Fans have eagerly been awaiting the high resolution and surround sound release of Jethro Tull's classic 1972 album Thick as a Brick. In November 2012 the waiting was over, and a two disc set containing a CD featuring a new mix of the album by Steven Wilson, along with a DVD which contains the 5.1 DTS & Dolby Digital surround sound mix, as well as a high quality stereo 96/24 (new mix), and the original 1972 stereo mix flat transferred to 96/24 PCM (directly from the Morgan Studios recording by Robin Black), was released.
The set includes the original TAAB newspaper, an article by Classic Rock's Dom Lawson, rare photos by Didi Zill and Robert Ellis, recording/touring mementos and much more all in a 104 page hardback book. Also, vinyl lovers can order a set that includes both TAB and TAB 2 in one box.
There are some shocking differences between the original mix and Wilson's 2012 re-mix. Long-time fans will want to skip the new stereo mix, instead only playing the 24/96 flat transfer original mix, as this best represents the work in its classic form. However, even this transfer misses the "Yeah" that quietly closed out the albums second side after Anderson finishes singing "To be thick as a brick." Otherwise, the 1972 stereo mix is intact and is a direct competitor to any high quality vinyl versions. This mix is extremely warm and musical and has the 70's sound written all over it.
Like the original mix, both the stereo re-mix and surround sound versions end without the quiet "Yeah", but even worse is the abruptness, which literally cuts off Andersons final words, leaving no room for ambience, the album is just over in a millisecond. But that is only the beginning to the disaster of the Wilson mixes. On part two, right after the first Barlow drum solo break starting at 1:32, a celtic little melody played on flute and chimes begins at 1:41. This short melodic theme is immediately repeated without a break, continuing until the entire band kicks back in. Well, the original mix only has the melody playing one time, followed by more of the drum solo, and then five notes, playing only part of the melody the second time, leaving a gap between the flute and chimes melody before the remainder of the band kicks back in. The re-mixes really don't work as well, there is a timing overlap between the flute and chime melody against the band kicking back in. I am simply astonished that both Aderson and Wilson missed this critical difference between the two mixes.
Likewise, for those who dare, playing the 24/96 stereo re-mix will likely be a headache. The mix is overly bright and lacks the round warm bottom end that is so distinct on the 1972 flat transfer. I spent little time checking it out, as I immediately felt it was harsh and lacked the original musicality of the album. Even Anderson's voice, while extremely clear, had a digitized sensation and lacked the humanness found on the transferred analog stereo mix.
However, barring the imperfections noted above, the surround mix is pretty darn amazing, it was like hearing the album for the first time. Surround mix guru Steven Wilson demonstrates his respect and understanding for the original mix here. Unlike the stereo re-mix, everything is extremely well balanced, wonderfully smooth, and is evenly spread around the five main channels. Anderson's flute compliments his vocals. Barre's double lead lines are fully separated and fully engaging. The keyboards are apparent individually and also as a framework surrounding the piece; Listeners are likely to hear instrumentation that they had never noticed, stand outs are the acoustic guitar with its pleasant tingle, and the sparkling cymbals, all along side very good dynamics that easily exceed the stereo mix.
While listening to the DVD-A, keep an eye on the monitor which slowly changes the pages of the newspaper. Also thumb through the scads of pages with pictures and notes all while enjoying this fantastic album.
By this time all of the first pressings of the DVD-A's with audible problems acknowledged by EMI should have been replaced with apologies from EMI music, Ian Anderson and Steven Wilson. If you bought a version prior to Dec 2012, ask your retailer for a replacement!
Strongly recommended, and thankfully presented in an affordable package.
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