Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler and his five-piece band) – Brothers in Arms – Vertigo/Universal

by | Feb 10, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler and his five-piece band) – Brothers in Arms – Vertigo/Universal xrcd2 5483572 (Distr. by May Audio Mktg.), 55 min. ****: 
Well, is it an embarrassment to us that one of our reviewers stoutly panned the surround mix of the multichannel Brothers in Arms SACD, and yet it just won a Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album?  No!  There are definitely two camps of music-in-surround fans: one doesn’t mind all sorts of exaggerated mixes that place instruments and voices all around the listener; the other wants only conservative mixes which keep the main performers up front and only give a feeling of the space around you. I count myself one of the former and Clay seems to be one of the latter. I have been one of the only reviewers in English commending the German Tacet label for the highly irregular SACD and DVD-A mixes they have been doing – which first involved putting each player in a quartet or quintet at an individual speaker, and now also involves actually moving the musicians around the perimeter of the listening room while the music is going on! The fact that the multichannel SACD mix of Brothers in Arms draws much attention to itself by doing all sorts of tricks with the surround channels is just the sort of thing that would probably get it some attention and the eventual vote of Best Surround Album.

I was surprised the SACD received a Grammy because it is strictly an import not readily available in the U.S.  Clay had to purchase the disc in order to review it for us. I happen to have a perfect solution for surround fans who are of the more conservative ilk: it is a version of Brothers in Arms available here in the U.S. (though at the usual xrcd price of about $30).  This xrcd – originating in Hong Kong – which had been available prior to the 20th Anniversary SACD release, has the cleanest and most pristine two-channel sound one could imagine – clearly an improvement over the original LP.  I haven’t heard the SACD so can’t do a comparison, but the point is that starting from such a clean stereo source you can now dial in ProLogic II enhancement and end up with a fantastic surround sound envelopment on this classic rock album, but free of the mixing madness of the multichannel SACD. Even the really big sounds such as the huge guitar chord punctuations in the middle of Ride Across the River come across without distortion, and firmly surround you.

And umbeedy! the notes are not all in Japanese like most xrcds! In fact there is a fine one-page essay by Robert Sandall in which he observes that at first hearing this album didn’t sound like the sort of thing to “storm the barricades of global popular taste.” Or to be the UK’s biggest selling album of all time. Brothers in Arms begins and ends casually and softly and many of the songs are reflective and not hard driving rock. Some are more along the lines of singer-songwriter material, backed by a really good bunch of musicians led by a terrific guitarist. A number of them reflect their early 80s origin with sad songs about soldiers and the lack of effort toward “one world in harmony.” And this disc may have a record length for a pop music xrcd, with most of them coming in around 30-35 minutes only.

Tracks: So Far Away, Money for Nothing, Walk of Life, Your Latest Trick, Why Worry, Ride Across the River, The Man’s Too Strong, One World, Brothers in Arms.

– John Henry

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