Top positive review
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2011 Remaster compared to 1991 Queen 2
on May 17, 2011
Please note this album review is comparing two CD editions and not reviewing the music.
Suffice to say many would rate this second album of Queen's as their greatest, progressive rock concept album - many fans liking it as much as 'Night of the Opera'. It has all the elements of multi-layered voices and rich guitar tones that characterised Queen as a group. The compositions are a mixture of the majestic to Tolkien-like fairy and ogre story tales in a prog rock setting.
Firstly I have bought the deluxe version which includes an extra EP with 5 additional tracks. I will refer to this later.
Overall, I do like the whole new 2011 package. I am a fan who bought this album back in the 70's and was a tad disappointed with the 1991 Holywood Records release. In hind-site, that is not such a poor production as one realises that many of these original mixes were muddy in places. Having said that the master, Bob Ludwig, has cleaned this up so that overall it is smoother, more dynamic listening experience. Do note though that to my ears, the improvement is not as dramatic an improvement as for instance the brilliant 30th anniversary 'Night at the Opera' release over previous editions.
As I mentioned, it's the whole package. You buy into an experience, the feel, the brand. So I love and appreciate the crisper iconic front photo. My 1991 edition front photo looks positively blurred in comparison. The booklet with centrefold photo on a pristine white background took me back to the original album. This packaging is far more befitting this classic album than the cheap looking foldout lyrics in the 1991 CD. Everything has an understated yet, polished appearance that replicates the original LP right down to the same liner notes including reference to "Virtuoso castanets by Roy Thomas Baker... and nobody played synthesizer... again.'
Instead of reviewing every track of the album I will go into detail looking at the first three tracks, 'Procession', 'Father to Son' and 'White Queen'. These three examples illustrate pretty much what has happened in the remaster of the whole album. I am listening on a Marantz player with Mission speakers - nothing too fancy -entry level equipment. I find that overall the 1991 CD seems a little tiring to listen to because of a lot of sibilance - this does seem less so on the 2011 remaster.
You notice an audio difference immediately on the first track. I thought it was smoother and on closer listening noticed the scratch of Brian's high octave guitar had been removed at 48 and 57 seconds. (On my LP I had thought these were scratches on the vinyl but clearly they were there on the 1991 CD as well.) They're finally gone. The short instrumental leads into the second track, `Father to Son'. Maybe the biggest change is that you can hear definition to the background voices singing the chorus 'From Father to Son'. The rolling snare of Roger is clearer and the bass a little tighter. Definite improvements - but not dramatic.
The growl on the guitar around the lyrics 'But you'll write it all again before you die' has more more menace because I think the background noise is reduced. But unfortunately the original unintended distortion still appears especially in the more full, layered places. Generally the drums are still far back in the mix throughout this album. I was hoping that this was possibly going to be altered.
The amazing 'White Queen' seems more tender and the 'silences' almost SACD quality quiet. The opening acoustic plucked notes stand out more leading into 'So sad her eyes'. On the 1991 CD, the first time Freddie sings 'eyes' has a serious static scratch behind it. It is still audible but not as distracting in the 2011 remaster. These vocals now are significantly cleaner. All the 's' in the 1991 edition seem piercing, '...such a breathless night as this, Upon my brow the lightest kiss...My lady soon will stir...'. 2011 just seems more musical and the 's' not as intrusive.
Perhaps the biggest overall improvement is the quality of the vocals. Wow, Freddie had an expressive voice showing such emotion. Hearing this again on the 2011 remaster made it all the more vivid. The section starting "How did thee fare, what have thee seen" has been cleaned delicately. Whatever magic Bob Ludwig did - it shines through here and on into the lengthy acoustic guitar solo and to the final lines where the vocals are much clearer than on the 1991 version.
Having said this - for many the audio improvement may not seem worth the money of repurchasing again. I'd recommend the deluxe version as the extra 5 tracks are all great and two outstanding. The BBC version of 'See what a Fool I've been' with a brand new 2011 mix is simply mind blowing. This version and mix is easily one of the best early recording of Queen of the 70's. The drums have such punch that I wished they'd recorded the whole of Queen 2 in the BBC studios. The clarity is startling. And then of course there is the famous, excellent live version of `White Queen' recorded at the London's Hammersmith Odeon. This has been available as an official bootleg from the Queen site for a number of years.
So Queen fans - don't hesitate, but for casual fans who already have Queen 2, make a considered purchase. And of course if you think that all Queen wrote were songs like 'Another bites the dust' and pop tracks like 'Radio Gaga' then this album will shock you with its swagger, snarl and creativity.
Classic 5 star Queen album...but the rating for the remaster, I have given 4 stars.