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review added: 2/6/03

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Blue Öyster Cult: Agents of Fortune
2003 (1976) - Legacy Records (Sony Music)

review by Matt Rowe of The Digital Bits

Super Audio CDStereo/Multi-ChannelDirect Stream Digital

Blue Öyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (SACD) Album Rating: B+

Audio Ratings (SACD 5.1/2.0): A/A-

Extras Rating: B+ (see details below)

Specs and Features

40 mins (stereo)/39 mins (multi-channel), single-sided, single-layered, CD jewel case packaging with plastic slip-sleeve, liner notes booklet, 1 bonus song not found on original CD (Fire of Unknown Origin), track access (11 tracks - see track listing below), audio formats: SACD DSD 5.1 & 2.0


Produced by Bruce Dickinson (stereo) & Shelly Yakus (5.1 surround)

Eric Bloom (vocals/guitar/percussion), Albert Bouchard (drums/vocals/acoustic guitar/percussion/harmonica), Donald (Buck Dharma) Roeser (guitar/vocals/synthesizer/percussion), Joe Bouchard (bass/vocals/piano), Allen Lanier (keyboards/vocals/guitar/bass) and guests Patti Smith



"Naked, exposed like fine rock and roll."

Blue Öyster Cult was a necessary addition to album libraries back in the day, after the success of their Byrds-like (Don't Fear) The Reaper. However, people in the know were aware of their upcoming potential after the cult favorite live set, On Your Feet or on Your Knees. Interestingly, that LP was the first album that I reviewed for my second high school's newspaper (for my first school's newspaper, the first album I reviewed was by Queen).

Agents of Fortune represented a change of tone for BÖC - a more stylish, less harsh approach to Rock and Roll. As a result, their acceptance became more mainstream, virtually guaranteeing FM radio album play. The band went on to produce other no less spectacular albums, including the anticipated Spectres.

BÖC is possessed of five excellent musicians that could play multiple instruments well. They shared vocal duties and often treated fans to an up-front guitar frenzy where all five played at the same time. In addition, most of them contributed song material to the band. So it's no surprise that BÖC had strong chemistry going for it. A note of interest here is that a then unknown contributor, Patti Smith (who had a relationship with Allen Lanier), provided some intellectual teeth on this album to a song that's easily recognized as her work, The Revenge of Vera Gemini.

The original album had 10 songs, while this new SACD disc includes a bonus song from the original recording session that was dropped from the release due to space limitations. Most of the songs here are strong compositions.

I have to admit to softening somewhat on my once staunch position as a stereo purist. While I still maintain that much of the past's music would do well to remain in the stereo mix that they were originally recorded for, I'm pleasantly surprised at the quality of this disc's multi-channel mix. I still believe that, to preserve the original intent, the original engineers and band should be on-hand to oversee the 5.1 re-mixing project whenever possible. Surround mixes of this nature just seem to work better... as the 5.1 mix does on this disc.

The surround project here was headed by Shelly Yakus, who lovingly engineered the original 1976 release. His new 5.1 surround remix is impeccable. There's no attempt to remake the music by re-defining track positioning or throwing distracting swirls of isolated instruments into the mix, that cause neck (and concentration) breaking head turns and steal from the experience. Instead, the surrounds here are subtle in many places. In song after song, the rear channel activity draws you in, while emphasizing the fronts and center.

And not only are the instruments brought to new levels of high-resolution fidelity, the vocal harmonies are striking in their presentation. As a matter of fact, the vocal tracks are the clear winner in this DSD (Direct Stream Digital) mix. The crystal clarity which I experienced was so noticeable that I almost cried for the beauty of it. When compared to the original CD, this SACD reduces the PCM version to rubble. On some guitar leads, the sound is so good that you'll almost think they were re-recorded... even though I know that this isn't the case. The sheer quality of what you hear will leave you amazed.

The standard CD jewel case packaging comes in the distinctive plastic SACD slipcover unique to Sony. This style of slipcover should be employed by all the labels, as its attractive, provides easy identification of the disc as an SACD and also acts as a protective dust cover. The insert booklet is first class. The 12-page stapled insert provides a short essay from Lenny Kaye, period photos, lyrics, discography and extensive credits. It even includes a very thoughtful reproduction of the original LP's gatefold, inside photo.

DSD mastering continues to leave me floored in its ability to bring out the original, inherent qualities of every recording that I've heard thus far on SACD. There's no reason for me to believe that it will not continue to do so. With that in mind, I look forward to more Blue Öyster Cult SACDs as they become available. And I really look forward to more conversions of complete catalogs of music. Even better would be the adoption of DSD as the de facto standard for all new music being produced today and in the future. In this way, recorded digital music can finally take the next evolutionary step to becoming the kind of immersive experience it's always been designed to provide.

If you're a fan of Blue Öyster Cult, absolutely treat yourself to this SACD release.

Matt Rowe
mattrowe@thedigitalbits.com
Visit Matt Rowe's MusicTAP ------ Music Flows There!


Track Listing:

This Ain't The Summer of Love
True Confessions
(Don't Fear) The Reaper
E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
The Revenge of Vera Gemini
Sinful Love
Tattoo Vampire
Morning Final
Tenderloin
Debbie Denise
Fire of Unknown Origin (original version)


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