Only a short period has passed since I reviewed the first SACD of Toto’s ‘IV’, but because the title has just been re-released by Columbia and now boasts a multi-channel mix created by Elliot Scheiner, it is once again time to revisit the album and the big hair, tight jeans and stadium rock of the early 1980s.
As was the case with the first release, this isn’t a hybrid disc so it cannot be enjoyed in your car CD player, but now there is a choice of two-channel and multi-channel DSD playback options. However, I’m sorry to say, there is a lot more bad news than there is good…
The two-channel version is identical to that found on the first SACD release and therefore just as bad. Rather than repeat myself here, for more detail please read the original review, where you’ll also find the usual artist and album background information.
So it’s the new, multi-channel mix I’ll be concentrating upon for the remainder of this review. Having expected a masterpiece along the lines of ‘Hotel California’, imagine my surprise to hear nothing of the sort, in fact it’s hard to believe that Scheiner was involved at all, aside from in the remix of the disc’s closing track.
The album’s two most widely recognised songs top and tail the disc, ‘Rosanna’ and ‘Africa’, and both ably illustrate the shortcomings of the multi-channel mix and how arbitrary, creative changes have been made.
‘Rosanna’ suffers in a number of different ways. Firstly, there are obvious tonal changes to elements of the track, particularly where vocals are concerned. Steve Lukather’s lead is warmer and more nasal, possibly as a result of some minor EQ adjustments. The distinctive opening drum riff is now swamped with slowly decaying reverb (in the front channels) and by spreading many of the horn and percussion instruments around into the surrounds much of the dynamic range impact of the chorus intros and brass section has been lost. There also appears to be a problem with bass, one moment it’s there, the next it has all but disappeared. If all of the aforementioned issues weren’t bad enough, the track has another fatal flaw and it’s far worse than any of the others…
From the one-minute point up until around three minutes, the front soundstage image drifts violently left and right, the first instance (hard to the left) being the worst. Was someone leaning on a pot or is the wandering soundstage a deliberate, conscious decision? I can only speculate, but either way it ruins the track, especially as the lead vocal is not aided by the use of the centre channel and relies solely on a phantom image.
‘Africa’ has been completely deconstructed, the instruments blown apart into the four corners of the room. Bongos take up a position midway between the front and rear channels, there’s a Tiburon in the right surround and a steel guitar in left surround. Vocals are anchored up-front, the distinctive synthesizer part seems to drift in and out of the mix but the bass-line has been given an injection of steroids and now leaps up and smacks you in the face every time the chorus comes around. Good or bad? It’s a tough call; purists will hate it but if you like fun, loud and exciting mixes then this one is for you.
However, during the reconstruction process, some parts of the original track have been lost entirely. For example, listen carefully to the opening few bars of the two-channel SACD layer or any old CD copy you happen to have lying around and at three seconds into the track, you should hear the sound of someone faintly laughing in the left-hand channel. Unforgivably, that sound is completely missing from the multi-channel mix, you can listen until your ears bleed, it has gone, vanished.
The surround mix, ‘Africa’ aside, is unremarkable, there are some discrete centre events – the saxophone of ‘Make Believe’ – but they are few and far between. The surrounds are also used sparingly and carry little more than ‘DSP’ ambience, the sort of thing you’d hear by processing the two-channel version through a Dolby Pro Logic II or Logic 7 matrix circuit. Aside from the odd ‘Rosanna’ pan, the backing vocals and circling guitar of ‘Waiting for your Love’, in creative terms the multi-channel mix is lazy and unrewarding. The one exception is of course ‘Africa’, but even though the repositioning of the instruments is at first a shock, that re-mix does not detract from the music and elsewhere there are few distracting elements.
The multi-channel version boasts some fidelity advantages over the two-channel layer, so the disc does have a few redeeming features. The cymbals aren’t quite as splashy nor muddled yet there is little sense of presence, especially across the midrange, or of anything particularly ‘high’ fidelity. The old ‘B-side’ tracks still come off the worst, the cymbals of ‘Afraid of Love’ being little more than unstable, fizzing bursts of white noise, especially after the chorus bridge while the hi-hat of ‘Lovers in the Night’ sounds equally unrealistic. In some instances SACD just cannot ‘do’ complex high frequency instruments, cymbals especially, ably demonstrated by this particular disc, which is possibly the worst example outside of Journey’s ‘Arrival’, also a Columbia release.
The addition of the LFE channel does improve low frequency impact and depth, especially where ‘It’s a Feeling’ and ‘Africa’ are concerned, but it cannot help unravel David Hungate’s bass-lines nor does it add to the building excitement of ‘Afraid of Love’, an area where the added extension could have been put to good use.
In conclusion, the two-channel layer of Toto’s ‘IV’ remains a harsh, fizzing muddle, while the new multi-channel mix is on the whole, disappointingly lacklustre. Most annoying however, are the changes made to the spirit of the music; oodles of drum reverb and the vocal tonal changes of ‘Rosanna’ being the worst offenders. What annoys me most however, are the missing elements. When listening to multi-channel SACD or DVD-Audio discs, one often one thinks, “hey, I never heard that before”, only to discover that the sound or instrument was on the original CD, only difficult to hear, but at no point should it be apparent that certain instruments or vocals have been removed. For that reason alone, on principal I cannot recommend the disc.