*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 2CD VERSION ***
Little will prepare Tull fans for this. The sonic improvement and clarity on this 2CD remix/remaster is off-the-charts good - a truly fantastic improvement.
A little history is needed to explain this - the CD reissues of this acknowledge gem have been fraught with so-so versions - a duffer bare-bones 1st outing in 1987, a 25th Anniversary attempt in 1996 (which to my ears is one of the worst remasters I've ever heard) and a much better shot at it by the audiophile company DCC in the States a year later. Good rather than great. We'll at last - for it's 40th anniversary in 2011 - EMI UK finally gets it right.
Here are the details first - UK released Monday 31 Oct 2011, "Aqualung 40th Anniversary Special Edition" is a 2CD set on EMI/Chrysalis AQUAS 1 (5099908799920) and breaks down as follows:
Disc 1 (43:25 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 11 are their 4th album "Aqualung" - released 19 March 1971 in the UK on Chrysalis ILPS 9145 and 3 May 1971 in the USA on Reprise MS 2035. It reached number 4 and 7 on the UK and US LP charts. No 45's were released to support the album in the UK, but "Hymn 43" was put out as a 7" single in the USA with "Mother Goose" as its B-side on Reprise 1024.
Disc 2 (44:51 minutes):
Track 1 is "Lick Your Fingers Clean" - an album outtake that first appeared on the 1996 25th Anniversary reissue - this is a 2011 'New Mix'. It was supposed to be released as a single in 1971 on Chrysalis WIP 6098 in the UK, but was withdrawn
Track 2 is "Just Trying To Be" - first appeared as the last track on Side 2 of the July 1972 double album "Living In The Past". This is a 2011 'New Mix' at 1:37 minutes
Track 3 is "My God (Early Version)" - a 9:42 minute outtake complete with studio dialogue at the beginning
Track 4 is "Wond'ring Aloud" - a 1:51 minute outtake recorded 13 Dec 1970
Track 5 is "Wind Up" - an 'Early Version' at 5:21 minutes with Ian Anderson on piano. This is a 2011 'New Mix'
Track 6 is "Slipstream (Take 2)" - a 54-second outtake
Track 7 is "Up The 'Pool" - an 'Early Version' at 1:12 minutes (released version is Track 10)
Track 8 is "Wond'ring Aloud, Again" - a 7:07 minute 'Full Morgan Version' with the band and extra verses
Tracks 9 to 13 are "Life Is A Long Song", "Up The Pool", "Dr Bogenbroom", "From Later" and "Nursie". 11 to 13 are new 2011 remasters. All 5 tracks were recorded in May 1971 and made up the "Life Is A Long Song" 7" EP released September 1971 on Chrysalis WIP 6106 in the UK (the picture sleeve is featured in the booklet). They reappeared as Tracks 3 to 7 on Side 4 of the "Living In The Past" double LP in 1972.
Track 14 is a 52-second "US Radio Spot" featuring Ian Anderson talking about the album and God with music snippets from several tracks
Note: Tracks 3, 4, 6 7 and 8 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
The 2CDs are housed in a 3-way foldout card digipak with a 32-page booklet. Nice touches include the painting-artwork of Burton Silverman reproduced beneath the 2 see-through trays (the inner gatefold of the original vinyl LP), the CDs are green in colour as per the original Chrysalis labels and the booklet numbers the pages in Roman numerals in keeping with the original album artwork. There are knowledgeable and detailed liner notes by DOM WILSON featuring new interviews with principal songwriter and lead vocalist IAN ANDERSON. The booklet is peppered with new colour photos from the period and a nice collage shot of trade adverts, foreign pictures sleeves and promo-related stuff. But the really big news is the NEW SOUND...
Pages 26 and 27 give a detailed description by STEVEN WILSON on the lengths he went to in the remixing/remastering process to get the best possible sound out of the 8 and 16-track master tapes without compromising the integrity of the original recordings. Multi-track Transfers were done by KRIS BURTON and Mastering carried out by PETER MEW at Abbey Road (a name long associated with quality reissues - see Listmania and tags). The results are amazing.
Even as the opening riff of "Aqualung" rattles around your speakers accompanied by the sleazy "...sitting on a park bench..." lyrics - the audio quality is in your face, but not in a forced way. Suddenly the track has real muscle and the details leap out at you. It's breathing for the first time. "Cross-Eyed Mary" has superlative bass end now and the treated guitar 'so' good. But for me the real fireworks start with the double combo of the acoustic "Cheap Day Return" with the acoustic/rock of "Mother Goose". The improvement is GLORIOUS - and when the guitar kicked in half way through "Mother Goose" - I'll confess to blubbing out a little proggy tear. "Up To Me" is fantastically good too. The improvement continues on Side 2 - but even more so. The riff in "Hymn 43" is just huge now and the quiet lead into "Locomotive Breath" is not drenched in hiss - but clean and powerful. The album ends with "Wind Up" which has the best lyrics Anderson ever wrote about personal beliefs and it sounds just wonderful (lyrics above).
I had thought after the blast of the album that Disc 2 would be throwaway - not so. A truly lovely gem tucked away on the "Living In The Past" 1972 double is "Just Trying To Be" which I had on a 1999 Mobile Fidelity remaster (see review) - well here the sound quality is beautiful and far better. I was also taken aback by the full 7-minute band version of "Wond'ring Aloud, Again" which properly stretches out - it's a superb bonus. It takes the "Wond'ring Aloud" album track from "Aqualung" at 1:53 minutes length and adds on the "Wond'ring Again" outtake at 4:15 minutes length that turned up on the 1972 "Living In The Past" double and segues way them together with an extra bridge in the song and more lyrics (hence its new title here is a make up of both song titles). It's very cleverly done and because there's new bits in it - it's been called 'Previously Unreleased'. The roughest sounding outtake here is the 'Early Version' of "My God", but again his passion in the vocals is the reason for inclusion. And again the clarity on the 5-track "Life Is A Long Song" EP is far better than that on the MF release. Great stuff...
Niggles - the original album had an inner sleeve with lyrics - no show. This is a sloppy exclusion especially given the importance of words on this album.
I bought "Aqualung" when it came out in March 1971 as a spotty 12-year old and have loved it ever since. Finally this reissue does it justice. And the "Super Deluxe" box set has further 5.1 mixes that have received rave reviews too.
I suspect that Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree), Kris Burton and Peter Mew will be up for awards for their mastering skills on this reissue - a top job done and one of 'the' reissues of 2011.
Roll on "Living In The Past" the 1972 Double Album - it deserves the same lavish treatment...