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Rush remasters Vapor Trails, Presto, and other Atlantic studio releases

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Rush fans are in for another set of remasters August 24, this time the 5 studio releases on Atlantic.

It’s no surprise that 1989′s Presto desperately needed some attention – it’s thin, weak sound was the bain of many a Rush fan’s collection. Producer extraordinaire had his hands on that one and the follow-up, Roll The Bones, but for some reason he chose to overwork his magic, resulting in a very pop-oriented sound that really did not suit the music – especially of Presto, which ranks as one of the finer moments of the band’s catalog. A remaster of both albums will be welcome if they can add a little beef to the sound. Less sure is the need for remasters of Counterparts and Test For Echo, which sound pretty all right to these die-hard ears.

The big news, however, lies with the remastering of a two year old album – the magnificent Vapor Trails. Like with Presto the album contains some of the best music Rush has created, but it is presented in one of the worst mixes I’ve heard on a modern, high-budget release. Muddy, distorted, overloud, there’s no end to the problems presented by the sound of Vapor Trails. This flat, lifeless soundstage makes the listening experience painful and tiring, which is a shame since the quality of the songs ranks up there with their best work. The band had no shortage of issues when putting the album together, as reported here. Bassist Geddy Lee mixed the album and wound up hating the resulting product because he couldn’t get a good sound out of it, but guitarist Alex Lifeson, pumped up by the music he heard on it, convinced him to leave it along and release it so they could get out on the road again. But fans and critics alike agreed with Lee – the sound was seriously flawed, and there was talk of a petition to have it remixed/remastered. Well, here you go, fans – Vapor Trails is remastered. Now how many of you a really going to buy it? I certainly will – and I’m uncertain if only a remaster will fix the problems, or if an entire remixing is necessary.

(It’s also interesting to note that Counterparts and Test For Echo are listed at Amazon at $9.98 while Presto and Roll The Bones are $11.98. Why? Can’t imagine other than they expect more people to respond to the two older releases than the two newer ones . . . ?)

About Tom Johnson

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    dang, i’ll have to get a copy of Presto.

    i just love the opener (“Show Don’t Tell)…but it’s freakin’ harsh!

  • JR

    Goddamn it, I just bought Vapor Trails and they’re already trying to sell me another copy?!?

    Question: what do you think of the Mercury-era remasters? I had to buy Moving Pictures because my original CD was missing the opening beat of “Tom Sawyer”; but for some reason the remastered mix didn’t sound as good to me. I’m thinking of getting at least the early albums just for the lyrics and packaging, but I’m not sure if the remasters of the later stuff would be worth the money I could be spending on music I don’t already own.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    I haven’t heard a remaster of the Mercury albums yet that didn’t sound much, much better than the originals. Even Hold Your Fire sounded better to me, but that one was probably benefitted the least from the remastering.

    Believe me, any improvement on Vapor Trails is going to be worth the second invenstment. The band is well aware of the possible backlash a remastering of something this new could have, and I’m certain that they’ve made sure this version takes care of all of the issues it had in the first place. But if you don’t like it or listen to it a lot, it might not be worth it to you. I do listen to Vapor Trails quite often, so this’ll be a worthwhile investment for me . . .

  • b milner

    I have to agree on the Mercury remasters- for Signals at least ,the sound is improved, with more clarity and punch than the original. If they can do this with Presto….yum!

    But the news of the re-release of Vapor Trails has absolutely made my summer, even if it is only half as improved as it should be. It is almost physically painful to have all that great music buried under that awful distortion, and I just grit my teeth and bear it everytime I play it. I’ll be dreaming about how much better “Secret Touch” and “Earthshine” will sound now…

  • Jon Lane

    The release date for VT doesn’t sound too encouraging.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Looks like the Vapor Trails remaster release date slipped a little. January 2010, huh? Well, I guess that gives me five and a half years to save up the $14 . . .

  • b milner

    I assume the 01-01-2010 date is just a placeholder, until the actual date is given. Let’s be optimistic and say that VT is being remixed and remastered, in order to cure all the problems.

