40th Anniversary Edition

REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – Machine Head (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, vinyl, In Concert ’72 vinyl)

More Purple at mikeladano.com:

Live at Inglewood 1968Deep Purple (1969), Machine Head (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition + vinyl + In Concert ’72 vinyl), Perks and Tit (Live in San Diego 1974), Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition), Come Taste the Band (35th Anniversary edition), Power House (1977), The Battle Rages On (1993), Shades 1968-1998, Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000 (12 CD), Listen, Learn, Read On (6 CD), Rapture of the Deep (2 CD Special Edition), “All the Time in the World” (2013 CD single), NOW What?! (2013) Record Store Tales Part 32: Live In Japan, STEVE MORSE BAND – StressFest (1996), ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions.

DEEP PURPLE – Machine Head (EMI 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, vinyl, In Concert ’72 vinyl)

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For the record, Machine Head is not the perfect Deep Purple album.  I find both In Rock and Fireball to be superior.  Machine Head is, however, the best known Deep Purple album, and I guess that’s why it’s gotten such a grand reissue while the other two have to be content with simple single-disc reissues from the 1990’s.

For the 40th anniversary, there have been a number of reissues made available.  First, there is the lovely 180 gram vinyl reissue, which includes a lyric sheet and a bonus 7″ of the first single, “Never Before” / “When A Blind Man Cries”.  Then, Peter Mew remixed the 1980 release In Concert ’72 at Abbey Road, which was re-released on purple vinyl.  This too came with a bonus 7″ single (also purple), “Lucille” and an unreleased rehearsal of “Maybe I’m A Leo”.

Finally, the crown jewel release is the five disc 40th Anniversary box set.  This includes all the stuff you got with the previous 1997 25th Anniversary edition, and more.  Packed inside is a lush 64 page hardbound booklet (including Roger Glover’s 1997 liner notes).  As an added surprise, even the CDs are printed in purple plastic.  I hope this is the last time I ever need to buy Machine Head!

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Disc One:  the 2012 remaster

Hey, I found the 1997 remaster just fine to my ears.  Is this one better?  Marginally, yes.  I imagine this sounds closer to the way it originally sounded if you bought a brand-new vinyl copy back in 1972.

Machine Head is a mere seven tracks, but almost all are winners.  The album kicks off with the adrenalized “Highway Star” (written and often performed during the Fireball tour), which is one of my personal favourites.  I still marvel today at Jon and Ritchie’s unison solos, like something out of a rock n’ roll speed race.  Gillan screams that nobody’s gonna take his car, and you believe him.  “Highway Star” is Deep Purple the way I often think of them:  fast, intricate, with banshee screams.

“Maybe I’m A Leo” takes the pace to a groove, with Ian Paice and Roger Glover holding it down.  This track is quite unlike anything from the previous two Deep Purple albums (except maybe “No No No”), featuring a more relaxed, comfortable band.   It is radio-ready hit material, and a concert staple.  But in case you too were getting comfortable, Ian Paice’s pounding intro to “Pictures Of Home” will wake you up.  This is clearly the most “heavy metal” of all the new songs, and that drum intro is reminiscent of Ian’s work on “Fireball”.  Gillan’s lyrics describe the “eagles and snow” of the Swiss scenery in which they recorded the album.

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In case you didn’t know, Machine Head was recorded at a hotel in Switzerland, by the Rolling Stones Mobile and Martin Birch.  The band occupied several suites, and managed to extract an incredible sonic quality from them.  According to the liner notes, it was simply too much work for the band members to walk through the various suites (needing to go outside onto balconies to do so, due to blocked doorways) down to the mobile to hear playback.  Instead, the band simply plowed through without hearing many of the playbacks, and the result is a spontaneous sounding album.

The first single “Never Before” is next, closing side one.  This is the one predicted to be the hit, only it wasn’t.  It’s not particularly a standout Purple track.  It’s short, simple and sweet but not nearly as powerful or memorable as the other six album tracks.SAM_2369

Side two opened with a track thought to be a mere throwaway, “Smoke on the Water”.  Completed after the infamous Frank Zappa gig at the local casino which resulted in the place burning down, Glover coined the title.  The rest of the band initially balked:  “Sounds like a drug song.”  Of course we know the song and title were the perfect match for each other.  This riff is the riff, the mother of all guitar riffs, never to be topped nor equaled by anybody, including Deep Purple.

“Lazy” was the band’s jam song, a sprawling seven minute stretch, greatly expanded upon live.  It begins with Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore playing off each other, a fun blues, until Gillan enters.  Ritchie’s solos are sublime, not to understate the greatness of Jon’s.

Side two closed with “Space Truckin'”, another song which was greatly extended live.  This is not one of my personal favourite album songs, but one cannot deny its importance.  It is an extended concert staple, but in its studio version it isn’t even a full 5 minutes long.

The disc ends with a bonus track, the sublime B-side “When A Blind Man Cries”.  This is a slow, mournful blues featuring some of Ritchie’s incredible six-string feel.  You can see why it wasn’t included on the album proper, as it is unlike anything else on Machine Head.  Restored to the CD as a bonus track, it is now a highlight.  Ian Gillan deserves special praise for his emotive delivery.

