtakes, alternate mixes & non-L.P. B-sides. CD3:A new 2014 stereo mix by engineer Jacko Jakcsyk. DVD-audio: The original 1973 stereo mix, the 2014 stereo mix and a 2014 surround sound mix engineered by Jakcsyk. DVD-Video: The Manticore special. Disc 6: a vinyl L.P. containing the original 1973 mix. If you're not equipped to play the high-resolution(better than CD sound quality) DVD-Audio, don't worry, because the DVD-Audio disc also contains lossy DTS & Dolby Digital versions that will play on any DVD player.
The packaging: The set is housed in a package identical in construction to the 2013 35th anniversary edition of "Fleetwood Mac-Rumours". You get a sturdy 12" x 12" slipcase containing the vinyl L.P. in a gatefold sleeve. The L.P. fits into the left side of the sleeve, the 5 optical discs are in cardboard mini-sleeves and the right inside of the gatefold has pockets to hold 4 of the 5 optical discs. Apparently, it was a last minute decision to include the video documentary, so that DVD-video & its sleeve are included, free-floating inside the left side of the sleeve. Perhaps this oversight can be addressed if there is a second production run of this set. As with the Fleetwood Mac set, there is a 12" x 12" 19-page booklet of liner notes and photos, and additionally, this set includes a 6-panel insert of photos and lyrics(it's identical to the one included with the original 1973 L.P.). Fans will bemoan that the L.P. sleeve does not reproduce the fabrication of the original L.P. sleeve, where the front of the sleeve had two pieces that folded out from the centre.
The sound quality, music and mixes. Disc One is a remastering of the original 1973 mixes. the remastering(by Andy Pearce) was used on a previous Sony CD of the album. The remastering sounds fine, so there was no reason to change it.
Disc Two contains all of the same alternate mixes, B-sides and backing tracks that were included on Disc two of the Universal/Sanctuary 3-disc set of the album(issued in 2008), plus two previously unreleased tracks; an instrumental mix of the (originally) non-L.P. single "Brain Salad Surgery", and a significantly different early backing track arrangement for "Karn Evil 9, 3rd Impression"
Disc Three is a new 2014 stereo mix of the album. It is faithful to the original production, and uses the correct vocal and instrumental takes.
Disc Four: DVD-Audio. High resolution presentations of the 1973 & 2014 stereo mixes, plus a 5.1 surround mix by Jacko Jakcsyk. As fans are no doubt aware, there had already been a previous surround sound mix of the album(by engineer John Kellogg) that had been released on a 2001 Rhino Records DVD-Audio disc, and on an SACD that was included with the 2008 Universal/Sanctuary 3-disc set that was issued in the UK in 2008. In the Uk, the Castle label issued a CD containing a stereo fold-down from this surround mix in 2001. Fans immediately noticed that the vocals of "Jerusalem" & "Still....You Turn Me On" were alternate takes, and there were differences in the instrumental "Toccata". But, otherwise, Kellogg's mix was crisp, clear, and faithful to the textures and vocal to instruments and instrument to instrument balances of the original production. As for the alternate vocals on the two songs, this may have been a case where a group had gone back to the multitracks (after the original mixes had been finalized) to try to improve upon the original performances....only to decide that the performances on the original mixes were best, after all. (some examples of that include Deep Purple's "Machine Head" & The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds"). In those instances, later remixes inherently must include the revised performances, because that's what on the multi tracks today. I had often wondered if that was the reason why the 2001 surround sound mix of this ELP album contained some alternate vocals and instrumental parts.....but perhaps not. Jacko Jakcsyk's 2014 stereo mix of "Brain Salad Surgery" has all of the correct vocal takes......but AGAIN, the new surround mix has the alternate vocals of "Jerusalem" & "Still.....You Turn Me On". WHY????
Because John Kellogg had been, in his 5.1 remix (otherwise) highly faithful to the original stereo album's overall sound, perhaps Jacko Jakcsyk felt that he could(and should) take drastic liberties with the album's overall vocal to instrumental balances, and, as a result Mr.Jakcsyk's mix is disappointing, with intentionally buried parts now brought out front, and the drums now being flat & undynamic (sometimes sounding like cardboard boxes) sometimes being mixed down too low.
Disc Five is the "Manticore Special" a documentary showing the group on and off stage. This video programme had already been released on the original Castle/Sanctuary edition of the group's boxed set "From The Beginning", only to be omitted when Sony reissued the boxed set. The source is still the only one that the group's management has: a videotape copy of a very poor, blurry multi-generation copy film print. The audio is muffled mono film stripe sound. The only difference in this release, is that this time the Dvd is in the NTSC format(the DVD with the Castle/Sanctuary "In The Beginning" box was PAL format.). The new DVD adds a 2 minute photo gallery, accompanied by the instrumental mix of the song "Brain Salad Surgery"
The sixth disc is a vinyl L.P. of the original 1973 mix of the "Brain Salad Surgery" album. It is a high quality, likely German pressing. The surfaces are quiet and on-centre. Audiophiles will be pleased that the overall sound is less bright than many original 1970's pressings were.(in the 1970's, as a teenager, I had the Atlantic Records U.S.A. pressing, which was very bright sounding.)
If you are an Emerson,Lake & Palmer completist, you'll have to own this, but, for most people, I would recommend tracking down the (now-deleted) 2008 Universal/Sanctuary 2-CD + SACD edition. You'll get all but two of the rarities from the 2014 box, and an undoubtedly superior 5.1 surround mix.
Would the 2014 surround mix have turned out better if Steven Wilson hadn't decided not to work with ELP again? Perhaps, but he spared himself from having to explain the alternate take vocals that seem to be inherent in remixing this album for surround. Maybe Sony should ask John Kellogg to do their future ELP surround mixes.