"The transfer to digital medium : Genesis on CD" - An examination by Jonathan Dann Part One.

Perhaps the most valuable items in the Virgin/Charisma back catalogue are the albums by Genesis; so it comes as no surprise that as the CD medium took off in a big way so the band’s albums should be transferred on to CD. What I am going to attempt here is a survey of the CD, with the emphasis on the sound reproduction and packaging.

As there are several different CD issues of From Genesis To Revelation, I will round them up in a separate article. This time around I will concentrate on the four or so Gabriel era albums.

For starters, the CD of Trespass (CASCD1020) is impressive sound wise. Ant and Mike’s twelve string guitar sound has a warm feel to it but the CD stops this becoming lost in a sea of crackles and clicks that my vinyl copy of the album had sadly inherited. Although the album originally suffered from some rather ham fisted editing (especially on White Mountain and Stagnation) the CD does not emphasise these faults too much. The Knife certainly sounds very powerful as well.

The booklet reproduces the lyrics as well as the front and back covers which are surrounded by a grey border. Some people have felt that the full artwork should have been reproduced on these early CDs - I guess it’s a matter of personal preference. One feature of these discs which should be criticised is the ominous: “THIS COMPACT DISC IS NOT DIGITALLY RECORDED” message. Even today, digitally recorded albums are not always the norm and so this message could worry anybody thinking of replacing their albums with CDs! For the record; this means that the original recordings were not made with digital technology but this does not affect the quality of the CD in any noticeable way.

Moving onwards to the CD of Nursery Cryme (CASCD1052) has a sound which may prove rather startling to those of you accustomed to the vinyl version. The CD has a very heavy bass sound which takes a few listens to become used to. Once that shock has sunk in, it must be said that the CD of the album is superb. In case you were wondering where the extra bass has come from, a bit of CD “explanation” will help. One big advantage of CD over vinyl is the C Ds ability to reproduce sound which cannot be ‘cut’ on vinyl, which goes to explain the ‘new’ sounds which you might hear on the CD of an album previously heard only on vinyl. In actual fact, these sounds were already on the album but were ‘reduced’ to cut on to vinyl. For the CD reissues of many back catalogue albums, record companies are ‘re-mastering’ the recordings to give the full sound - although occasionally they may have slipped up and allowed non-re-mastered tapes to be used in the mastering of CDs - the classic case being the Led Zeppelin albums.

Perhaps the most impressive track on the album is Fountain Of Salmacis where Tony Banks’ mellotron creates a superb orchestral sound. The Musical Box and The Return Of The Giant Hogweed are akin and also very powerful. As far as the packaging goes, there has been no attempt to recreate any of the inner sleeve artwork. With the first issue of the CD, the lyrics were printed in the wrong order in the booklet, although this has now been corrected. One point to be made about the CD is that it has a running time of just 39 minutes and 36 seconds so why Happy The Man and Twilight Alehouse could not have been added as extra tracks does pose an interesting question.

Foxtrot (CASCD1058) was one album I was longing to hear on CD if only to hear the songs on side one with some decent volume to them! Needless to say, the introduction to Watcher Of The Skies at last suggests some of the power that it has and Can-Utility & The Coastliners sounds fairly wonderful. As for Supper’s Ready, the CD brings out and emphasises the contrast between the “loud” and “soft” passages to great effect. It is also nice to hear Horizons sounding so clear. As far as the booklet goes, once again the lyrics are in a muddled order in the first issue, but Virgin have adjusted this in later ones.

Genesis Live (CLACD1) Once again shows the worth of the CD format, although there is one small complaint over where the second track has been set to start. After the applause dies away, Peter’s “Good evening” has been split between two tracks so that if you call up track two you get; ‘evening’ at the start of it! For some bizarre reason the booklet to my CD has been cut at a bad angle so that the artwork looks as if it is on a slant. I wonder if anyone else has this problem? The booklet reproduces all the lyrics although the lack of any of the photographs from the back cover is perhaps a little disappointing. A few years ago I seem to remember seeing a Japanese promo of the CD with the artwork reproduced in full, though finding one now would be fairly difficult. As far as extra tracks are concerned, I suppose Virgin could have completely rervitalised the album and presented it in its proposed original format; as a double LP with Supper’s Ready but somehow I don’t think that will ever happen!

In part two, the survey continues with a look at some more of the band’s CDs.