"Re-opening The Musical Box" – A Review of the Genesis 1976 – 1982 box set. Review by Kevin Fearn.
I think it was back in 2004 (or was it 2003?) that the news broke that Nick Davis, Genesis’ producer since the ‘We Can’t Dance’ sessions, was working on a surround sound remix of Genesis albums The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and A Trick Of The Tail, even tentative release dates were set by some websites, presumably for the upcoming 30 year anniversaries, and then all went quiet………
The news to follow was that the whole back catalogue was to undergo similar treatment, even the earliest albums such as Trespass and Nursery Cryme (thankfully Genesis don’t own the ‘From Genesis To Revelation’ master tapes!). As a taster, a 3-cd release, under the EMI Platinum Collection banner, hit the shelves back in November 2004, containing some of the new stereo remixes, presumably gearing up for the full album releases and then again, all went quiet……..seemingly the record company or management were waiting for an ideal opportunity to make the release as worthwhile as possible but how? And we all know what happened next!
A press conference to announce a series of shows was held in London in November 2006. A formal release schedule for the remixes was also announced……..a fabulous marketing opportunity for these releases, the vehicle from which to sell them had arrived.
The box sets are to be released in three sets, 1970-1975; 1983-1997 and, the subject of this review, 1976-1982.
The first release hit the shelves on 3rd April 2007. The albums included are ‘A Trick Of The Tail’ (1976); ‘Wind & Wuthering’ (1976); ‘…And Then There Were Three…’ (1978); ‘Duke’ (1980); and ‘Abacab’ (1981). Each album includes a Hybrid SACD/CD and an accompanying DVD-video release containing Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS surround sound remixes, with new interviews, live footage, promo videos and still photographs of Tour Programmes. Also included an extra incentive for buying the box set, as opposed to separate releases, is a SACD/CD and DVD-video package of all the B-sides to the various singles from the period in all the above surround sound mixes, with additional video content too. Phew!!! 12 discs in total.
The remixed music is the real reason any fan would want these so let’s start there.
I, as I have to have everything, went for the box set. After a few weeks of truly dedicated study I can now offer my review of the releases. I have limited surround sound capability, old system with only 5.1 so no DTS or SACD review from me.
There are many people who think that if something is not broke why fix it? In many fans eyes these albums are perfect because of how they sounded the first time they heard them holds so many happy memories. Remixing is seen as a very sensitive subject. To me I kind of have that opinion but, if they could be improved without too much tampering (and there was significant room for improvement) then I would be a very happy Genesis fan.
As we all know Genesis are a fabulous live band, no doubt about that. However, whether due to deadlines and technological limitations or just bad mixing, the albums pre Abacab have always seemed to lack the punch of Genesis’ live. Nick’s remit on this project was to revisit the master tapes, transfer them digitally, and remix them.
All of these releases are most significantly improved in how the vocals and drum/percussion have been mixed. Guitars are more distinctive and, even more surprisingly, more keyboards, all previously buried in the muddy rushed original mixes.
A Trick Of The Tail
On ‘Trick’ from the opening chimes of Steve’s guitar right through to rousing finale of Los Endos, the remix fully delivers all long awaited expectation.
Surround sound highlights for me were the instrumental ending of ‘Dance’ – so much going on in the recording can now be heard with startling quality. ‘Entangled’ the ringing of each guitar string can be heard and easily defined by the listener, and Phil’s vocals are just amazingly clear. ‘Squonk’ – two words ‘bass pedals’ - wow!!! Mad Man Moon – Tony’s piano shines through like never before. ‘Robbery’, never one of my favourites, is a revelation to me, especially Phil’s drumming during the instrumental break. ‘Ripples…’, vocals are clear and crisp and Steve’s guitar in the second half takes on a new power as, working with the piano, teasingly builds and builds back to the powerful reprise of the chorus . ‘A Trick’ a great song brought to life by some inventive guitar work. And Los Endos achieves close to the power of the live performances.
