|Various Artists - Inside the Music: Surf's Up|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 13 February 2001|
5.1 Entertainment of West Los Angeles are fast becoming THE company for DVD-Audio, particularly through their SilverLine label. The company can be relied on for first-quality surround mixes and intelligent DVD authoring. This album, however - part of their "Inside the Music" series of compilations of different genres (I reviewed their New Age offering last month) - is not the best advertisement for the format.
This is not because the mixes of classic surfing tunes from EMI-Capitol artists such as Jan & Dean, The Ventures and even The Beach Boys are not up to the usual high standard - they are; but because on the vast majority of these tracks, there is very little to work with in the way of surround. As a result, a number of techniques, particularly delays, have to be used to make the surround mix interesting, and these often result in an overall feeling akin to that of "mono reprocessed for stereo" in many cases. I came away from the album thinking it a valiant attempt, but perhaps ill-advised.
There are some exceptions. The two Beach Boys tracks, remixed by Mark Linett, are excellent: particularly "Sail On, Sailor", which represents the most sophisticated songwriting on the album by quite a long way, and is my favorite cut; and The Fantastic Baggy's "Summer Means Fun" is technically very good, though the song itself is not the most complex. My other favorite on the album is not even a surfing song as such other than in name - it's "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" by the T-Bones, an instrumental with classic backing vocal "aaahs" of the period. The sound is actually reminiscent of Mark Wirtz (if you remember him, email me). The Sandals' "Theme from 'Endless Summer'" ain't bad either. Well, that covers half of the ten tracks on the album...
But I did end up feeling that for the remaining tracks, the latest surround technology and the country's top surround mixers were not enough to bring these recordings successfully into the 21st century – and that perhaps, it was not something that really needed to be attempted. "I Live For The Sun" by the Sunrays and especially "Ride The Wild Surf" by Jan & Dean are particularly clear examples of this: they would probably have been better off left in mono, as the original masters are evidently either difficult or limiting to work with successfully as far as conjuring surround elements out of nothing is concerned.
Should you buy this disc? As it says "5.1 Entertainment" on the cover, you know it will be the best, technically, that can be done with the material, so there's no problem there. And there are some famous tunes here, like "Pipeline" by the Ventures and Jan & Dean's "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" that you might want to be able to play at 24/96 (The DVD-A stream here outclasses the Dolby by quite a bit, and the DTS by rather less, and the transfers from analog are excellent). These tracks may have special memories for you, and that may be enough for you to want to own the album. I in fact remember these songs being played on Britain's off-shore pirate radio stations in the 60s: your memories may differ. It's up to you to decide whether surround remixes of these old songs, however good they may be, are something you feel you need to hear in this medium.