Formed in 1994, the Guano Apes are Sandra Nasic (vocals), Stefan Ude (bass), Dennis Poschwatta (drums) and Henning Rьmenapp (guitar), a German rock band with a huge following in Europe, thanks largely to their breakthrough first single, ‘Open Your Eyes’. The group has Croatian influences but their lyrics are written and sung in English, thereby affording a wider international appeal. They also write all their own material, in this case the only exception being a frantic version of Alphaville’s ‘Big in Japan’.
This SACD, complete with one bonus track, comes to us via Super Sonic Records and was sponsored by Philips, whose European representative we’d like to thank for supplying a copy. As a result of Philips’ involvement, ‘Don’t Give Me Names’ is a hybrid title, Red-book 44.1kHz PCM Compact Disc-compatible material on one layer and two SACD tracks on the other, a stereo mix and a 3/2.1 surround presentation.
For this, their second studio album, the Guano Apes’ style is No Doubt meets Republica; a mix of soft thrash metal with melodic overtones and lyrics that have merit, although there is a fair bit of the usual “Shut your mouth…” going on. Just like the aforementioned, the Guano Apes can also let their guard down and produce a song that has a gentler bent, ‘Living a Lie’ is an obvious example, as are the lyrics “I’m feeling like an angel, I’m feeling like a buttercup…”, but the tendency is also there in ‘Heaven’, a mixture of heavy and mainstream genres. There are surprises too, including an aggressive flamenco acoustic hook to ‘Mine all Mine’ – not something you’d normally encounter as part of a rock disc – and the ska elements of ‘Dцdel Up’.
You really can’t find fault with the session musicians on this album, the guitarists have clearly learnt more than just a handful of chords and turn in exciting performances, while there are excellent drum tracks and even the occasional string accompaniment. Not being familiar with the Guano Apes I was most impressed by the group’s vocalists, Sandra Nasic, the female lead can convey a wide range of character parts, from innocent little girl to angry rock chick and her voice combines seamlessly with the male contributions.
As a 44.1kHz Compact Disc, the recording fidelity is standard fair, but the two-channel SACD track does offer noticeable advantages; there is a clearer sense of individuality to instruments – not a bad thing when so much is going on at once – and low frequencies appear to benefit from just a tad more oomph. This is especially relevant to the “…blast your little faces…” grumbles of ‘Gogan’. High frequency nastiness is a rare occurrence, only rearing its ugly head in the form of some ‘Dцdel Up’ cymbal instability, so is not really a reason to stay away from this SACD release.
The multi-channel mix builds upon all the aforementioned strengths of the two-channel alternative, but although it has clear artistic merits, doesn’t really leave one with the impression of having lived through an earth-shattering experience.
This disc’s multi-channel mix, at times adventurous (by SACD standards) was created by Ronald Prent at Galaxy Studios and mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering. Lead vocals are placed discretely and in isolation into the centre channel throughout, which works particularly well, whereas the surrounds are reserved largely for occasional and deliberate effects.
When the disc begins, you’re lulled into a false sense of security, the surrounds carry little more than minor content bleed from the front left and right channels, but just when you’re least expecting it up pops some rear vocal content, a reoccurring theme throughout the remainder of the disc. ‘Dцdel Up’ begins with recessed vocals in left surround and guitars in right surround, but the most experimental mix is that of ‘Gogan’. Here, almost the entire track is anchored to the centre channel, it isn’t until the chorus that the music breaks free and occupies the entire front soundstage. I was only distracted once, when a treble vocal element appeared in the left surround during ‘Living in a Lie’, otherwise Prent’s surround mix is fun, albeit not up to the benchmark standard of Foreigner’s ‘4’ (John Kellogg), the Eagles ‘Hotel California’ (Elliot Scheiner) or Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Rage Hard – The Sonic Collection’ (Trevor Horn).
In a sea of classical, experimental and jazz high-resolution releases, it’s a refreshing change to find a contemporary, ‘happening’ artist finding their way onto SACD. In this case the music’s good – although granny won’t approve – and the fidelity acceptable. The multi-channel mix affords added value so if you’re into the genre, this is certainly one for the collection.