|Fleetwood Mac - Rumours|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 29 May 2001|
Take an extremely popular album that was one of the first back-catalog reissues at the dawn of CD (when it did extremely well), give the 24-track masters to the engineers who originally recorded the album to remix it for 5.1 and even ask the band to contribute to the process, and what do you get? You get a virtually perfect approach to repurposing existing catalogue items for the new medium of DVD Music.
I don’t know many people who do not own a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s seminal album Rumours in one form or another. I originally had the vinyl, sold it and got the CD, and now here is the latest reissue, surely the best of all: a DVD-A/V surround/stereo remix done by the team that not only recorded the original sessions, but is also at the forefront of the 5.1 surround and DVD-Audio revolution.
5.1 Entertainment is Ken Caillat, Gary Lux et al, and from their West L.A. facility just off the 10 freeway, they are turning out one superb DVD-Audio remix after another. As one might imagine, this album is no exception, for no engineer can know these tracks as well as Ken Caillat. Here, they have done us proud.
The disc itself includes Dolby Digital surround on the DVD-V area, plus stereo and surround 96 kHz, 24-bit mixes in the DVD-Audio section. Additionally, we can hear the band talking (often recorded by fellow Rumours original engineer Richard Dashut) about how the tracks came to be, and what was going on at the time. Behind their voices are instrumental surround mixes of the songs in question, and you can examine original scribbled lyric sheets and track sheets (if you can read the writing), as well as viewing photographs from the original sessions and other fascinating details.
The album was originally made in 1977, on 24-track analogue multitrack. Inevitably, the narrow track width and other characteristics well known to engineers at the time render the sound quality rather below the level we might expect from today’s all-digital recordings. But that source material limitation aside, everything has been transferred and remixed with astonishing care and attention to detail. The sound quality is noticeably better than that on the original CD, a testament to the enormous strides the technology of digital audio has taken since the mid-‘80s. One presumes that the 24-track original was lifted direct from the multitrack into a high-quality A/D conversion system and from then on was processed and mixed entirely digitally. The entire process has been carried out in exemplary fashion.
The material itself is so well known as to need no real comment, except one: there is an additional track here. Originally intended for the vinyl version, but not included on the first CD for some mysterious reason, Stevie Nicks’ composition "Silver Springs" is quite as solid as the rest of the album, appearing here as Track 6. This pushes "Songbird," originally in the Track 6 slot, to Track 12. Otherwise, the running order is unchanged. It must have been very difficult to choose the track to leave out, but for those with no memory of those days, vinyl gets even nastier than usual if you try to get more than 20 minutes on a side, and this number would have pushed it over the edge into lower levels, more distortion and poorer signal-to-noise ratio. Why it didn’t get reinserted when the CD was mastered is another question entirely. Yes, of course, this material does show its age somewhat. But it sounds as good now – actually significantly better – as it did a quarter of a century ago. If you liked it then, I am sure you’ll love it now.
The stereo 96kHz remixes presented here appear from their content and balance to be the originals, but there is also a lot of added detail and life to the tracks. Simply transferring the original mixes with modern conversion systems would have done the trick, adding clarity and transparency at the top end and power and tightness in the bass, as well as detail that quantization noise would have hidden in earlier times. Modern digital noise removal systems could have dropped the noise floor cleanly and evenly.
On the surround front, one could almost imagine that Ken Caillat had been thinking about this project for years – that 5.1 Entertainment was set up just so that this album could be released. The mixes are exquisite and as utterly natural as the stereo versions. Nothing is there for effect; nothing is gratuitous; these mixes are simply presented and come across as if this was originally what was intended. The final product was mastered, of course, by Bob Ludwig – and it seems to me that the vast majority of great-sounding DVD-music discs out there are mastered by the master himself. Even in the highest realms of digital audio, mastering is not simply a transfer: it is as much an art as it was in the days of vinyl.
If you have always enjoyed this album as I have, you will want this new version in your library. It does the original full justice and it is a fine example of how to do the job of remixing and reissuing classic albums of the past in new digital and surround formats. Congratulations to everyone involved.