  • Eric

    I’m glad to hear that Presto and Vapor Trails have been remastered. I always did think Presto sounded odd compared to Rush’s other albums, and Vapor Trails just sounded awful. I was just reading some reviews on the remastered Presto, and someone said he could hardly tell a difference between the original and the remastered version though.. Is it much better?

  • http://home.comcast.net/~proy1/ Paul Roy

    I agree with your assesments here. I didn’t really like Vapor Trails that much until I heard the songs performed live, and they friggin kicked ass. Yeah, totally remix and ramaster that thing.

  • http://www.thebeautifullull.com Tom Johnson

    Unfortunately, Atlantic pulled the Vapor Trails remaster. As for the other remasters, it depends on how sensitive a listener you are. I think most people are not going to notice a huge difference because there simply cannot be one – we are talking about changes in EQ, essentially, and maybe a little bit of difference in the separation of instruments. These albums are not drastically different – I think people are thinking they’re getting a re-mix of the album where, say, Presto could have the mid-bass re-emphasized. Not going to happen with these. They’re just cleaned up, clearer, and more defined. These remasters are for the discerning (audiophile) ear.

  • Vernon

    Okay, I’m confused. I see on Amazon where one person is selling new and used “remastered” Vapor Trails. Are these really just imports? I don’t want to purchase a non-official CD that isn’t really a remaster.

    Thanks,
    Vernon

  • http://www.thebeautifullull.com Tom Johnson

    At the moment, Vernon, there are NO remastered copies of VT out there. If someone’s selling them, they’re either a total ripoff of just the regular album you can find anywhere, or someone has taken it upon themselves to remaster it, which could yield some pretty dodgy results (and wouldn’t be a remaster, not being from the original masters.) Save your money. I highly doubt we’re going to see a remastered VT anytime soon. (We will, however, finally get DVDs of all the old Rush live material! Check RushWeb for details.)

  • Jim Parker

    As an audio engineer by trade and Rush fan by choice, I can tell you with some certainty that the mastering process is what originally KILLED Vapor Trails. Others have analyzed the waveforms off of that album and it’s riddled with digital errors because of stupid attempts in the mastering process to make the album seem as loud as possible. The dynamics were all chopped off resulting in a wall of noise so hard to bear, I never could make it through an entire song. It’s my opinion that with remastering, you’ll see that the mixes are actually pretty decent and “Rush worthy.” This is a case where I would love if one person bought the remastered copy, then posted it in a downloadable form for the rest of the world to “evaluate.” Yeah, it’s “stealing” but Atlantic totally ripped us off when they released the original POS called “Vapor Trails,” I don’t intend on buying it twice.

  • Scott

    I salavated over the idea of a Vapor Trails remaster, only to be left with a puddle of drool and no remaster!!! I understand that Atlantic has many, many copies of VT sitting in a warehouse and was not to thrilled to print more, remastered or not. Maybe, just maybe, with a new release next year (Rush is supposed to be writing this fall) they will release the VT remaster. As it is, the VT material, while outstanding musically, is virtually unlistenable. I cannot listen to it in my car despite the quality sound system (or maybe because of it?)… the mud and distortion, particularly when the floor toms are struck, simply irritates me to no end. As for the other remasters, the Mercury-era remasters smoke the originals and get closer to the sound of the vinyl. I have to agree that the Presto remaster is not as dramatic as I would have hoped, although in some systems (like cranked through my home studio system w/ bi-amped Mackie speakers), the bottom end is certainly more present. But, as with any step of the process, it is almost impossible to ADD anything by EQing, rather you can mostly just take away other frequencies to enhance other areas within the sound spectrum. To my ears, the bass end on Presto is very low and was likely recorded and mixed at lower volumes, and the remaster simply takes away some of the more brittle highs to enhance the mids and lows, and takes up the bass and some mids… an improvement, but not as dramatic as the Mercury remasters (which replace CDs that were slopped together and remastered in the early days of digital along with the rest of everything pre-1987 to latch onto the CD boom… Joshua Tree anyone???). Maybe Rush learned their lesson with VT… don’t record on your own without an engineer, and do not master something as loud as possible… and it is apparent on Feedback which, sonically, is very strong. I hope that they use a quality studio engineer through the entire process and mix with someone who is less slick and more traditional (for instance, Rush in Rio has a lot of slick mixing and dramatic movement of certain things around the sound field… an irritation to my ears but very common these days of Pro Tools and scene change mixes; I’d rather hear a Kevin Shirley, plain as day but placed correctly and consistently, mix anyday… listen to the live Zep stuff). Anyway, Rush is my favorite band by far, and a remastered VT would be damned special!!

