RE­MAS­TER CLASS

Dire Straits: Broth­ers in Arms.

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - MIKE MET­TLER

DIRE STRAITS’ 1985 megaplat­inum mas­ter­piece Broth­ers in Arms is the al­bum that truly ush­ered in the CD era, ful­fill­ing the ini­tial prom­ise of the shiny 5-inch disc in terms of both com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity and sound qual­ity. Spear­headed by Straits mas­ter­mind gui­tarist/vo­cal­ist/pro­ducer Mark Knopfler, co-pro­duced and en­gi­neered by Neil Dorf­s­man (Sting, Paul Mccart­ney), and recorded at AIR Stu­dios in Montser­rat, the fully dig­i­tal BIA record­ing took full ad­van­tage of those heady DDD times. For starters, wit­ness the wide sound-stag­ing of the Latin beats and waft­ing flutes in “Ride Across the River,” the sprightly synth-or­gan melodies on the ex­tended in­tro and verses of “Walk of Life,” the lilt­ing vo­cal har­mo­niz­ing on “So Far Away,” and the mesh of Mtv-ready mes­sag­ing and ab­ject gui­tar mus­cle of Knopfler’s Gib­son Les Paul Ju­nior-into-laney am­pli­fier crunch on “Money for Noth­ing.”

Why did BIA have so much res­o­nance? As Knopfler told me, “Ev­ery­thing reached crit­i­cal mass with Broth­ers in Arms. The rep­u­ta­tion we built through tour­ing and how we made our records fi­nally met up with the sonic qual­ity of the new CD tech­nol­ogy.” Nat­u­rally, there are quite a few Broth­ers in Arms lis­ten­ing op­tions. My ab­so­lute fa­vorite ver­sion—and one that re­mains a per­sonal demo-disc bench­mark—is the 5.1 mix done by Chuck Ain­lay with Knopfler’s ap­proval at Bri­tish Grove Stu­dios in Lon­don for the 20th an­niver­sary 2005 DSD SACD and con­cur­rently re­leased 24-bit/96khz MLP DVD-A, as mas­tered by Bob Lud­wig at his own Gate­way Mas­ter­ing Stu­dios. In 2006, the BIA 5.1 mix won the Grammy Award for Best Sur­round Sound Al­bum.

I asked Ain­lay what his goals were for this 5.1 mix when he sat in on one of the hi-res au­dio pan­els I hosted at CES 2018. “It’s one of those records you can’t change be­cause it was recorded so well to be­gin with,” he ac­knowl­edged, “but I wanted to ex­pand it a lit­tle bit so it would feel warmer. I wanted to make the sur­round mix more dy­namic, and sound big­ger than the orig­i­nal.”

On the CD front, the orig­i­nal 1985 Red­book stan­dard disc, as man­u­fac­tured by Mat­sushita in Ja­pan, is an of-era marvel as bright and open as can be, but the sub­se­quent 1996 re­mas­ter is more in line with what our ears be­came at­tuned to with the for­mat. Given the other op­tions avail­able for hear­ing this al­bum in its most op­ti­mal state, how­ever, these CDS are col­lectible tal­is­mans at best.

When it comes to the LP ver­sions of BIA, I must ad­mit I never once played the orig­i­nal 1985 Warner Bros. LP I own—i only bought it at the time to main­tain a com­plete col­lec­tion of the band’s cat­a­log on wax. But there’s no rea­son to ever taint that vir­gin vinyl since I also own Mo­bile Fidelity’s 2014 2LP Orig­i­nal Mas­ter Record­ing ver­sion. Slot­ting two songs per the first three sides (and three on Side 4), all pre­sented at 45rpm via the pre­ci­sion cut­ting of Mofi’s GAIN 2 Ul­tra Ana­log Sys­tem, the al­bum is given the space it needs to breathe. El­e­ments like Omar Hakim’s deft cym­bal work and the Brecker Broth­ers’ se­duc­tive trum­pet and sax on Side 2’s “Your Lat­est Trick,” Knopfler’s

1937 Na­tional Res­onator gui­tar strum­ming on Side 4’s “The Man’s Too Strong,” and the thrust of Tony Levin’s bass lines on Side 4’s “One World,” all have that much more im­pact.

Given the over­all qual­ity of Ain­lay’s im­pec­ca­ble award-win­ning 5.1 ef­forts, ei­ther the SACD or DVD-A of BIA is your best bet for ap­pre­ci­at­ing the true prom­ise of the bur­geon­ing dig­i­tal era. That spe­cial sur­round mix only serves to re­in­force just how good Knopfler’s vi­sion was (and is) for the sonic val­leys and farms com­pris­ing the full au­ral land­scape that is Broth­ers in Arms.

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