By AFG Correspondent Julie Skaggs
Amused to Death: prescient and perceptive, and now remastered.
Amused to Death 2015 remaster Deluxe Edition
Stereo and 5.1 versions mixed by James Guthrie and mastered by James Guthrie & Joel Plante
Often cited as the best of his solo works, Roger Waters’ 1992 release is finally seeing reissue this month featuring new packaging and a variety of formats, though as I noted in my AFG review of the 5.1 mix, the project in its nascent form was originally announced in 2013. Those of us fortunate enough to experience the preview of the Surround version of the album did so over a year ago, and the anticipation to release was so overwhelming some fans began to believe the work might not actually see completion.
Originally the remaster of Amused to Death was meant for release solely on the high-resolution SACD format by Analogue Productions; a partnership with Sony changed the direction of the end result and additional formats were added to the campaign. But as this release was a wishlist item for Surround Sound enthusiasts, it may appear to consumers that a stereo version is rather superfluous.
With numerous spins of the stereo remaster I would argue that both versions are equally desirable for different reasons, and that has to do with how we consume and enjoy music from a contemporary perspective as well as the inherent charms of this album, which remain fully intact. As many listen to music in the car, on the computer or portable device, as accompaniment to other events, it is possible to appreciate this album not merely from the perspective of direct focus and engagement with its method and its message, but also as an all-around fantastic sounding recording from an admired auteur. Because this work is so invested with the elements which display the scope and ambition of Waters’ music, those are the aspects which are often emphasized in critical consideration. But the album contains wonderful insightful songs which connect within the structure of the concept to form a mosaic of a world encompassing comedy, tragedy, and a cautionary tale we are still experiencing over two decades later.
“The monkey is me,” Waters recently stated in a song-by-song analysis EPK, “and you, and all of us” and his critique of and commentary on a society addicted to distraction, undermined by conflict, and yet united in wholly human concerns remains both resonant and relevant. Beyond considerations of how much and how little the world has changed, perhaps in some way ATD is presciently apropos for the 21st Century: with a return in certain genre circles of traditional methodology and conceptualization, an admiration of intricate production and weighty themes. The album was what fans would expect from Roger, but in the wider world it inhabited upon its release, decidedly out-of-sync with the musical mores of the time.
The stereo remaster is desirable on its own merits also as a document of this work’s incredibly detailed construction. The QSound algorithm – which creates a three-dimensional image from a two-channel source – used for the mix is imprinted upon the multitracks thus that aspect remains, lending an immersive quality to the album (and one which provided a great example of the then-burgeoning technology). The end result is appreciable on several levels: a clear discernment of all the sonic detail, appreciation of the lush textures of the music, and emotional resonance within the experience entire.
Waters has previously stated that the use of sound effects in his work is all music – he makes no distinction between those effects and the song they appear in. ATD represents perhaps the apex of that belief, in that so many sounds: a leaky tap, the crack and thud of chopping wood, the static of changing channels on a television, the growling of animals and of motors, the rumble of thunder and explosions, conversations, a ringing telephone, the barking of a dog and the howl of a wolf, is all intrinsically rhythmic and integral as much as the instruments and voices. The remaster provides a renewed appreciation for this aural tapestry wherein those elements serve to emphasize the story, or provide a moment of humor or pathos or tension. And they can all be apprehended within the structure, providing enjoyment for both close and casual listeners.
Sound-wise this mastering is eminently crankable (as they say), dynamic and warm, even at a relatively loud volume it delivers a full deep experience rather than the thin and shrill aura of sub-par mastering (i.e. brickwalled and squashed). Though the arrangement of a particular track may rise and fall, the accompanying dynamic is not affected by considerations of volume, however soft or loud you choose to play it, the listening experience is one which flows as it is meant to throughout. James Guthrie’s mix – updated for the stereo version in the instances of “Perfect Sense Parts I and II” and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” – remains a widescreen technicolor panorama, as befitting this album’s ideas and execution, with renewed luster and shine.
For those purchasing the box set combination of CD and Blu-ray audio disc, the latter provides the exact desired immersive experience for your home theatre setup with both Surround and stereo mixes included, as well as a helpful speaker setup/test menu option, The menu screens (the Blu-ray content was produced in-house by Guthrie and Plante) feature a nod to the album’s analog origins in the choice of images and an elegant aural collage of musical motifs and sound effects from the record.
A passion project for both participants: Roger Waters in its original creation and James Guthrie in its restoration, Amused to Death is – as a work of art – an album which fully deserves such a thorough appreciation and reconsideration of its message and its meaning, and hopefully listeners encountering it for the very first time will hear and heed in equal measure.
AFG wish to thank Julie Skaggs for this article and continued participation in everything Floyd.