The madness of it all! I mean how many versions of the same album do you really need? Why do we buy the same album over and over? For me, it's the search for the perfect sounding, perfect packaged version of a favourite album. That illusive search for the holy grail of an album. The one version where you feel it can never sound better or look as good. Below is all the versions of Fragile I have collected over the years. Each has its own merits. The newly released Steven Wilson remix I will come to.
So what we have here is as follows:
- Vinyl, a Christmas present from the parents 1975. This pressing must be around 1972 or so, not original as it has the orange and green Atlantic label.
- CD, Joe Garstwirt remaster form 1999. First time this was remastered with artwork restored by Roger Dean and the Gottlieb Brothers.
- The Rhino remaster from 2003. Remastered by Bill Inglot and included a host of extras. The nice glossy digipak with slipcase came with notes and new photos.
- SHM-CD. Remastered by Isao Kikuchi in 2009. Fully restored papersleeve representation of the vinyl edition even with the Roger Dean booklet fixed to the inside of the gatefold. Sonically and content wise, based on the Rhino with a few tweeks.
- SACD. Based on Tim Weidners DVD-A surround and stereo remix. Sonically was the cleanest to date.
- SACD. From the High Vibration box and remastered again by Isao Kikuchi. A bit compressed showing up all the imperfections of the masters especially on what was the first vinyl side, but the second side tracks are really good!
- Box set CD. The Rhino remaster in a papersleeve edition. A nice gatefold reproduction.
- 2015 Remix.
The Steven Wilson stereo and surround remix. As per the other titles in the series, the blu-ray is packed full of extras. It not only includes the Wilson remixes, but flat transfers of the original masters, a vinyl needledrop, instrumental remixes and even the Tim Weidner remix. This is stuffed full of extras including unreleased demos, rough mixes and run-throughs. The track "All Fighters Past" is of particular interest. Saved from being erased during studio rehearsals, this includes elements which would later resurface on The Revealing Science of God and Siberian Khatru. It's a slight gem, but a gem nevertheless. At its conclusion, Steve Howe holds down a wonderful sustained guitar note allowing Rick Wakeman to solo on top of. What a find!
The new stereo mix is exceptionally clean. This recording is one of Eddie Offords best and the sharpness, clarity and distinctiveness of the instrumentation is really brought out in this mix. The interesting thing about the flat transfer of the original mix on the blu-ray is the distortion on Rick's piano solo on South Side of the Sky is clearly evident. What I thought was a result of over compression and was in fact on the original master tapes. This could be down to tape degradation as there is no distortion on the multitracks. It's as clear as a bell! I think Wilson's remix is probably more reflective of the original mix than Tim Weidners as that, in the SACD form anyway sounds much fuller and warmer. I do like that though, but again Wilson has produced a very nice remix and the whole blu-ray package is a dream in terms of content and how well the sleeve is reproduced as a replica vinyl, including Dean's booklet. Again, informative notes by Sid Smith with lots of archival photos round off this perfect exercise in how to do deluxe releases.
Sadly, if Steven Wilson's comments are to go by, this is the last in the series for now. What about Tales from Topographic Oceans? Well, Wilson has worked on it but to what extent is not clear. The impression is that the powers that be only wanted Wilson to concentrate on the "hit" albums. At the time TFTO was a big hit, following on from Close to the Edge. It did suffer badly at the hands of the press over the years, but I feel a Wilson remix would enable the beauty of the album to be reassessed and given the credit it deserves. The funny thing is, many fans have expressed their wish for TFTO to be given the full Wilson remix treatment, so there is a real demand for this to be released. It does seem strange to have such a gaping whole in this series and I know Wilson is a big fan of Drama, so would love to carry on and do a few more. Not 90125. He don't like that!