Continuing their theme of vintage album re-issues, amongst the latest crop of discs from Rhino is ‘No Secrets’, Carly Simon’s timeless album from 1972. As was the case with America’s ‘Homecoming’, the original work has undergone considerable restoration, both in terms of presentation and fidelity.
Most significant is the multi-channel re-mix by Frank Filipetti, but it’s joined by a re-mastered stereo 192kHz track for two-channel purists who like to enjoy their music unsullied by new-fangled surround frippery. 448kb/s Dolby Digital is also present for DVD-Video compatibility.
‘No Secrets’ stayed in the U.S. album charts for seventy-one weeks and reached number one shortly after release, but unless you’re a die-hard Simon fan or have the memory of an elephant, only one track is instantly recognisable, the number one single ‘You’re So Vain’. The inspiration for the track, upon which an unaccredited Mick Jagger sings backing vocals, has been the subject of much speculation. Simon was once quoted as saying “…there’s nothing there that isn’t true of Warren Beatty”, but whether or not he was the original target of derision is open to question.
Get past ‘You’re So Vain’ and ‘No Secrets’ is an album that showcases Simon’s thoughtful song writing style and unique vocal tonality – her voice is instantly recognisable and remains little changed to this day. Simon was twenty-seven when recording began and had already reached maturity as a performer, evident by the wide pitch range covered from song to song. As for the musical style, it’s somewhere between mild-mannered jazz and commercial country and western, underpinned by an unusual use of lyrics and storytelling. There are upbeat tracks, James Taylor’s ‘Night Owl’ (Simon married Taylor in November 1972) and ‘We Have No Secrets’, together with more sombre, melancholy ‘life-is-hard’ numbers, most notably ‘The Carter Family’.
‘No Secrets’ was produced by industry legend Richard Perry and his skills are patently obvious. The performances from all concerned are flawless, but most importantly Simon is allowed to stretch her vocal muscle without stepping over the line towards self-indulgence. The original two-channel mix is represented on this DVD-Audio disc in all its glory, but the multi-channel version holds yet more treasures.
Re-mix engineer Frank Filipetti has not made great use of the surrounds, for the most part they carry ‘DSP’ generated ambience and help to expand the front soundstage around to the sides of the room. However, Filipetti has taken the bold and welcome step of placing Simon’s solo vocal passages discretely into the centre channel. This avoids all the problems associated with phantom centre imaging and adds a heightened sense of presence to Simon’s voice. Multi-tracked vocals and backing singers are seamlessly spread across the front three channels, so if you have tonal matching between your centre, left and right loudspeakers the result is an uncannily realistic wall of precisely placed performers. This is one disc where you really can’t get away with a $100 Bose centre ‘speaker.
Another positive aspect of the 96kHz 24-bit multi-channel mix is the contribution made by the LFE channel. It’s used sparingly, but when the material requires it adds weight and impact to songs, ‘Embrace Me, You Child’ and ‘Night Owl’ being particularly good examples.
Given the vintage of the recording, it’s remarkable how it has scrubbed up for this DVD-Audio release. On both two-channel and multi-channel mixes, high frequencies are crystal clear without any trace of harshness, guitars are sharp and vibrant, the Beetle-esque string riff of ‘When You Close Your Eyes’ is wonderfully smooth and there’s not the faintest hint of tape hiss. There are times when Simon’s lead vocal recedes somewhat, but on the whole her mellow, warm delivery is conveyed in a rounded, convincing way, free from any undue sibilance emphasis or the ‘fizzing’ heard on certain SACD discs.
The distant percussion of ‘Waited So Long’ – a song in the style of Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie – contributes to a sense of mild compression, but it’s a criticism that can only be levelled at this particular track.
Switch to the Dolby Digital multi-channel mix and the disc’s fidelity stands up well, but some subtleties evident on the DVD-Audio layer do become a little veiled. For example, there’s a distant electric guitar in the front right channel during the verses of ‘You’re So Vain’ that mirrors the vocal lead and is therefore difficult to concentrate on in isolation, whereas the MLP track clearly resolves each element of the mix and thereby enables a clear picture of all instruments within.
Most Dolby Digital music material is encoded with a -3dB mix-level for the centre and surround channels to compensate for downmix conditions, but unusually in this case the offset has only been applied to the centre channel. This is worth remembering because there isn’t a dedicated two-channel track on the DVD-Video layer; those without ‘high-resolution’ hardware will have to rely on the downmix if listening in stereo, which is hardly ideal, given that the surround content is likely to be incorporated at too high a level.
As for disc extras, they’re few and far between. On the DVD-Audio layer song lyrics can be accessed during each track, whereas on the DVD-Video layer they have to be selected from a separate sub-menu. There are disc production credits and that’s it. Looking on the bright side, the disc’s artwork was created by Greg Allen of GAPD, the same guy who was responsible for the stunning America disc [see review and captures]. For ‘No Secrets’, ‘perky’ composite images of Carly against London backdrops – where the album was recorded – accompany each track and major navigation menus.
Given the age of ‘No Secrets’ and the at times maudlin style, this is one album that may not appeal to everyone. However, taking into account the merits of both the surround presentation and the fidelity of the two- and multi-channel mixes, ‘No Secrets’ can certainly be considered worthy of inclusion within any serious DVD-Audio collection.