By far the most popular recording from the Canadian Trio, Moving Pictures opens with the smash hit "Tom Sawyer." My original CD sounds a little dull on this track, but it's otherwise fine. Mobile Fidelity released a remastered version of this recording using their Ultradisc II system, before the GAIN process that has really improved their more recent work. On this song, MoFi's version sharpens up the resolution a bit, but the differences are subtle. The remastered version from Mercury further sharpens the sound up, while also giving a welcome improvement in bass impact. This is the best-sounding "Tom Sawyer" I've heard yet.
"Red Barchetta" always tops my list of songs I'm most likely to get a speeding ticket while driving to. I make sure there's never a copy in my car. The original version is good overall, but again it's a bit dull. The Mobile Fidelity version clearly improves the sense of space in the recording, along with better action on the drums. The latest remaster is even more dynamic and apt to force your gas pedal to the floor. Collectors may want the Mobile Fidelity liner notes, with their big fold-out booklet reproducing the LP artwork, but the new official Mercury remaster is the one to have if you want the best sonics. You will have to suffer with liner notes that have smaller pictures and less legible print than even the original CD release.
The first computer I ever programmed was a TI 99/4A. It belonged to the same friend who introduced me to Rush, whose music usually played in the background while we were using the now antiquated PC. Signals had just been released, and my friend's brother was captivated with "Subdivisions." He decided it would be cool to have the computer type the lyrics to the song out in real-time as it played, in a follow-the-bouncing-ball style. So one day I heard the song at least a hundred times, as he pressed play on his early CD player while running the program to see how the timing matched. I never have quite recovered from this trauma, and to this day hearing "Subdivisions" more than once in an hour makes me shudder. Somehow I managed to calm down enough one night to compare the three versions of the song I now have, including the MoFi GAIN disc.
Unlike earlier Rush discs, Signals sounds great even on the original CD. The rolled-off treble and weak bass of the previous releases are gone. Mobile Fidelity's release provides more solid bass and a hint of better top-end extensions, which helps pull out some of the background ambiance of the recording. The new remaster spruces up the treble a bit and boosts the bass, which offers no improvement in resolution, just a different tonal balance. While it's not bad, I prefer the MoFi version for this track.
"Digital Man," always one of my favorite songs from the band, isn't quite as dynamic as I'd like on the older silver disc. Mobile Fidelity gives considerably more oomph, and the low-level details of Alex Lifeson's guitar playing are easily to discern in the complicated opening. The big bass whacks at 2:50 into the track sound even deeper and more powerful. As for the new Mercury remaster, there might be a bit of sweetening going on, but it works for this one. "New World Man," on the other hand, again sounds a bit overblown on the new remaster.
Hearing Mobile Fidelity's version of "The Weapon" spurred my first direct contact with the company. The following section of the song is right before the long instrumental break in the middle on my original silver CD:
I put the second part of that in italics for a simple reason: on the Mobile Fidelity version of Signals, those lines aren't there! At 3:12 into the song, the middle interlude starts without those lyrics. MoFi says that the tape they received was stated to be the original master. Is it possible that the CD everyone's been listening to all these years is actually made from a second-generation tape with those extra lines overdubbed? That part of the song is still there on the latest remaster, which doesn't tell us anything. I'd love to know what the real story is.
In any case, the fade-in at the opening of the song sounds clearer on Mobile Fidelity's version of the recording, and all the transients are more precise. The latest release sounds like somebody was playing with the kick drum, as it now sounds artificially tight. Since the differences between the original Signals CD and the Mobile Fidelity version are somewhat subtle, a good conspiracy theorist might suggest Mercury made sure the new remasters sounded "different" even if the older CD was close to a faithful copy of the master. I'd take the original release over the newer one myself, even if it does now have cool pixelated pictures of the band. Even the Mobile Fidelity gold CD is only a worthwhile upgrade for those with a pretty serious playback system.
Grace Under Pressure
While it didn't spawn hits like the previous few discs from the band did, Grace Under Pressure is probably the Rush album I play most. I remember when my Rush-loving friend loaned me his brother's copies off all their CDs back in 1987. I went through the whole discography and made a 90-minute tape of the songs I liked most. This tape, interestingly enough, is almost identical to the Chronicles collection released many years afterward. Since I was new to the art of using a tape deck at the time, I assumed the static at 30 seconds into "Distant Early Warning" was my fault. Nope -- it's on the CD itself, and hangs around on the remastered version to boot. I don't know why. What I do know is that while the original CD version of that song sounds good overall, the chorus at 1:30 is very congested. The Mercury remaster tracks that section of the song better, with the interplay between the instruments more obvious. The fullness of the low bass is improved, and Geddy Lee's vocals have a presence lacking in the older version. "Red Sector A" is a bit more detailed and clear on the new release, and later tracks are similarly helped by the remastering. Welcome improvements all around, with no downside, and you even get to see the red highlighting used for some of the lyrics when browsing the liner notes.
Power Windows opens with a, ahem, powerful section of music. I've been awakened more than once while dozing when this disc rotated around to the front of the CD changer. Amazingly enough, the remastered version is at least 6dB louder yet! "Big Money" has always sounded muddy and rolled-off compared with the tracks from Grace Under Pressure, but the new release solves that. It's tight and well defined all around. The new version of "Marathon" revitalizes Neil Peart's drum kit. If you can stand an even louder and boisterous version of Power Windows, the new remaster is exactly what you want.
Hold Your Fire
When you catch Rush in concert, they trigger a sampled version of Aimee Mann's vocal singing the chorus to "Time Stand Still." I'm glad that's all they use from the album, as it's the only part of the song that sounds natural. The rest is awful, with this bizarre equalization I can't explain at all. The new release is still murky and flat, but at least it isn't really weird anymore.
"Mission" on the old disc actually has decent resolution on the cymbals, but overall it's mediocre. The new release gives much better sizzle to the appropriate parts of the drum kit, and there's more echo to the vocals.
The remastered version of Hold Your Fire would be nice if it were released in 1978, but for a 1987 recording it's hardly impressive. If you want something that sounds better than the original CD, by all means pick up the remastered version. But if you were hoping it now sounds good, you'll be disappointed.
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