DVD-Video Surround Mix ••••
In the afterglow of the heyday of multichannel music, it's getting harder to find something that qualifies as a genuine event. But here's one: Genesis 1970-1975, the third entry in Rhino's series of boxed sets collecting the band's complete studio recordings and featuring 5.1 mixes by its longtime engineer Nick Davis. This 7-CD, 6-DVD box is the last one to appear, but it covers the earliest years. The Peter Gabriel Years. And in today's realm of music in surround, it doesn't get much more eventful than that.
These recordings are, in fact, almost complete because the debut album From Genesis to Revelation (1969) is still in the tight-fisted legal hands of original manager/producer Jonathan King. That's okay: Its chamber pop has little to do with the band's subsequent groundbreaking work in progressive rock. And you won't miss it in a box that does include CD+DVDs of Trespass (1970), Nursery Cryme (1971), Foxtrot (1972), Selling England by the Pound (1973), and, on two CDs but fitting on one DVD, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974). Each CD has a new, faithful stereo mix by Davis. But we multichannel-music fans are after the 5.1 mixes, even if they're on plain ol' DVD and not DVD-Audio (you can get them on SACD as an import) - and even if the surround sound overall has its share of hits and misses.
It begins compellingly with the title words of Trespass's "Looking for Someone," as Gabriel sounds like he's beseeching and searching right inside your listening room. Spread across the three front channels, he's quite prominent in the center - which, for the rest of the box, will remain his channel alone (except for the occasional solo), allowing you to make a close study of that wondrously angelic/gruff voice. On Trespass, Davis establishes the box's template of full-to-brimming surround channels that sometimes double the left and right fronts and other times have exclusive instrumentation - especially the keyboards of Tony Banks. That said, to help give this "folk"-ish album some heft for both Anthony Phillips's guitars and John Mayhew's drums, select the DTS version of the 5.1 mix instead of the Dolby Digital. And keep an ear out for cool effects like Gabriel, in "Stagnation," singing in the two left channels before moving to the right for the line "You are there."
Replacing Phillips and Mayhew with Steve Hackett and Phil Collins, Genesis made an artistic leap with Nursery Cryme. The frequently busy original recording, however, seems to have challenged Davis. Yes, "The Musical Box" is immersive, and the mellotron fade-in/out for "The Fountain of Salmacis" is as dramatic as we could have hoped for. But Gabriel's vocals are often further back in the mix now, and this album simply doesn't hang together as well on a surround soundstage.
Comes the greater leap of Foxtrot, though, and Davis is dead-on. Just cue up "Watcher of the Skies" and let those ominous mellotron chords engulf you. Then, as the stuttering riff builds, notice how it not only hangs together supremely but also reveals that, by 1972, Collins's drums and Mike Rutherford's bass were sounding more natural. And prepare to be dazzled by the resonance of the song's last chord.
There's more to savor on Foxtrot in 5.1: the voices of "Get 'em Out by Friday," the dynamics of "Can-Utility and the Coastliners." But nothing may prepare you for "Supper's Ready" in surround. By the time this 23-minute masterwork reaches its "Apocalypse in 9/8" section, the soundstage expands to its fullest and then erupts with Gabriel's "666" warning - until the final section delivers the cathartic climax, from the deep subwoofer tones of the bass pedals all the way up to Gabriel's delicious declaration of "the new Jerusa-lehhhm."
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