Wind & Wuthering
Not my favourite of albums (what? I hear you cry, never!) due, quite frankly to the shoddy original mix and far too many instrumentals (…and leaving ‘Inside and Out’ off). However, all has changed…
The whole album from start to finish now sounds truly amazing and probably the best effort of all the surround sound mixes too. Eleventh Earl the intro, with it now piercing guitar and keyboards, through to the quieter middle section, rising again in crescendo for a very powerful finale this song now truly delivers and it’s easy to hear why it was chosen as the album opener and live favourite of so many fans. ‘Vine’, again always a live favourite (just listen to the Earls Court bootleg 1977) but to me always sounded flat and a bit boring in its studio form. The clarity of the first half, especially Phil’s vocals, combined with the fabulous instrumental madness of the second half, with all bells and whistles, significantly improved drums and amazing combined piano (and guitar) work make for an amazingly ‘live’ like sound. ‘Special Way’ gets a better mix all round and ‘Wot Gorilla?’ makes full effect of the surround sound format. ‘Mouse’ – the clarity of the bass guitar is something new and enhances a song I’ve always skipped over, but the various guitar and keyboard effects now unearthed during the verses, coupled with the much clearer guitar outro make ‘Mouse’ one of the highlights of the album. ‘Rooftops’ – stunning in surround, you can here every string of Steve’s beautifully crafted intro ring around the room. ‘Slumbers…Quiet Earth’ makes great use of the surround sound, especially Quiet Earth, whose rumbling power breaks into ‘Afterglow’, which some truly beautiful backing vocals.
…And Then There Were Three…
I’ve always thought that ‘Down And Out’ was a great song suffering from a terrible mix. The new mix brings Phil’s superb drumming of a very unusual time signature forward into the mix. ‘Big’ now rumbles along like a freight train with a much improved mix of the bass guitar. ‘Snowbound’ - love the vocals on this new mix, very clear and warm. ‘Rope’ the highlight for me on this record with its many different twist and turns and, amazing fledgling lead guitar from Mike. ‘Motherlode’ takes on the appearance of the live performances of the time whilst ‘Many Too Many’ benefits greatly with a much improved vocal mix. ‘Scenes’, a filler of a track in my opinion, now grabs my attention and becomes a very satisfying song. ‘Say It’s Alright Joe’ has really surprised me. For those who don’t know the master multi-track reels for this track have been lost and therefore neither a new stereo or surround sound mix could be created. Instead Nick has somehow breathed some new life into the old stereo mix to make it appear remixed and in surround sound too. It is noticeably different to the rest of the album in clarity but, considering what he had to work with, Nick has pulled it off. ‘Lady Lies’, another live favourite makes great use of the new surround sound mix, the vocals especially. ‘Follow’ – the effect laden guitar intro in the surround sound mix finish the album off nicely.
Credited as the reason for me becoming a fan, Duke has benefited greatly from the remix process. The original mix has always been considered by the band as poor and, when comparing the original mixes to their live equivalents where possible, it’s easy to hear why. ‘Behind The Lines’ now hits you like a sledgehammer attacking your senses with startling power – Phil’s drumming is superb. ‘Duchess’ has the same new qualities as its predecessor but it the intro that stands out on the surround sound mix, creating a kind of ‘calm before the storm’ feeling with its atmospheric keyboards. ‘Guide Vocal’ is such a simple song that benefits from a crystal clear vocal mix. ‘Man Of Our Times’, the stand out remix on this album, takes on a totally new character. Gone is the cluttered song with buried vocals, now you can hear everything, especially the drum work and vocal effects. ‘Heathaze’ – again an all round better mix. ‘Turn It On Again’ now sounds like the live version we all know and love (not the one with the awful medley but more like the Duke Tour) with its pounding rhythm. The clarity and warmth of Phil’s vocal is the highlight of Alone Tonight, whilst ‘Cul-De-Sac’ benefits in much the same way as ‘Man Of Our Times’ has. I’m pretty sure that the vocal take on ‘Please Don’t Ask’ is different, especially in the chorus, but instrumentally the song seems much more punchier. The best ever Genesis instrumental ‘Duke’s Travels’ and ‘Duke’s End’ now have that great live feel we know from the ‘Archive 2’ recording, especially the drums.
Abacab hasn’t really changed that much in my opinion. It’s an okay album but, when compared to the others in the set it still stands out as the weakest, a opinion not mirrored by the band apparently. The stereo mix has cleaned up well but it’s in the surround sound mix where the remix excels through full use of the many differing effects used during the recording. The power of ‘Abacab’ and Dodo/Lurker still grab the listener, the latter using some very unusual percussion sounds which I had never noticed before. ‘No Reply’ and ‘Me And Sarah Jane’ are still annoyingly boring, Earth Wind and Fire feature in the former - what were they thinking? ‘Keep It Dark’ shows again the previously hidden layers within the recording. ‘Who Dunnit?’ is a question I ask when I smell something unpleasant and my opinion hasn’t changed about this track either, even if it is in surround sound, lasting only about 30 seconds before the I skipped track! I personally love ‘Man On A Corner’ and ‘Like It or Not’, the former for Phil’s vocal performance and the latter for the drumming, both elements have heightened my appreciation of these two songs. ‘Another Record’ is a curious song which benefits from the remix in the same way as ‘Keep It Dark, exposing hidden elements again.
