Initially, I hesitated. Feeling somewhat daunted when I first heard about this new multi-disc boxed set featuring Yes bassist and co-founder Chris Squire's lone solo album Fish Out Of Water, I held off for a bit to allow (perhaps) common sense and perspective drive my decision ('to buy or not to buy,' that is the question!). I love this album, a classic of the progressive rock genre which I have enjoyed since it was released back in 1975 (this album charted in the UK and US back in the day). I even have the fine two-CD reissue from 2007. But, even with the prospect of a 5.1 surround sound remix in this new set, I had to wonder to myself: did I need to spend upwards of $100 on a collection of two CDs, two DVDs and a 180-gram LP all focused on one album. Shipping from Europe would be pretty massive, I feared.*
You see, a couple of weeks ago I was at Amoeba Music and there on the shelves they had a copy of this set. It surprised me as I thought it was only available as an import.* As I had just purged a bunch of unnecessary albums, CDs and DVDs from my collection, I had a nice store trade credit slip in hand... so I couldn't resist and snapped it up. Generally, I am quite pleased with it.
Fish Out Of Water is for all intents and purposes a Yes album made with assistance from then current and former members of the band as well as support from at least one member of King Crimson. The album features often breathtaking arrangements by Squire's friend and former band mate (from their earlier pre-Yes rock band The Syn) Andrew Pryce Jackman. The album was recorded at a period when the group was taking a break from its dramatic ascent to super stardom (1971-77), allowing each member to make solo recordings. Chris Squire's recording was one of the standout releases from that period (the other being Olias of Sunhillow by Yes' lead singer, Jon Anderson). All of the Yes members' solo albums have their charms. Fish and Olias of course, left some fans (like me!) wondering "what ifs" had they worked together to make one cohesive Yes album from all this outpouring of lush creativity.
The new CD remaster of the original album sounds great as does the remastered 180-gram vinyl LP pressing (nice dark vinyl, quiet and well centered). Jakko Jackszyk's new 96 kHz, 24-bit Stereo remixes are the main attraction for this reviewer and they sound terrific too delivering more definition. Inevitably, these mixes were created digitally and thus by going back to the multi-tracks Jakko delivers to us a new mix that is first generation off the individual recorded tracks (as opposed to the original analog mix which took everything down an additional generation back in the day onto another analog tape recorder -- and as some of you may know, with each generation of dubbing down in the analog realm there is some loss of information and increase in noise). The original album was remastered at 96/24 by Ray Schulman of iSonic (he also of Gentle Giant fame, by the way!)
The surround sound mixes happily sound quite great in 96 kHz, 24-bit standard DTS format (its not DTS HD Master Audio, alas). Producer Jakko Jakszyk -- guitarist and lead singer in the current incarnation of King Crimson -- took what I consider a healthy approach to the remixes adding clarity and definition to the instruments and their placement in the sound fields. And, where it made sense, he was not afraid to bring out details that may have been previously left off the original recording (such as additional strings on the funky "Lucky Seven," which also features King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins).
In the liner notes to the boxed set he spells out that his approach was to "create a space so that you're sat in the middle of the music... I did find myself moving things around by which I mean changing the position of the instruments in order to hear clearly what they are doing... So the strings aren't just in the back. Sometimes there is a phrase and I'd put it over to the left because it is less busy over there and I want to hear the part."
He goes on to explain how in the original album, the orchestral parts often were essentially buried in the mix simply due to the wealth of ideas Squire put forth on the record -- indeed, there is a lot of music happening simultaneously at times on Fish Out Of Water! So these new 5.1 and Stereo mixes are both a welcome clarification while offering a fascinating alternate perspectives. All in all I am very happy with the new surround mixes as it brings to life an already floral recording, letting the strings blossom as other details flower. Fish Out Of Water still sounds like Fish Out Of Water, don't worry! Squire's "lead bass" sounds fuller and rounder in the new mixes and you can really appreciate the interactions with drummer Bill Bruford. Patrick Moraz' keyboard solos are massive.
There are no doubt some new moments in this updated mix that I have come to really appreciate and enjoy. For example, in "Silently Falling" after the explosive jam that builds and builds and builds, when the music comes crashing down to a quiet coda there is a sort of trippy winding-down type special effect which happens while panning across the speakers. I am not sure if this was originally part of Squire's recording or is simply a new idea Jakko added in, but whatever it is, I rather like it!
Probably my only disappointment is that the creators of this set (Esoteric Recordings) did not issue these fine recordings on a higher resolution media platform like Blu-ray Disc. The 96/24 DTS track sounds real nice, don't get me wrong. But it does make me wonder how much better it might have sounded in DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. I guess I can't really complain -- it is ultimately remarkable that this remaster and reinvention materialized at all!
Overall this set is very thoughtfully and lovingly prepared. There is a wonderful 30-plus page full sized booklet with pictures and essays (including the aforementioned perspective from Jakko Jakszyk). You get two seven-inch 45s (in picture sleeves!) from the period including a holiday single Chris Squire recorded with Yes drummer Alan White ("Run With The Fox). And of course you get CDs with the new Stereo mix and the original mix remastered, as well as two DVDs, one with the Surround Sound and high resolution LPCM Stereo options. The other DVD contains the two promotional videos for the album and other interview segments (some of this material appeared on the 2007 reissue deluxe edition).
All in all this deluxe boxed set of Fish Out Of Water delivers a heartfelt, fitting tribute to a great artist and restores to prominence a lost classic of the progressive rock world. If you love Fish Out Of Water you probably want to pick this set up. If you aren't familiar with this album and have a subscription, you can explore it up on Tidal (click here for a link to it) where they have the original album streaming in CD quality.
(*Note: I initially learned about the deluxe boxed set of Fish Out Of Water from the good folks at Burning Shed but I now realize it is also available via Amazon and obviously at retailers who have ordered it, as Amoeba Music did for my copy).