It's getting tougher and tougher these days to cheerlead the cause of music in surround sound. No, we at S&V aren't giving up. But, coming so soon after hearing that we're getting the best of Led Zeppelin on stereo CD (again) as opposed to any of the studio albums in 5.1, we can only give a huge sigh at some recent announcements from titans of three different music generations.
First, there's the news that EMI is packaging the entire Pink Floyd studio catalog — from 1967's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn through 1994's The Division Bell — in a CD boxed set called Oh By the Way (shown above), to be released on December 11. Each of the albums is in a mini-LP-style jacket, complete with original dust sleeve and any inserts (posters, stickers, etc.). A 20" x 30" fabric poster is also included, and the box itself is designed by Storm Thorgerson. Any multichannel mixes? Nope! This despite the fact that, when I spoke with James Guthrie on the occasion of The Dark Side of the Moon being released on surround SACD, he was hoping to get the green light to start mixing the studio catalog.
Similarly, Parlophone/EMI is boxing up its Radiohead CDs — from 1993's Pablo Honey to 2003's Hail to the Thief plus 2001's I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings — in a set simply called Radiohead, available December 10. (No word if Capitol is releasing a U.S. version, but you can preorder the box via the band's Web-site store.) Any multichannel mixes? Nope!
Well, in both cases, I guess we shouldn't have expected any. After all, EMI was always the weakest link in the surround-sound chain. And these two boxed sets are clearly being put together (quickly) as Christmas presents, not sonic statements.
Anyway, who needs state-of-the-art surround sound when you can, instead, release a band's catalog on a USB stick? That's right! If you don't want the Radiohead CD boxed set, you can get the Radiohead Limited Edition USB Stick, shaped like the band's bear icon, also available December 10 (via the Web site exclusively).
Says Miles Leonard, managing director of Parlophone: "We are particularly excited about the USB stick, which gives fans an easy and portable way to carry the boxed set and provides another way of bridging the world between online and offline content." Yeah, that's how people want their music these days: easy and portable. Will EMI bother with the Beatles in surround? Maybe we should fuhgedaboudit. Instead, maybe we should expect The Beatles USB Stick, shaped like an apple!
But our third example is, really, inexcusable. I'm speaking of Island's fresh remaster of U2's 1987 album The Joshua Tree, coming November 20. How would you like to buy it?
(1) Standard CD with new Bill Flanagan liner notes and unseen Anton Corbijn photos? Check!
(2) Deluxe Edition CD set with a second disc of B-sides and demos? Check!
(3) Limited Edition Super Deluxe boxed set with the two CDs plus a live DVD of the Joshua Tree tour from the Hippodrome in Paris? Check!
(4) Vinyl set (coming December 4) on two 180-gram audiophile LPs? Check!
(5) The entire album in audiophile surround sound? OF COURSE NOT!
Considering that the band and its parent label, Universal, are going to the trouble of doing a remaster, offering a DVD, and even offering vinyl, it's amazing that no one thought to bother with a surround mix for an album that's crying out for a surround mix. Especially since this is Universal, a onetime cheerleader of multichannel mixes on SACD. But alas, now that Universal's surround guru Paul Bishow is gone, and what with the Steely Dan and Elton John albums still lingering in limbo, what should we expect? Nothing.
The Joshua Tree. OK Computer. Wish You Were Here. Not to mention the entire catalogs for Pink Floyd and Radiohead. All wonderful opportunities for music in surround. All missed. —Ken Richardson
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