Foreigner – ‘Foreigner’ A DVD-Audio review by Stuart M. Robinson

November 21, in Titles

Foreigner’ was the first album from the legendary 70’s super-group of the same name. Released on March 8th 1977, it became immensely successful, staying in the forefront of musical tastes for well over sixteen months and reaching the quadruple-platinum mark at the end of ’77.

Foreigner the group was formed by Mick Jones, who had already composed many of the album’s songs, and comprised recognised musicians and members of lesser-known bands, most notably Lou Gramm, who provides the distinct and timeless vocal lead. As half the group’s members were English and the other half American, and largely because ‘Trigger’, their original chosen name was already in use, Jones settled with the name ‘Foreigner’.

Many of the group’s most popular songs originate from later albums; ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ and ‘Waiting… For a Girl Like You’ being prime examples. They represent a gentler side of Foreigner, back in 1977 the band had a more aggressive edge as demonstrated here. It’s an exciting mix of guitar-driven rock, some of which has heavy overtones, with only the occasional subtle hint at the power ballads that would follow. Journey and Boston were both influential in creating the Foreigner style and one can hear obvious similarities, especially where the former is concerned given both Steve Perry and Gramm’s standout vocal talents.

The most widely known tracks on this album are undoubtedly its three major international hits, ‘Long Long Way From Home’ and especially ‘Feels Like The First Time’ and ‘Cold As Ice’, which was inspired by a Joan Crawford movie. However, one could hardly describe the remainder as ‘unknown’, especially if you’re a child of the 70’s. Moreover, excerpts have been used in countless movies and advertising campaigns. ‘Cold as Ice’ for example, is currently being artistically murdered for the sake of a McCleans Ice Whitening toothpaste commercial.

It’s interesting to note that even after extensive airplay and the passage of time, the music itself remains as fresh as the day it was recorded. Yes, certain elements enable one to date the piece – such as the long guitar solos and crude synthesisers – but the music itself is not dated in any way. That perhaps, is largely due to the performer’s talents – especially in the writing stakes – plus the care and attention lavished on the original recording, which Mick Jones describes as a “labour of love”.

Such an esteemed album deserves utmost respect when being remixed, especially if that mix is to be for surround, as is the case with Warner Bros’ Atlantic/Rhino re-issue, so you’ll be pleased to hear that a team with an unrivalled pedigree was assembled for the project, led by David McLees (two-channel version) and John Kellogg (3/2.1 mix).

Between them, they have injected a new lease of life into the 1977 recording that isn’t just limited to the addition of four more discrete channels. When one compares a CD release of the album to the two-channel mix on this DVD-Audio disc, it is instantly apparent that the material has benefited in leaps and bounds from a huge improvement in fidelity. This is not just because of the format involved, but also because of the superior mixing and technical assets available today, together with the skills of those who have re-assembled and restored the original studio tracks. The DVD-Audio disc isn’t louder than the CD, doesn’t have more bass, treble or in fact anything as remotely obvious as that, but what it does have is far greater depth, improved ‘air’ around individual elements and none of the raucous muddling – especially of rhythm guitars and percussion – previously present in the CD releases. This factor alone makes the disc a worthwhile exercise, since now we able able to fully appreciate the band’s musical abilities and the nuances of Lou Gramm’s vocals.

While the two-channel mix is commendable, it is the multi-channel presentation that elevates this disc from ‘recommended’ to ‘must have’. The surround mix is an adventurous one and good use is made of all six channels, but it is testament to the abilities of those involved that at no point does the multi-channel delivery become distracting or annoying. I have one minor reservation about the panning synthesizer that is part of ‘I Need You’, the disc’s closing track, but that aside I found the whole experience engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable.

It’s difficult to pick out highlights, but here we go… Listen out for the placement of piano and organ (one on either side of the room) during ‘Cold as Ice’, the snare drum, placed discretely into the centre channel that opens ‘Headknocker’, the outstanding bass dynamics and vocal clarity of ‘The Damage is Done’, which closes with another discrete centre event. Then there are the rhythm guitars of ‘At War With the World’ placed left and right and ‘Fool For You Anyway’, the highlight of the piece as far as I’m concerned which features acoustic and electric guitars placed towards the four corners of the listening space with bass guitar anchored dead centre. The vocal presentation on this track is also of particular interest; as I discovered later it was actually delivered from the intimate confines of the recording studio’s lavatory.

Mick Jones describes the experience of listening to the DVD-Audio surround mix as being ‘eerie’, he compares it directly to being in the studio all those years ago and it is easy to hear why, to coin a phrase; it is that darn good.

If I were forced to find fault, then I could only suggest that occasionally some recorded elements do sound a little ‘old’, particularly the lead electric guitar that picks up Gramm’s ‘At War With the World’ vocal, but this is to be expected given the age of the original material.

Not content with just giving us the finest two- and multi-channel versions of this classic album to date, Atlantic/Rhino have also packed the disc full of supplementary material. What’s more, that material isn’t self-promotional ‘fluff’, it turns out to be worthwhile and highly desirable.

To begin with, there is a full-length running commentary from Mick Jones and Lou Gramm who provide an insight into the creative processes of the album, from the original song writing to the performance and recording sessions. A humorous journey it is too; I particularly enjoyed the way Jones kept commenting on how difficult the tracks were to play and how they’d have trouble re-learning them for present-day audiences. We even discover how many individual backing tracks were used to create the distinctive ‘Cold as Ice’ chorus, something that will come in handy if you’re a trivia-buff.

In addition to the running commentary, Atlantic/Rhino have included two live performance videos (the action is live, the audio has been over-dubbed from the new multi-channel mix), a band biography, album essay, photo gallery and song lyrics. But best of all is the presence of four previously unreleased demo tracks, and even these have benefited from the multi-channel treatment. Their fidelity is somewhat limited, but that’s not the point, for students of the album and Foreigner fans alike, all four represent a fascinating record of the development and concept of ‘Feels Like the First Time’, ‘Woman Oh Woman’, ‘At War With the World’ and ‘Take Me to Your Leader’, a track that didn’t appear on the original album in any shape or form!

Foreigner’ is an outstanding DVD-Audio disc; both the two-channel and multi-channel mixes represent remarkable feats of restoration and creativity, while the supplementary material is in its own right worthy of any serious collection. No DVD-Audiophile should be without a copy.

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