"Doing the digital foxtrot..." - The Genesis remasters put under the spotlight by Alan Hewitt.
The remastering craze has finally caught up with Genesis. It had to happen I suppose and I must admit that when I heard about the prospect of “digitally remastered” versions of my favourite albums, I felt quite cold at the thought. After all, not only had I bought vinyl copies of the albums; I bought the original CD versions AND the subsequent picture disc editions of the first six albums - and now this! Frankly, I felt that I was being mugged by the record company! My initial cynicism was soon quashed however, upon hearing Nursery Cryme which I had bought as a present for a friend. I was astonished by what I heard and was convinced enough to buy the first batch and the following batch a month or so later! Here are my findings…
Trespass has always been one of my favourite Genesis albums and so I was naturally intrigued to hear how it sounded on this disc. What struck me the most was the total lack of tape hiss on this and the other albums. Tracks like Stagnation and White Mountain were a revelation. The instrumentation was so lush and clean, it was almost like listening to a new album. The instrumentation was so much louder and clearer than I had thought possible. Peter’s vocals were incredible as was the twelve string sound of Ant and Mike - almost as innovative now as it was back in 1970! If this was a sample, then what surprises did the other albums hold?
Both Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot are albums that by turns excite and frustrate me. The music on both ranks among the finest that the group have ever created but the sound quality often leaves a great deal to be desired. The former album was a revelation; the instrumentation was enhanced by wider dynamics and whole sections that had been obscured on previous versions, were suddenly revealed in all their glory. The same can be said about Foxtrot where whole sections of Peter’s vocals have been lifted from the veil of obscurity which had previously surrounded them. On Supper’s Ready for instance, I could actually hear properly what Peter was singing about without reference to the lyric booklet! Watcher Of The Skies was as electrifying as it must have been on its debut back in 1972, and both albums certainly left me on an emotional high after hearing them.
A word has to be said here about the way in which the albums have been re-packaged. On most of them, it has been worked with the full artwork restored to both the front covers and the inner artwork sleeves as well - it is great to see the full designs for both Nursery Cryme and A Trick Of The Tail for instance. However, not all of the albums benefit from this, and in some cases , the result is really quite disappointing as in the case of Selling England By The Pound where the booklet is a disgrace with the lyrics printed in the wrong order and several are partially duplicated! Genesis Live and Seconds Out also suffer from this problem with particularly uninspired graphics to both of them or none at all.
Out of the remaining albums, the ones that particularly stood out for me were The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and A Trick Of The Tail, both of which had superb sound and were greatly enhanced by the complete packaging. The Lamb.. In particular was amazing, it was dogged by none of the background noise that had made it such a frustrating album to listen to in the past. All of the albums have had improvements made to them in one form or another and it is very hard to single out any one in particular. I was very dubious about exactly how much improvement could be made to the later albums, especially the most recent three, but even Duke and Abacab were improvements over the original versions.
My only quibble about these releases has to be the question which I have been asked by so many readers - why weren’t the albums remastered properly when originally transferred to CD? The technology to do this has been in existence for several years now. I suppose it is a case of better late than never and these discs are certainly better than the originals! Not only that , the price is more affordable than it was too, so if you haven’t already bought the discs, then put them on your birthday lists now - you won’t be disappointed!
To complete the picture on the remasters, here is the background to the work carried out on the albums as detailed by Nick Davis….
“Nothing was remixed. The process involved Geoff Callingham from the Farm hunting down all of the original ¼” master tapes which was successful on all of the albums except for Trespass, Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme (to which copy masters were obtained). We then booked four or five two day sessions at Abbey Road Mastering with Chris Blair and loaded the tapes one by one into Sonic Solutions ( a hard disk sound system) and at the same time adding EQ (mainly top/bottom) to the tapes.
The next stage was done at The Farm and involved listening through the tracks one by one and removing all clicks, hums; buzzes etc (The Lamb… was particularly bad) and other non-continuous noises, using a programme called No-Noise in the Sonic Solutions. Hiss was then removed also using No-Noise and any other EQ needed. Obviously, there is a compromise between brightness and hiss but I feel that the CDs sound bright without sounding hissy (definitely less so than the old CDs). The time involved was a few months in total as the listening/no-Noising process is quite slow…”
Our thanks go to Bill Brink for obtaining these comments direct from Nick Davis.