Here's the short review for all the hardcore prog rock fans who are on the fence about buying yet another version of their favorite album, Close to the Edge, by Yes, which has just been released on Blu-ray Disc in a new remix done by the masterful Steven Wilson: This is an essential release. Get it! Its great!
If you don't have a surround system but are a Yes fan, this may be the one disc that will send you scurrying to wherever you buy electronics to update your system so you can play Blu-ray Discs in 5.1 surround sound. This is what surround sound is all about, an experience you really can't get with just two speakers. Headphones never quite cut it. Go on, admit it -- you know you've laid on the floor listening to this album at least a dozen times with your head stuck between the speakers trying to get inside the music. Now you can do that from the comfort of your favorite living room chair or couch and it sounds better than ever. If you don't have a Blu-ray player yet, there is also a CD+DVD-Audio Disc package available which --according to the Burning Shed (distributor) website -- is compatible with all DVD players & DVD-rom drives.
Ok, enough preaching.
Now, here is the review for the rest of you who are probably wondering what the fuss is about. Some of you 40-to-60-somethings might remember this album from your youthful partying days in high school and college. Some of you 20-to-30 year olds might have had an older sibling or parent who had this unusual green-colored album around too. All of you reading this who are under 30, consider this one of the seminal recordings that likely influenced The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, Sigur Ros and a host of progressive-leaning rock bands that are out there making new music these days. A staple among audiophiles and pot heads alike, Close to the Edge has had a major influence on other musicians. It was a huge selling chart success. According to the Wiki: "It peaked at number number 3 in the United States and number 4 in the United Kingdom."
What you probably don't know is that for many many years, the original multi-track tapes that were used to create Close to the Edge have been partially lost (this seems to happen a lot in the music biz), thus preventing any sort of true remixing of the album for 5.1 surround sound as well as to make a new stereo mix that might be a bit clearer to the listener.
With analog recording, every generation of dubbing down lost precious fidelity. So while it sounded great before, in theory it could sound even better if the producers were able to go back to those individual tracks, transfer them over to a modern, high resolution digital recording format and remix them with ZERO generational loss. This was done to great effect recently by the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, XTC and ELP. Curiously, those were all handled by one person -- the adopted wunderkind of prog rock, Steven Wilson. Leading his own band Porcupine Tree into the upper echelon of modern prog rock royalty, he also has clearly earned the respect of his (if you will) prog forefathers due to his gift for remixes which honor the artist's original intent. Wilson is a musician's musician and clearly the progressive music community is rallying behind him to preserve their work for generations to come.
So, with this new release, quite obviously, the band seems to have finally located the missing tapes!
And, accordingly, Mr. Wilson has been brought on board to work on the entire Yes catalog. His first effort is their landmark 1972 album Close to the Edge (CTTE). He's done a magnificent job of it creating a new surround mix that I think even the most calloused of hard core Yes fans will likely appreciate.
While I personally am a fan of reinventing a classic release for a new medium, many other fans don't feel that way. In the relatively recent past, fans of Yes as well as The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac and others have been vocal in their disdain for the sometimes massive re-think that went into making earlier surround sound releases (on DVD Audio and SACD). For example, even though The Grateful Dead were up front about their intent with expanding and re-inventing their classic albums (American Beauty and Workingman's Dead), many fans balked at the expansion because "it didn't sound like the original." Well, that was the point. But, heck, I can understand some people's frustration. I balked when Frank Zappa radically revised many of his classic album in the early 90s with new bass and drum parts. So as much as I like hearing new stuff, I appreciate the importance of maintaining the essence of the original mixes for the ages.
Naysayers might say, smugly, that the Mona Lisa doesn't need to be done up like an Andy Warhol silk screen print.
But, come on, admit that it IS fun to see how she would look that way, right? We can always return to look at the original Mona Lisa. She's not going away any time soon.
That said, I think Wilson's 5.1 mix shines brightly with all the breathtaking joy of the finest immersive surround sound experiences while carefully preserving the flavor of the original stereo journey. Everything is tastefully expanded for a whole room, multi-speaker listening experience that is both enveloping and comforting. The immersion starts right from the get-go as you enter the album's cavernous world of chirping birds and atmospherics which set the stage for the band's monstrous entrance. Rick Wakeman's synthesizer noodling percolates around you until the massive harmony break bursts through the surrounds. Bill Buford's drums are massive sounding, yet natural and very detailed with a presence you've not likely heard before. Steve Howe's electric sitar springs out of the the surrounds. And this is just the first few minutes of the introduction!
It sounds as if layers of muck have been removed and in a way, they have. We are hearing here -- essentially -- the entire album in the same fidelity as the master multi-track recordings. So there isn't the muddying effect on the sound from multiple dub downs to an analog tape source and then applied additional mastering effects (consider that, essentially, some parts of the original album master recording would have been as much as two generations from the multi-track master takes). So there is incredible clarity here, not unlike what Pink Floyd achieved in their 5.1 remix of Dark Side of the Moon. And, this 5.1 mix is all in 96 kHz / 24-bit fidelity. Note that according to the Burning Shed website, the stereo mixes are presented in 192 kHz / 24-bit resolution!
Moving on to "side two," the acoustic guitars that often sounded jumbled on "And You & I" now fill up the listening room in 5.1 surround. Until the band kicks in, its almost like you are sitting around around a campfire with Yes!
Album closer "Siberian Khatru" -- for the first time to my ear, ever -- sounds genuinely awesome! I have always had a problem with this amazing song simply because the recording was so dense; I often felt like I wasn't seeing the whole painting, if you will. The song still rocks madly yet now you can really hear everything that is going on in there.
I expect you are wondering how the rest of the Blu-ray Disc sounds? Across the board I can say: fantastic.
In addition to getting the 5.1 surround mix you get four more versions of CTTE!
Mark gets into the original versus the re-release of Close To The Edge even more on Page 2