I will say right up front that I am not a big fan of Chicago, especially the earlier albums that ramble on for way too long. (Sorry, all.) I do like their most popular tunes, however, and will play through a playlist of those when I am in the mood, as it makes for great listening.
What really struck me early on, though, was how terrible Chicago II sounded. Even back when I had crappy sounding Realistic stereo equipment, Chicago II made it sound worse than even those all-in-one stereos that were everywhere back then. Tweeters apparently aren’t even needed to listen to that sonic trainwreck–it’s that bad. That to me was a huge turn-off.
I remember buying the DVD-Audio version of Chicago II just to hear something different in surround and was pleasantly surprised to hear that whatever they had done (remastering?), both the 2.0 and 5.1 channel versions actually were listenable, and had some decent response throughout the frequency range. It made the better songs much easier to listen to. Yet it still has some strangeness to it–the brass seems kind of “splatty” for one, and there appears to have been some bass synthesis going on.
I borrowed a copy of the Mobile Fidelity SACD version and was appalled that they had simply remastered that old, crappy-sounding 70s version. For what purpose? I am surprised enough that it would be the only MoFi product I could ever give one star to in a review/rating situation. I expect better from them. If it’s “preserving authenticity,” well…the original sucked, and there was no need to preserve it.
And now, we have the new Steven Wilson remix on hand. This is closer to the DVD-Audio. There is still a mid-bass hump that makes it sound a bit dumpy, but given how Wilson’s other remixes have been done, he has stuck to the sound that is on the tapes without altering it much. What impresses me is that this remix has a clarity that the DVD-Audio version does not share–the brass are clear and clean, for example, and the vocals almost actually sound like…voices. I’ve heard a few things in the mix that I have not heard in other versions–it’s not that Wilson specifically boosted them up or changed the mix, but these details were so buried in murk that it is nice to hear them clarified in this mix.
If I had to pick any one out of these versions, I would go with the Steve Wilson remix. It’s still not stellar sounding, but it is far from the sonic turd that was originally released back in the day. He has worked his magic on yet another classic title and made it subtly but noticeably better.