December 19, 2011
What good is a reissue anyway? In many cases, not much. One often gets the sense that reissues are just another way to milk a bit more cash from some classic music. Such is not the case with Jethro Tull’s Aqualung 40th Anniversary Special Edition and Collector’s Edition. This one is not one of your typical “remastered” releases, this one has been remixed and that’s what makes this release a very worthy addition to any Tull fan’s collection.
Fortunately for Jethro Tull fans, the fact that the original 1971 release of Aqualung was a bit flat – OK quite flat – sonically speaking, did not go unnoticed by Ian Anderson. The quirky frontman, it turns out, was disappointed with the final mix after spending many frustrating hours working with equipment that just wasn’t able to deliver the sound he had wanted. Although the material is brilliant and was executed superbly four decades ago, the sound quality of the album was always a disappointment, and left fans like myself wondering why they could not have done better. Now we know.
Although the quality of this new release is limited by the quality of those original master recordings that were used to remix this album, I can say without hesitation that the result was well worth every hour invested in it by Ian Anderson and Steve Wilson, the audio wiz behind this release. As revealed in the accompanying booklet, Wilson made use of the latest technology to bring out the best of the original recordings and tweak them just enough to finally make these classic tracks come alive.
Sitting here with both the original release and the new release queued up, comparing the two might best be summed up by saying that the original recording sounds as if someone has draped heavy blankets over my speakers while the new release brings the lows, the mids and the highs that were sorely lacking in the original release to life. For me personally, the lack of a good solid “bottom” (the low-end frequencies produced by instruments such as the bass, tom toms and kick drum) was always the most prominent deficiency on the original release.
I’m happy to report that the disappointments with the quality of the original release have been remedied by this new release. Although it might not be in the same league as something like Heart’s Dreamboat Annie which was recorded just four or so years after Aqualung, Steve Wilson deserves a massive amount of credit for milking an album’s worth of dramatically improved sound from those 40-year-old master tapes. Finally, one can crank Aqualung up to 11 and enjoy the full knock-you-down sonic experience that we’ve been missing for the past 40 years!
For those who may be struggling with the difference between a “remaster” and “remix,” perhaps Ian Anderson explains it best: “For those of you easily confused about such things, a ‘remix’ is not the same as a ‘re-master.’ Remixing involves going back to the original studio multi-track masters and balancing and perfecting the sound on all the individual instrumental and vocal tracks and creating from them a new stereo or 5.1 surround master.”
The Special Edition which includes two CDs and a 30-page booklet with photos, history of the group, details on the evolution of Aqualung tracks and a few words from Steve Wilson on the technical details of the remix process.
The limited collector’s edition includes a 180g heavyweight LP, 2 CDs, DVD, and Blu-Ray disc including various unreleased materials, a new stereo mix, the original Quad mix, and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital Surround. Also included is a 12″x12″ 48-page hardback book featuring liner notes and an interview with Ian, Q&A with engineer John Burns, Don Lawson, memoirs from band members, rare photos, lyrics and more.
After hearing the vastly improved audio quality of this new release, I suggest that serious Jethro Tull fans, run – not walk – to the store and grab a copy of this new release. As always, it’s available on Amazon.com as well.