‘Rumours’, the timeless 1977 Fleetwood Mac album has been the subject of countless documentaries, books and even formal studies. Not just because of the songs included but also because of the well-publicised trials and tribulations of the band, many of which came to a head during the 1976 recording sessions and whose emotions spilled into the music.
Grammy® Album of the Year (1977), ‘Rumours’ is the sixth most successful recording of all time, selling more than thirty million copies and spending thirty weeks at the number one spot in the U.S. album charts. It spawned the worldwide hits ‘Dreams’, ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘The Chain’, and excerpts have been used for countless diverse causes from the opening music for BBC motor sport TV coverage through to Bill Clinton’s campaign theme.
There can be few better choices of material to spur interest in a new format, so along comes ‘Rumours’ in the form of a DVD-Audio disc, complete with a new multi-channel remix in order to persuade collectors to replace their tired old CD copy. While students of the original stereo release may initially balk at the very thought of someone tinkering with such revered material, it will be some comfort to learn that many members of the original production team were called upon to oversee the 3/2.1 mix, rather than, shock-horror, some spotty-faced engineer who probably wasn’t born when the album first saw the light of day.
Original production engineer Ken Caillat (now figurehead at 5.1 Entertainment) is back, ably assisted by Rich Fowler, James Stone and the legendary Bob Ludwig, who mastered both two- and multi-channel mixes available on the disc. That’s right, an independent 96kHz 24-bit two-channel mix is also available for those still having problems getting to grips with music out of any more than two loudspeakers.
Besides the 3/2.1 re-mix, there has been one other fairly significant change, namely the DVD-Audio disc’s running order. ‘Silver Springs’, a track originally recorded for the album but cut due to vinyl playback time constraints now follows ‘Go Your Own Way’, displacing ‘Songbird’ to the end, a move that will take some getting used to for those intimately familiar with the LP in its original form or the CD re-release.
While the insertion of ‘Silver Springs’ may initially be rather disconcerting, the surround mix created by Caillat is not, which comes as something of a surprise given the vast number of times one has previously heard the old two-channel version. It is a delicate affair that at no time becomes unnatural and only proves distracting on one occasion. Very little use is made of the centre channel aside from a partial centre-fill (for all intents and purposes this is a 2/2.1 mix), instead the frontal soundstage has been widened around to the sides of the room, with instruments being placed midway between the front and rear channels. There are a small number of obvious surround events – the acoustic guitars of ‘Silver Springs’ for example – but one’s attention remains on the front half of the room. That one exception is a terribly distracting and repetitive cymbal crash in the left-hand rear during the chorus of ‘Go Your Own Way’ which, given the sensibility of the remainder of the disc, really does stand out like a sore thumb.
The biggest concern for me at least, stems from the varying fidelity from song to song. This may be due to constraints imposed by the original 24-track, or perhaps to a lesser extent, the way those elements have been re-assembled for the DVD-Audio release. ‘Second Hand News’ has a decidedly edgy feel, especially noticeable as ‘Dreams’ that follows, is decidedly warmer and more rounded. The disc also appears to get louder as it progresses (largely a psychological perception due to varying degrees of high-frequency ‘brightness’). Most troubling however, is the vocal presentation throughout.
Lead, and to a lesser extent backing vocals have a distant, disjointed character that is often detrimental. Possibly the worst case is Christine McVie’s ‘You Make Loving Fun’ lead. Not the strongest singer you’ll ever encounter, Christine is totally swamped by the accompaniment now spread around the room, to the point where her vocal is barely discernable. There are times when the lead is deliberately distant, Nicks’ ‘Gold Dust Woman’ for example, a presentation that appears to have been used as a model for the entire remix. I also noticed problems during ‘Don’t Stop’, where vocals have a decidedly out-of-phase character, strangely drifting, about two-thirds through the song, into half-left.
In terms of accompaniment fidelity, all elements profit greatly from the ‘space’ and ‘air’ afforded to them not only by the surround mix, but by the benefits of the whole re-mastering process. There are signs of moderate compression – ‘Don’t Stop’ – but they’re rare and greatly outweighed by the way ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ and especially ‘Oh Daddy’ have been given a new lease of life on DVD-Audio. The latter, suffering the least from compromised vocals, hints at what I had hoped for from the entire album.
Ultimately I found ‘Rumours’ a tad disappointing. After the wonders of ELP’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ I was expecting near perfection for such a high profile release, especially as many will use this album as a starting point for their DVD-Audio collection. However, there is no doubting the disc has improved for its twenty-first century makeover and nothing can detract from the timeless songs within.
For those without a DVD-Audio player, DVD-Video compatible 448kb/s Dolby Digital is offered as an alternative and it does a fine job of capturing many of the nuances of the new 3/2.1 mix. There are moments when a little of the MLP track’s presence is lacking (compare the buzz of the metal acoustic guitar strings during the opening of ‘The Chain’), but experienced in isolation the Dolby Digital soundtrack is highly rewarding.
The disc has limited supplemental material, but of particular note is the ‘Making Of’ section, an audio-only presentation accompanied by a selection of still images. All four members of the band discuss each track (playing in the background without vocals), its conception and development, through to the final production. It’s an interesting insight for those who may not have seen the ‘Rumours’ instalment of VH1’s ‘Classic Albums’ series, or know little of the history of the disc.
Commendably this is one of only a few currently available titles that plays the moment the disc drawer is closed. There are no menus to navigate or annoying studio preambles, so if you’re a ‘Video Off’ listener, ‘Rumours’ will come as a welcome relief.