The most curious thing for me which I discovered when exploring the surround sound reinvention of Gene Clark's 1974 masterwork No Other was the realization that it was created as a 5.0 mix, not a 5.1. That is, there is no subwoofer channel in this mix (ie. the ".1").
Is that a bad thing? No, not at all! And in fact, as far as I know some audiophiles prefer surround mixes like this as they feel the sub channel can make for a less natural sounding presentation for music releases.
Surprisingly, I have not come across many 5.0 releases over the years. In fact, the most notable one I own -- and the only one I own, as far as I know -- is David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name. This was issued around 2006 as a CD+DVD Audio Disc deluxe edition reissue package. While the outer packaging indicates a 5.1 mix inside, when you play it -- and when you look closely at the liner notes where there is a disclaimer -- you will hear the mix in 5.0.
And it is fantastic!
So fantastic, that it is one of my favorite demo discs. The mix features a broad cinema-scopic mix which fills the whole room yet offers very nice, discrete detailing. The guitars are beautifully recorded -- some of most beautifully recorded I've ever heard actually. The bass sounds in particular -- especially those by Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh -- are magnificent!
That said, I was excited to find No Other is indeed a 5.0 mix and it too sounds quite wonderful, especially when played loudly (something often counter intuitive for acoustic based musics)!
Perhaps not quite as musically wondrous as the Crosby album, No Other is still a mesmerizing listen which in surround sound delivers that similarly huge, sweeping immersive feel with lots of discrete moments to relish.
What are my favorite tracks on No Other? Well, "Strength of Strings" is at the top of my list because it is big and epic and driving in all the best ways possible, much like Neil Young's monster jams such as "Like A Hurricane" and "Down By The River" (albeit sans the extended soloing). Compositionally, it is a very interesting song which plays off of a couple of key period Neil Young touch-stones yet is wholly its own thing. Working off of mid-tempo groove that falls somewhere between "Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Words," this song takes you on interesting turns particularly at those moments when you think it is going to become derivative. It never does.
In fact, it works very well as a complement to The Byrds' cover of two Neil songs on the 1973 eponymously titled reunion albums -- "Cowgirl..." and "See The Sky About To Rain." If you aren't familiar with that Byrds reunion album, I highly recommend it -- you can find it streaming on Tidal and on Qobuz in CD quality -- even though most people wrote it off because it didn't have the trademark Roger McGuinn Rickenbacker 12-string imprint all over it. It is a fine album (actually, I think its better than most later CSN/CSNY albums). And it was Gene Clark's strong performances on that album which led to him securing a solo album contract with the same label, David Geffen's then-still-new Asylum Records, resulting in this recording we're reviewing here.
You can also find No Other streaming in high resolution, 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity on Qobuz (click here) and in standard CD quality on Tidal (click here). Both sound real nice, with Qobuz getting the obvious nod here due to the higher resolution version there. Both are handy as you can hear all the bonus tracks and such from the deluxe edition boxed set.
If you get the CD package you'll get it housed in a nice hardbound book style cover with lovely photography, useful liner notes and such.
Of course to get the 5.0 surround sound SACD you'll need to buy the European boxed set which looks to be quite epic -- it even includes a remastered LP pressed on silver vinyl and all the tracks in HD on a Blu-ray Disc! If that is too much for you, I do hope that perhaps someday 4AD will at least issue the SACD or the Blu-ray Disc as a standalone offering (which makes a great deal of sense in the grand scheme of things). Full disclosure note: given the inevitable significant overseas shipping fees for the boxed set, the good folks at 4AD kindly sent me just the SACD to enable this surround sound review.
Whichever way you listen, there are so many wonderful songs here such as the beautiful "Silver Raven," the jaunty country-flavored opening track "Life's Greatest Fool" and the soaring title song, No Other is an album to be experienced end-to-end.
Put it on in your car or sit in the sweet spot when you get the surround mix and let yourself flow into Gene's world for a moment in time when everything coalesced into a timeless album.