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  • Mike Lewis

    I just heard Earthshine on rushradio.org and couldn’t believe my ears. My immediate impression was that the version I was hearing was from a remastered VT disc. The clarity was outstanding and I’m listening on an 8 year old set of Radio Shack headphones plugged into an IBM Thinkpad. Absolutely no “mud” whatsoever.

    I was VERY disappointed with VT when it came out because of the sound quality. After hearing Earthshine, I rush-ed to Google to find out about getting the remastered VT. Imagine my surprise to find there isn’t one. Maybe the later releases of VT were cleaned up somehow, I don’t know. I am going to contact the rushradio.org staff to see when they got their copy of VT. There is just a huge difference between that version and the one on my CD.

  • sym

    I hear the mastering distortion in the drum rolls and some of the sibilance, but it’s not unbearable. For some reason I kind of like it. It crisps out their sound. It is an amateurish mistake on their part, but far better than a lot of the Signals+ mixes, which sound so mechanical and washed out that there’s very little life in them. Haven’t heard Counterparts or Test For Echo, but Roll the Bones & Presto were extremely weak mix/master jobs. Even the masterpiece Permanent Waves, mastered to sound like FM radio, sounds like it’s EQ’d wrong.

  • Derek

    Ahhh! I’ve been fighting with my stereo for all this time on Vapor Trails! I finally figured out that the recording itself must be bad, and I search the web, and sure enough! #$%@#$^@#@!!!!!

    Wait, I’m not done, @#$%@#$%@#$#&^!!!!

    Now I feel better.

    In my car stereo it could be anything, but when I listened on my computer, straight from the CD, with headaphones, and it still sounded distinctly chopped and muddy, that’s when I knew.

    I now realize this is why I could hardly listen to the album from the beginning — not the usual Rush album break-in period. When I heard Earthshine on R30, I was thinking, “Why did I think this sounded like crap before?” My appreciation for this album has been very limited by the bad audio quality. When it sounds good, I turn it up a little so I can make out all three instruments, and then I go, “Oh no, I have to turn it down, it’s blaring out my little speakers.” But no, it just came that way.

    But I have found, despite this, that I do like the music. The R30 Earthshine sounds great. They should re-record the whole album from scratch if that’s what it takes. They’d laugh at that suggestion, I guess, but hey, I’d be buying it again, and the songs deserve it.

  • d. iris

    tuff times, demand tuff sights, demand tuff sounds, demand tuff ears!!! demand. when i first heard v’ trails, i was in the process of installing new high end stereo equipment and it drove me completely crazy for at least a week wondering why this cd posed such a challenge for my system. then i read an interview with geddy in a magazine where he explains about the technical problems etc. i later bought the vinyl and at times the sound is fairly dynamic and listenable and at other times christ! um.. gee by the way.. did anybody notice that when you take the cd itself and when you look at the label upside down, oh no! christ what have you done!!!

  • Mark

    Any comments on the vinyl version of Vapor Trails? It shows up on eBay for $30-$40. Quite an investment. But if it was mastered from the original master tape, by someone who understands vinyl, it might be a little easier to listen to.

  • bryce

    the vinyl is 100% better than the cd
    although it is still highly compressed… vinyls dont get digital distortion or digital clipping. worth the buy!

  • mike

    its 2010 no re-release