Steven Wilson

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: Jethro Tull – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (TV special edition – 2CD/2DVD set)

JETHRO TULL – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976, 2015 Chrysalis TV Special edition 2CD/2DVD)

I foresee a future time, when every man woman and child will be able to buy deluxe multi-disc box sets of just about every album ever made.  While old geezers with greying beards will sit back in a rocking chair (a hovering one, no doubt) listening to multi-track backing tapes for every single Poison CD, our children will be able to do the same with a comprehensive book-box version of the NSync debut album.  It’s going to happen eventually, so we may as well get good albums like Tull’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! in box set form while the concept still has validity.

Of course this isn’t the first Jethro Tull album to get this kind of treatment.  A super deluxe Aqualung was a fairly recent release, and I received Benefit myself for Christmas last year.  The bold four-colour album cover for Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll makes for a splendid book-form box with plastic CD trays inside.  An absolutely massive (80 page) full colour booklet awaits you inside.  Rare photos are the norm of course, but a features such as “From Carmen to Tullman” about the late John Glascock are valuable reads.  Detailed liner notes will help you make sense of the track listing, and the multiple versions of each song included.  Almost all of this material is rare, previously unreleased, or newly mixed material by studio wizard Steve Wilson.

IMG_20151227_162750

Scan_20151229First of all, I was not aware that all of Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll was re-recorded for a UK television special, included here on DVD.  Anderson had a theatrical presentation in mind, so playing live wasn’t of interest to him.  But, apparently due to British law, the LP Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll could not be used for backing music on a “live” TV special.  Anderson’s vision seemed to involve the band miming to the album while pulling amusing faces and occasionally acting out the lyrics.  In order to mime and do it legally, brand new recordings of every song had to be made!  In fact the band painstakingly took great care in recreating the album, although there are also obvious differences.  For the DVD and CD, these tracks been newly mixed and are available for the first time.  CD 1 contains the standard stereo mix of the re-recorded album.  DVD 1 has the special in both stereo and 5.1 surround.

The original album was also meant to be remixed top to bottom in 5.1 by Wilson.   This was not possible, because the original multi-track tapes survived for only five songs, almost the whole second side:  “From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser”, “Bad Eyed and Loveless”, “Big Dipper”, “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and “The Chequered Flag”.  Tull’s semi-acoustic nature lends itself well to a good 5.1 mix.  The audio field is filled out, but not to excess.  It’s a good balance and the tracks included in 5.1 shine with fresh light.  Do not be surprised to hear parts you didn’t hear before.

The bonus associated tracks are a light collection of rare Tull.  The two bonus tracks from the prior 2002 remaster, “One Brown Mouse” and “A Small Cigar” are included here unaltered on CD 2, or on lossless 96/24 stereo PCM on DVD 2.  The unreleased tracks are excellent.  “Salamander’s Rag Time” sounds like the Jethro Tull collaborating with the Beatles via “A Day in the Life”.  Meanwhile, “Commercial Traveller” is a lushly arranged and recorded ode to the road with full strings and Martin Barre guitar blazes.  “Strip Cartoon” also has quaint Beatles-isms though it is really just a bright Tull acoustic jaunt.  An incredible instrumental take of “Salamander” is pure delight, hearing it ring in live perfection.  There is also a bare acoustic version of “A Small Cigar”, and earlier versions of “Quiz Kid” and the title track.  As always, these are available on both the CDs and DVDs.  Four of these (“Salamander’s Rag Time”, “Commercial Traveller”, “Strip Cartoon” and the acoustic “Small Cigar”) can be heard in 5.1, again mixed by Wilson.  Expect the same level of lushness and quality as the album tracks, although with the acoustic arrangements, it’s more about the spaces between.

One of the great advantages of the DVD format is the ability to re-release classic Quadrophonic mixes for modern audio systems.  Like many rock bands (and especially progressive rock bands) of the early 1970’s, Jethro Tull released Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll in Quad.  That long unavailable version is right here in 4.0, on DVD 2.  It’s certainly an interesting animal.  Where Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mixes envelope the listener in clouds of Tull music, the Quad mixes things hard into individual channels.  It’s an interesting experience.  The vocals are mostly on the right, the flute behind, and the other instruments tucked into their corners.  If you want to hear it as if the music is coming from four separate corners of the room, then this Quad mix is that exactly.  There is something to be said for this, because you can clearly hear each instrument isolated, and easy to study.  You can easily lose yourself in a particular part of the mix, which is the benefit and weakness of the format.  Regardless, the classic 1976 Quad mix has parts you won’t hear elsewhere, and it’s available again, and that is a good thing.

With all this talk of extras and remixes and surround sound, the original album is almost overlooked!  Fear not.  A bit like an afterthought, the original, stereo, classic Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! is here, as the final 11 songs on CD 2.  Even the Benefit super deluxe box set didn’t include the original album on CD.  If you prefer lossless stereo, it’s there on DVD, too.

What of the original album, then?  Well, I reviewed that in 2012, and you can read all about it here.   A brief summary:


 

SAM_1882Like many Tull albums from the mid-70’s, there’s plenty of acoustics to go around accompanied by lovely flute passages and complex drum patterns.  There’s also some horns and orchestration courtesy of David Palmer (not yet a full member of the band).  Personal highlights:

  • “Salamander”, a folksy number with intricate acoustics.
  • The harmonica riffing of “Taxi Grab”, reminiscent of an earlier bluesier Jethro Tull.  The guitar soloing (both electric and acoustic) is also divine.
  • “Big Dipper”, a playful yet complex number with plenty of flute and a fun chorus.
  • The masterpiece title track (obviously), lush with ochestration.
  • “Pied Piper”, one of the most obviously catchy songs on the whole album, albeit still complex with multiple parts and section.
  • The final track of the album, a slow but dramatic grandiose number called “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)”.

 

Too old to rock ‘n’ roll?  Never.  Buy this for the grandpa on your lists.

4/5 stars