44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Paul Simon's finest hour: a victim of the loudness war,
This review is from: Graceland [25th Anniversary Edition] (Audio CD)
This Grammy Award-winning album from 1986 is usually considered to be Paul Simon's crowning achievement in a stellar career with many high-points. His peerless songwriting and poignant lyrics are fused with intelligent use of folk and brass instruments: Zulu Mbaqanga rhythms, the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir showcasing their a capella style, plus the Zydeco creole music of Louisiana; the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos also feature in cameo performances. It's absolutely gorgeous and hasn't aged a day in 26 years.
The album works best when listened to as a whole experience, rather than sampled track by downloaded track - like having a full meal rather than just eating the beans one day, and the sauce on another occasion. Only when the whole is savoured and digested can the extraordinary blend of complimentary musical styles be appreciated, and the grand creation be enjoyed and fully understood.
Now the 1986 CD release was in every way superb, containing a dynamic range allowing for the subtleties of the unusual instrumentation and vocal combinations to shine, with plenty of light and shade. The 2004 `re-mastered' CD was overall `louder' than the earlier mix, lacked the depth and contrast of the original and was definitely not an improvement. Unfortunately this `25th anniversary remaster' (actually the 26th anniversary, not the 25th) CD is, if possible, even worse. It's another victim of the `loudness war' destroying the subtleties of thoughtful and complex music by compressing the dynamic range, resulting in little difference between loud and quiet sections, diminishing its emotional power and - compared to the 1986 original - making it a tiring experience for the listener. The dynamic range is so reduced by compression and clipping that the result is just loud: as with dance music, it's like being shouted at all the time. Greg Calbi, the engineer, has short-changed genuine music fans and diminished Paul Simon's masterpiece to a result that's just, well - DULL in comparison to what it should be.
Best advice is to stick to the 1986 CD release, if you can get a good copy. It's the real deal.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Jul 2012 16:32:10 BDT
J. Milner says:
A shame. The original CD sounded terrific as did the vinyl. Surprised at Greg Calbi as he is a great opponent of the loudness war. More likely to be record label insistence to make it sound 'current'. Why bother is my question. Without dynamics the music is flat and uninteresting. I can choose my own loudness level.
In reply to an earlier post on 13 Jul 2012 13:58:53 BDT
Last edited by the author on 13 Jul 2012 14:09:38 BDT
Thanks for the helpful review, I won't bother replacing my CD on the basis of you comments.
However, I'm not sure I agree (with J. Milner) that the original vinyl sounded great. As I remember it was one of those badly mastered/recorded albums which sounded worse every time I upgraded my hifi (along with U2's The Joshua Tree and Peter Gabriel's So); possibly a victim of early digital recording techniques. Maybe I'll have to dig out my vinyl and compare it to the CD/FLAC file...
I'm not even sure if my CD is the 1986 original or the 2004 remaster (I only ever play the FLAC file I ripped from it so I'll have to find it to look!).
EDIT - turns out mine is the remastered release because I have extra tracks. Although they're interesting I actually think they detract from the original album. Might have to look for a SH copy of the original and see what the difference is...
In reply to an earlier post on 13 Jul 2012 15:34:34 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 2 Aug 2012 10:00:51 BDT]
Posted on 22 Jul 2012 11:06:52 BDT
Thanks for posting this review. I've just found a second hand version of the original 1986 release. This whole business of squashing the dynamics out of music is a constant source of irritation to me. There's a fine book called "Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music" by Greg Milner which anyone who's interested in this topic and the history of recording should read. I've been a professional musician and producer for 34 years and it was full of information that I wasn't aware of. I've been fortunate enough to have a couple of my CDs mastered by Bob Katz. Now there's a guy who really understands the topic in a good way. Just don't get me started on mp3s........Cheers!
Posted on 20 Oct 2012 14:28:47 BDT
J. Milner says:
Perhaps not all vinyl pressings were the same. The German pressing which I have is very dynamic. Beats the original CD. All dependant on the equipment it's being played on I guess but one fact is certain, it makes no difference what the 2012 version is played it it will always sound awful. A whole generation of people are growing up to think loudness and undynamic music is normal. They don't know just how amazing a well recorded song sounds like.
In reply to an earlier post on 14 Dec 2013 14:25:39 GMT
Mike the Fish says:
Hi J. Milner
My experience is that the old German vinyl was cut from US stampers, but pressed in Germany, and does indeed sound good. Can't remember who the mastering/cutting engineer was. The UK vinyl from the same era is overly bass shy in comparison.
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