Tag Archive: mel collins

Prog Review 407 – Gone to Earth – David Sylvian

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Prog Review 405 – Live at the Hackney Empire – King Crimson

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Prog Review 111: Chris Squire – Fish Out of Water

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And so I decided to look at the various solo albums that were released by the members of Yes after the release of “Relayer”

Well my review of Fly From Here on YouTube proved so popular – gaining more visits in a day than this site is getting in a week thanks to Google stuffing me in the page ranking – that I’ve recorded some more of my reviews for the YouTube service.

A Scarcity of Miracles by Jakszyk, Collins and Fripp

In the Land of Grey and Pink [40th Anniversary Edition] by Caravan


Album Review: In The Wake of Poseidon by King Crimson – 40th Anniversary Remaster Series

poseidon.jpgThe second in this batch of reissues is the also the second album released by King Crimson during its long career in the business they call music. Personally, it is not a record that I am a particular fan of, as structurally and tonally it pitches its tent in the “In the Court of the Crimson King Part 2” territory.

However, I was looking forward to the 5.1 surround remix of this because these new remixes do throw new light onto these recordings and Steve Wilson’s work often shines the torch into dark corners we’ve never been exposed to before.

In terms of packaging, it follows the usual slipcase and double disc tray package, but despite the booklet including the usual history of the time from Sid Smith there is no separate commentary from Robert Fripp about this album. Perhaps there was nothing left to be said about this period?

But onto the review of the music, for that is what you are all here for, no? Initial impressions are that this record is very much a showcase for the talents of Michael Giles. Yes, he was apparent on the “In The Court” 5.1 remix, but here his drums are mixed very much to the fore and are delivered with a piquant crispness deserving his unique lolloping style.

Album opener “Peace – A Beginning” arrives out of an audio soup – just like it does on the original recording – though in this instance the transformation from murk to clarity is more apparent.

Perennial stomper “Pictures of a City” is transformed – more so than say “21st Century Schizoid Man” – as it is now wider, crisper and carries more depth and detail than ever before. Of course, I am a little resistant to its charms due to its over-similarity to its older sibling “Schizoid Man” but the syncopated stop-starts are tighter than its predecessor and it seems that everything is faster in this mix. Of course, that’s my ears playing tricks on me.

“Cadence and Cascade” is a welcome break from the hubbub and in this version its pastoral nature is laid bare, with its instrumentation tastefully spread around the surround spectrum with the piano breaks popping up just as they did in the stereo mix. One criticism – and this is a criticism that I will also level at the title track – is that the vocals seems to be mixed way too low. Gordon Haskell’s voice is slight on this track anyway, but now the instruments grab your attention to the detriment of the near-whispered vocals.

The same can be said of “In the Wake of Poseidon” – Greg Lake is no whisperer, but his powerful vocals here are drowned out by the instruments, which is a shame as both tracks end up feeling a little unbalanced. In terms of the mix, the title track hasn’t sounded better and its cinematic nature and powerful mellotron-flavoured lead lines are there to propel the song forward. However, the lack of detail in this mix starts to make you wonder if the original recording was a little under-developed, but that’s the critic in me rearing its ugly head.

“Peace – A Theme” is presented as is. It doesn’t sound particularly as if it has been mixed for surround – it’s just a lone guitar playing the theme. However, I would have expected a little more atmosphere from the surround mix, but I didn’t feel it and to these ears, it might as well been the stereo mix.
“Catfood” is a delight. OK – it’s up there with “Ladies of the Road” in terms of annoyance factor, but here the surround sound mix comes into its own and the piano of Keith Tippett is allowed to dance around the field and Lake’s vocals are bounced around the rear speakers for the “Catfood” refrain on the chorus. The track is really opened up and benefits greatly from this spit-and-polish.

“The Devil’s Triangle” is not a track I would wish to sit through more than a handful of times in this lifetime, but I did it again for you, dear reader, and I hope you appreciate the suffering I endured to make it through to the end. In this instance, the original master tracks for the song were lost and so Simon Heyworth presents the stereo master enhanced by a 5.1 upmix – something I’ve never heard on one of these types of discs before. Surprisingly, the effect works, you do get a sense of sitting in the middle of the song, but in terms quality compared to what’s preceded, this track stands out like a bit of a sore thumb, the ugly guy at the orgy, if you catch my drift. Again, what else could they do? Leave it off the album? I suppose this is the best compromise but it doesn’t matter as I have no plans to revisit this track again for another 10 years anyway.

“Peace – An End” brings together the elements from the previous two “Peace” tracks. It sounds nice enough but in terms of a mix, the surround sound does nothing for it. I think it (and its siblings) works better in the stereo mix.

As a surround sound album, it works nicely enough except for the upmix of “The Devil’s Triangle” and illustrates the gulf between the recording quality between this and its co-release “Islands”. The instrumentation here – especially the drums – are pristine and so make this a much livelier and satisfying prospect, whereas “Islands” will always sound a little more strange to these ears due to issues at its original recording stage.