The bonus disc
Finally all the B-Sides are presented, including ‘Match Of The Day’ and ‘Me and Virgil’. They are some gems within this package. ‘Paperlate’ – punchy drum led mix similar to the DVD ‘Video Show’, ‘Pigeons’ – presents a significantly clearer vocal, unearthing a previously unheard echo effect. ‘It’s Yourself’ now has the missing verse restored, but still fades out, much to the annoyance of some fans. The best track on this set ‘Inside and Out’ is the standout track for me in the same way as ‘One For The Vine’ works on ‘Wind & Wuthering’, beautiful intro and frantic instrumental ending that, hearing it cleaned up and in surround sound, which further begs the question of why it didn’t make that album ahead of ‘Wot Gorilla?’?
Considering that these releases have been in the pipeline for so long the DVD Extras could have been so much better. Considering all of the fan based projects that are out there, continually remastering the best quality bootlegs, it is remarkable that the band have chosen to quite openly use bootlegs, and poor quality ones at that, with out consulting the fans first. It is widely known that better versions of the material presented here are openly traded and continually discussed on the official Genesis site, so why hasn’t this been exploited? Furthermore, it has been pointed out by some fans that TV companies have some of this material in broadcast quality and yet they have not been obtained. These DVD extras appear very cheap in comparison to the quality of the album remix effort.
It’s nice to have the ‘In Concert’ Film from 1976 – but why not obtain the original full masters from the director, who admits he still has them, and make a decent release?
Why use two terrible quality bootlegs TV performances from 1977 and ignore the ‘Seconds Out’ promo from Dallas and not present the mythical Brazilian broadcast tapes of a full concert from that era?
The ‘Three Dates With Genesis’ is a nice addition but I have a better quality bootleg they could have used.
The Lyceum film is the ‘Whistle Test’ highlights programme is in excellent quality but again there is a full concert in the archives being circulated by the fans. If they can use crappy TV bootlegs, why not use this? It’s not good enough quality to hold on for an official release so release it here instead.
The lack of live material on the ‘Abacab’ release is expected due to the 3 Sides Live film, which will hopefully get a full release at some later period, but surely there was something else in the archives that could have been used?
On the positive side it’s nice to have the new interview footage for each album and extras release which, in total clocks in at around 80 minutes of interview. It’s also nice to see the tour programmes too.
The promo videos have been released before but, as our editor has previously commented, there is still a lack of a promo for ‘Match Of The Day’ why? Does it exist? I’m not so sure.
I have to say the presentation box, is impressive. It has the ‘We Can’t Dance era’ Genesis logo on each side, coloured by each album’s artwork within. The door slides into the top very nicely. I can see the other two forthcoming sets sitting nicely along side it now.
The artwork on each album has been fully and beautifully restored and has banished the abysmal efforts of previous releases. The discs have the original Charisma record label reproduced on them. And the booklets now have all the lyrics in the correct order.
The bonus disc is presented in a book format with some interesting information about each release and bonus tracks.
The packaging is really tastefully done throughout.
The remixes have presented the listener with an opportunity to rediscover there recording in a whole new way. I have to say a big thank you to Nick Davis for doing such a fantastic job in making these recording truly breathe without compromising the original overall feel of the original releases. It’s obviously painstaking work and I’m sure Nick will be glad to get away from listening to them for a very long time.
The DVD-Extras are poor but that shouldn’t be the reason for buying this box set. They are extras and, if you look hard enough, you will find better versions of the video content if you really want it. The extras have been rushed no doubt. Somehow I think the reunion caught the record company by surprise and, in an effort to capitalise on the recent publicity, they have compromised to make a release dates before, during and after the upcoming tour, shame really.
The packaging is first rate and let’s hope it continues and doesn’t fall by the wayside like the Archive project did.
Overall a great release and well worth the investment for the remixes alone.