Alt-prog rocker Steve Wilson – who is a also a skilled self-taught audio engineer – remixed Jethro Tull’s iconic classic rock album Aqualung last year, with the cooperation of Tull maestro Ian Anderson.
Because I had featured Stratospheerius on my podcast site BandsLikeZappa.com – and because that band’s publicist was also doing the US publicity for Anderson, I got a couple early release CDs from her. First of them was the Aqualung remix.
Despite being a massive Tull fan, I am like most radio listeners of the past 30 years have grown sick of the song Aqualung. It has been THE staple song on classic rock radio, and has thus been played to death, so much so that I never go out of my way to listen to it anymore, and will usually skip stations if I hear it on the rare occasion that I have the car radio tuned on.
Not that it isn’t a great song – it surely is. That guitar riff is classic, the verse is pure excess, rhythmically bold and harmonically baroque. The middle section is sweet and sad, the faster middle section a telling blend of 60s & 70s folk rock, which makes sense given the epoch the album comes from (1971).
But the remix makes it brand new listening experience. To those untutored folk – we’re not talking about Ian Anderson’s voice set to a crappy dance beat and synth. This is an honest-to-goodness remix of the original master tracks.
A real remix involves taking all the separately recorded parts (pop music is normally recorded in separate takes, or if performed together at least in isolated rooms in the studio) and blending them together anew. Re-mixes are far more arduous and involved than re-masters, which are much more commonly done to revive old classic rock albums. Re-masters are just re-glosses and adjustments over the final stereo mix.
Steve Wilson is a very skilled mix engineer. He upped the volume in the album’s title track, as well as all the tracks, by using some modern compression. This added punch – but not too much. In an era of obscenely over-compressed and over-loud rock music, Wilson’s restraint is admirable.
He also improved the various ambient touches – the remote Ian Anderson vocal in that slow, sweet section in the song’s middle is treated to some dry modern reverb. The classic “telephone” EQ effect to Anderson’s voice here is done more subtly than the 1971 original.
Same goes for the rest of the album. Cross-eyed Mary – a Tull favorite of mine – benefits the most from the re-mix. This song is meant to be as heavy as hard-rock can be. The audio technology of 1972 could only do so much to convey this. Wilson’s punchy, loud trreatment gives the song what it needed from the beginning.
Overall its a fantastic release. As an open-minded creative type, I was expecting and ready for a more radical, creative remix like the Beatles remixes of a few years ago. But Wilson’s and Anderson’s intent wasn’t to do this, so they can’t be faulted for avoiding it.