The package is made complete by the inclusion of more versions of the charmless “Groon” than you can wave a stick at (no I can’t stand that one either and, for me, is like the audio equivalent of pulling – there’s a reason why it was a B-side, you know). However the real item of interest for the fans is Greg Lake’s vocal take of “Cadence and Cascade”, which illustrates the subtleties of vocal performance and how interpretations can differ between two vocalists.

Overall, it is an interesting release but no matter how much fairy dust they sprinkle on it, this will always be the poor cousin to “In the Court” – it lacks the imagination of that album, the sheer bonkers doolally nutty charm of “Lizard” and the plaintive soul of “Islands”. In proper music reviews they say something like: “one for the fans”.

Album Review: Islands by King Crimson – 40th Anniversary Remaster Series

islands.jpgThis review looks at the 5.1 DVD portion of the recent King Crimson release of “Islands”. As with previous albums in the 40th Anniversary series, Islands follows the same style of packaging with two CDs in a double-faceted cardboard sleeve inside a further cardboard slipcase, making the package difficult to access before but they’ve now improved the design since the last batch, making the slipcase less of a snug fit, so us old codgers can liberate the discs with our arthritic fingers.

The separate inner booklet contains a very brief commentary from Robert Fripp, which doesn’t actually talk about the album per se or his departed co-workers on this collection, but alludes to him missing out the details and not really appreciating the time and place of this recording. Delivered in his cod, pseudo-intellectual style, it is probably the least interesting of his narratives on the period and in these discs. Why bother?

Leave the meat and potatoes to professional King Crimson word Smith, Sid – who extrapolates material from his original book on the band and adds to it, giving you a distinct flavour of the period, something Fripp failed to do in his commentary. The pictures are nice, but these have been replicated before – probably because of the scarcity of new material from the time.

On to the disc itself and my initial impression was that the limitations of the original recording sessions tend to shine through more with this new mix. Steven Wilson had done another sterling job, but in places there’s a distinct lack of top-end frequencies and some roundness of the bottom, rendering some of the material (particularly “Formentera Lady”) sounding rather boxy. Again, because of the clarity of this mix, you can hear the roughness of some of the other recordings, one of the trumpets from the end of Islands sounds as if it was recorded on a knackered microphone, for example.

And this is the problem when you clean up an album that was poorly recorded in the first place – you can really sense that the original was put together in a rush – and this comes across in this mix. Whereas the original mix masked these imperfections under the inferior and limited stereo process, the 5.1 surround sound edition presents them in all their glory – and I think this is a pretty brave move.

For while the original recording sessions weren’t perfect, Wilson’s work on these mixes thrive on the strength of the music. While “Formentera Lady” sounds boxy, if you close your eyes you are transported to the Greek Isles with that coda section leading into “The Sailor’s Tale”, which starts off sounding lessened by the 5.1 mix but soon steps up to grab you by the scruff of the neck when the mellotrons crash in at the end. I found the journey a truly exhilarating 17 minutes on those two tracks.

“The Letters” with its cod three-penny opera melodrama was never a fan favourite, being spawned musically from “Drop In” via the 1969 band, I’ve always enjoyed it and for those of you who also enjoy this track, you are in for a treat. For when the big crash of saxes and guitars come into the fray, Wilson has opened up the sound field so much that it sounds like a completely different record – again, making the track a much more dynamic and interesting prospect – though it still suffers from being something of a slight composition, being an operation of style over substance.

“Islands” was always a record of two sides and the CD (or DVD) format doesn’t change matters. I’ve always viewed the first side as almost a suite of songs and the album becomes a bit derailed by “Ladies of the Road”, which musically sounds a universe away from the previous three tracks and the world of King Crimson too. The new mix is good, it is open, everything is there – it is dynamic and full of life, but for me it is still a clunker. Sorry, I’ve never really liked it.

“Prelude – Song of the Gulls” has always been a strange beast – on the original album and later CD editions it sounds like a cod parlour music, but in this incarnation there is space for the instrumentation to breathe and it is nice to be sitting in the centre of it all. But it doesn’t belong on this album and can almost be considered as filler.

The final track is transformed by the new mix – again there are some rough patches where badly recorded instruments leap out and shout “Here I am!” – but the funereal appeal of this track grips me once again and Boz’s plaintive vocals sound so wrong for a King Crimson record, but so right for this song, and you can feel yourself drifting off into space looking down on the island. My co-reviewer (Verity, my three-year-old daughter) said this song was sad, but very good music and told me that the album was going to end soon – even though this was her very first experience of “Islands”.

In terms of extras, the DVD is packed with lots of live material and run-throughs by the band, which will make interesting listening to those not well versed in the King Crimson Collector’s Club releases or the snippets released via the DGM website. The money shot amongst these audio nuggets is the track “A Peace Making Stint Unrolls” which features motifs later used on “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” and “Lament” but sound in this instance as if their genetic material has been spliced together with “Groon” to create some weird mutant jazz baby.