SAM_2348Disc two:  the 1997 Roger Glover remix

For the 25th Anniversary CD, Roger went back into the studio with the master tapes and built an alternate, remixed Machine Head.  This was done to provide added value, since no outtakes from the album existed.  This remix is not radically different.  What it is, is a fresh take on an album that I (and perhaps you) have played hundreds of times.  Glover incorporated alternate solos and unheard takes into the songs, making them sound new again.  In fact, this is my “go-to” version of “Smoke on the Water”, with my preferred alternate guitar solo and Ian’s “Break a leg, Frank!” restored to the end.  I tire of the original; this version sounds fresh to me.

Like the 1997 issued version, this also includes Roger’s remix of the B-side “When A Blind Man Cries”.  Missing are the Quad mixes of “Lazy” and “Maybe I’m A Leo” from the ’97 version, but they are included on another disc in the 40th Anniversary version.

SAM_2349Disc three:  Quad SQ stereo mix

Like many hit albums in the 1970’s, Machine Head was mixed in quadraphonic and released on a special LP.  Of course, nobody really has a quad setup at home anymore.  The interesting thing about many quad mixes, Machine Head included, is that it featured a very different mix, including alternate solos.  This version of the album has been mixed down to stereo and included for the sake of completion and historical value.

There are two bonus tracks on this CD, single edits of “Lazy” from a Japanese 7″, and a US edit of “Smoke on the Water”.  The Japanese reduced “Lazy” from almost 7 minutes to a mere 2:30!  I believe both single edits have been made available on box sets and compilations before, but they are included here to make this version of Machine Head the most complete ever assembled.

SAM_2350Disc four:  In Concert ’72, the 2012 remix

This album was previously available on CD, in a compilation that included BBC sessions from 1970 and 1972.  This set collects and remixes the 1972 recordings, complete, and restored to the correct running order.  Previously, “Smoke on the Water” was pushed to second-last in light of its later success.

This is a stunning live album, with clear sonic quality, and a powerful band playing almost all of Machine Head a month before its release!  “Pictures Of Home” is excluded, a song Ritchie did not want to perform live, and it is replaced by “Strange Kind of Woman”.

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Highlights for me include the aforementioned “Strange Kind of Woman”, complete with Ian and Ritchie’s interplay.  Lazy is quite a tour-de-force, and “Space Truckin'” is over 20 minutes long.  It is the full jam that folks would later come to know and love, with ample guitar, keyboard and drum solos.

The band were known to close their sets with Little Richard’s “Lucille” at the time, and it closes this BBC session as well.  There are a few versions of “Lucille” out there, this one is tame by comparison with some of them.  That’s not to say it’s inferior, as Ritchie’s solos are incredible, almost out-of-control, and Ian’s screams as powerful as ever.

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As I mentioned, the vinyl version of In Concert ’72 includes a bonus 7″ single.  This single is the only place you can get the previously unreleased “Maybe I’m A Leo” rehearsal.  It fades in on what seems like a bum note on Jon’s keys, and is a bit more laid back than the one that they played during the proper set.  Ian noticeably takes it a bit easier on the vocal, presumably saving his voice.  Ritchie plays a different solo.

For me, speaking as a collector, having this one rare track on such a cool looking colour single made it worth re-buying In Concert ’72 on vinyl like this.

SAM_2351Disc five:  Original quad mix, 96/24 LPCM stereo version, bonus 5.1 mixes

For a lot of people, this DVD is the main reason to buy this box set.  For audiophiles, there’s a high resolution version of the stereo mix.  For completists and history buffs like myself, you can finally hear the quad mix like people heard it in the 1970’s.  The album has been converted to 4.1 surround so you can play it on your home theatre system.   I very much enjoyed hearing the album in this way, as opposed to the stereo version available on disc three.  The cool thing is, Peter Mew did the original 1972 quad mix, and here he helmed its transfer to 4.1!

The quad is interesting not only because it differs noticeably from the original, but also because of the instrument separation.  You obviously can’t judge a mix like this and compare it to a 5.1 mix of today.  It’s not as full, or powerful.  But it’s also an historical piece.

It’s cool to hear the quad version’s guitar solo on “Highway Star”, Blackmore making his guitar rev like an engine through the front speakers.  I like the way Gillan’s voice multiplies in the mix during “Maybe I’m A Leo”, and the alternate guitar solo on the same song is also cool.  Jon’s keys come from behind, a bit gimmicky by today’s standard, but probably astounding back then.  “Pictures of Home” features Ritchie’s guitar tracks split between different corners, allowing one to hear the separate parts clearly.  The separation of instruments on “Lazy” allow you to hear clearly each member’s playing as well.

As an added bonus, they remixed three songs in 5.1:  “When A Blind Man Cries”, “Maybe I’m A Leo”, and “Lazy”.  I’m sure a lot of people will complain that they didn’t do the entire album in 5.1.  Me, I’m sure they’ll save it for the 50th anniversary.  “Blind Man” is absolutely stunning; it shimmers.  New nuances can be detected.  “Maybe I’m a Leo” shakes the Earth with stomp, its clarity outstanding.  Blackmore’s solo sounds as if he is in the room.  Finally, “Lazy” is spacious and warm.  The different tones of Lord’s organ are incredible.

Conclusion:

I’m very satisfied with this box set.  As if all that music wasn’t enough, the booklet will keep you going for hours with its full-colour photos, liner notes and essays.  Yes, it can be a bit much, having four versions of one album in a single box set.  However, twice I listened to the whole thing in order, and didn’t find myself bored.  You know why?

It’s because Machine Head is a great album.

5/5 (highway) stars

R.I.P. Jon.