It’s hard to critique an album that has sold a bazillion copies globally and is generally acknowledged as a band’s pinnacle of success. Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms is pretty much the epitome of that album, though. In 2005, a bad year for me, I missed this album’s reissue on DualDisc, but later heard good things about the surround mix from industry friends. “Do check it out when you can,” they said. Unfortunately, a couple years later when I went looking for this Grammy-winning surround mix, it was nowhere to be found. I am guessing this was the released on the tail end of the DualDisc’s short life cycle (Collectors item anyone?)
A few months ago I learned that a 20th anniversary SACD edition was also released with the 5.1 surround mix, but not in the United States. I recently got it and it is quite lovely.
Full disclosure: I have a love/hate relationship with this particular Dire Straits album.
I never owned Brothers in Arms on CD. Didn’t need to — you heard it everywhere you went…. at every party, every record store, every audio retailer, every radio station, every shopping mall… “Money For Nothing” may well be the “Stairway to Heaven” of the mid ’80s in terms of overplayed songs. Eventually, I did pick up the album, but on a mint original LP pressing with shorter edits of the songs. It sounds fabulously clean — perhaps a bit too clean. In fact, that has always been my only complaint about this album over the years: it has that same every-note-in-its-proper-place perfection feel that kept Steely Dan’s Gaucho from being the ass-kicking follow up to Aja. Rock (and jazz, for that matter) is all about the relationship between the groove and the spaces in between. If every space is identical or too perfect, the resultant sound can be perceived as sterile to someone like me! And I know I’m not alone in this view. At a certain point an artist needs to let go and accept warts and imperfections before the recording gets sanitized to death. (Its gotta swing, man!)
Brothers in Arms teeters precariously on that ledge between believable heart-felt raw rock and the sterile sound of Adult Contemporary Radio. Its rock moments still hold up. The mix sounds nice and punchy, with possibly some digital edginess since it was one of the first successful all digital (DDD) recordings. In that sense, the 2-channel mix on the SACD sounds almost identical to the LP, but I guess the LP has something of an edge in that hard edges are slightly warmed up in LP mastering and the processing though my trusty Bellari tube phono pre-amp.
But… the LP loses out to the full length tracks of the SACD release. And of course the SACD has the 5.1 mix, which is what this review is about at the end of the day. This 5.1 mix is indeed very nice and tasteful, with good use of the surrounds, yet keeping the rhythm section at its heart. Some rock records can fall apart when spread out into a surround mix. This one works.
Since I’m trying to save space, I’m going to keep the SACD and purge the LP from my collection (despite its very pretty picture label). I just don’t have that level of attachment to the music to keep multiple copies of it around. And when I listen to it next, it will in all likelihood be in surround sound.
Another LP bites the dust from my collection.