When I think of this album, I always think back to how over the years Fripp and Co have done a great job of restoring it. It is almost like with every edition, a further layer of grim is removed from the canvas. The original was lacking some sparkle (though I must admit there is something special about listening to the 1971 vinyl now and again), the 30th Anniversary remaster was a revelation when I first heard it, with everything being sparkly and given new resonance. With this 40th edition, the restoration is complete for I don’t think they can get it any better than this.

It is a flawed recording, a flawed album even, but if you want the ultimate edition: this is it.

Another decade passes and here another chance to buy those albums that have influenced your younger years. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing and it has the astounding ability to part a fool from his money just with one twinkle of his nefarious eye.

But I digress, the reason I purchased this album was not for a misty-eyed look back at my late teenage years when I first became aware of this record, but because I was interested to hear how they processed this record for a surround-sound audience. This “new” edition features a 5.1 surround mix by Steven Wilson, a fellow I have a lot of respect in the mixing department, and this review will be concerned with this and not the new stereo mix of the album, which is also featured in the package.

Red: 40th Anniversary Series
Lots and lots and lots of faces…

The album comes in a cardboard sleve that holds two plastic trays, which fits a little too snugly inside a slipcase. The first test of the listener is to see how they can remove product from its protective packaging. Simple tip: hold the edges lightly and abruptly move the set forwards as if you are trying to get the last dribbles of ketchup from the bottom of the glass bottle.

The album comes with a nice booklet featuring pictures of the band in action from the time and there are a couple of pix I wasn’t that familiar with, which makes this collection stand out a little from the other releases. Robert Fripp writes some sleeve notes about the life and times of this band, but his notes feel a little downbeat compared to his previous writings about this period. The second part of the booklet is taken up with the obligatory Sid Smith “Official Mouth of CrimsonTM” take on this incarnation of the band. After a decade of reading Sid’s enthusiastic and engaging scribblings with the various other releases and DGM Club releases, I began to lose consciousness. This isn’t a poke at Sid, I was just hoping for another voice or maybe some further commentary from Broof, Wetton or Cross. But this is a minor niggle in a rather classy package.

The first track to grace my surround system is the title track. A solid slab of instrumental guitar-based prog. The one word review would be: dense and this pulls up my main issue with this album actually being released in 5.1 surround. Red is just a dense record by nature that there is very little space for the music to move and in terms of dynamic spread, might as well have been recorded in mono.

Here Wilson puts the audience in the middle of the studio and it works in a way. There’s little else for him to do really because the instrumentation is so dense. It’s a great mix, but you tend to wonder why did they bother because this music doesn’t need to put the listener in the middle. It is a juggernaut ready to run you down. But the clarity is there and you can hear everything…and that’s a good thing, I guess.

The mix of Fallen Angel show the limitations of the recordings of the time, for while the instrumentation is bright and dynamic and lends itself more to the surround format, John Wetton sounds as if he has a sock in his mouth, the flat reverb on his vocals just sits badly in this mix. I guess there’s little anyone could have done about this now, but while it works on the original mix, the vocals just sound odd in this lovely wide mix. Those of you who love Fripp’s acoustic work and his use of harmonics will be able to pick out his fine work here.

One More Red Nightmare is a revelation because you get to hear a lot of little flourishes that were buried in the original stereo mix and it really works here. The same can be said of the “Providence” track, a song originally recorded live and put out on the album with any audience noise removed. In this context, you can hear the “life” of the song, such is the quality of the original recordings you can almost hear the air move around the audience. This track probably benefits the most from the surround mix, but there is a problem. Either I’ve put my ears on the wrong way around this morning, but it sounded to me as if Robert Fripp’s guitar had been mixed to the left and David Cross’s violin had been mixed to the right, when the converse should have happened. I sound like the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons when I go over such details, but this isn’t the first time Fripp and his pals at DGM have fudged the mix (similar cock-ups appear on the original prints of the Eyes Wide Open DVD and Neal Jack and Me DVD). I am hoping that I am in the wrong and that this was meant to be. But this is a niggle too as it sounds really good.

The crowning achievement of this record, or possible this incarnation of the band, has to be the closing track Starless. Here the slow majesty of the song builds up, mellotrons tastefully mixed to the rear and the instruments given plenty of space in the mix. I felt that there needed to be a little extra clout in the bass department as most of the bottom frequencies appeared to be take up with Broof’s bass drum. But the saxes sound sweet and there’s some great separation for the oboe too. If you love this song, then this is the best way you are ever going to hear it!

On the DVD, you also get the legendary ORTF Melody broadcast did band did back in the day and features four tracks from that period. Again, seeing Starless performed live is another reason to buy this alone.

There are also a number of extra surround mixes and a high-resolution stereo track for you to explore, making this package pretty definitive. Hey, they should have called this the “Definitive Edition”. Oh no, they did that back in 1990s!

Overall: well worth the cash.