Queen: News of the World
Universal (Japan) UIGY-15016
Stereo Single Layer
"News of the World"
Review by Rick Kosmick - June 23, 2014
I like Queen and enjoy their music. "News of the World" (1977) is a solid album veering towards harder edged rock and ballads. It was self-produced by the group and although the arrangements are stripped down compared to previous albums, the typical Queen sound remains with multi-layered harmonies, the powerful vocal stylings of Freddie Mercury and the ever-present signature guitar tones and orchestrations from Brian May. However, the quality of sound for the SHM SACD release from 2011 is problematic.
In listening to the opening tracks "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions" (both now considered classic Queen songs), I was struck by the bright digital edge to the sound. I happen to like brightness in audio but I found it a touch strident in tone. When the third track "Sheer Heart Attack" plays, it's low fidelity (it was recorded this way and, I assume, to reflect it's punk rock attitude) is noticeably exposed by the high resolution audio. So as not to overlook the benefits of better audio quality on this SACD, the song "Who Needs You" sparkles in high fidelity with Freddy Mercury's restrained but expressive vocals (panned in the right channel) and Spanish guitars (left channel) that resonate in nice detail and radiate with clarity. There are both drawbacks and benefits present.
I have the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) Gold CD of "News Of The World" for a comparison. I was always very disappointed with the audio quality of the MFSL that I found to be shrill and harsh on many songs. In particular, two songs "Get Down, Make Love" and "It's Late" are so bad as to render these recordings very unpleasant and detestable to my ears. These two songs sound better in SHM SACD but still retain some harshness in the audio. When I hear such general similarities between two different releases, I look to the original master tapes.
The liner notes of this SACD release state "this 2011 version has been meticulously re-created using the finest modern analogue and digital technology from the original first-generation master mixes". Let it be said, this SACD is a major improvement over the MFSL version. Nevertheless, some sound problems continue to persist on the SACD. Overall, the audio tends to be over-bright. And, a rumbling bass suggests a problem with the reproduction of low frequencies. The reason for this continuing dilemma of sound reproduction suggests their may have been original engineering problems or damage/deterioration to the original master tapes and the 2011 version is an attempt fix these issues.
So this leads to the basic question: Is this SHM SACD an audiophile quality release? Hardly. But this version may be the best you are likely to hear of these recordings. Personally, I enjoyed listening to 'News Of The World" on SACD with it's audio limitations.
Review updated November, 2015.
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