Review Summary: The 2013 Steven Wilson remaster of Close to the Edge is fantastic. The revealing science of remastering well done. Don't hesitate to buy but don't toss out your 2003 versions either.
'Close to the Edge' showed up at the local record store on about September 15, 1972, and we were... Just. Blown. Away. Nobody had ever heard anything like this, nothing to measure it against. For the next 40+ years, this has been my absolute favorite album, and I have a pretty varied taste in music. Over the years, I've worn out several copies on vinyl, the 8-track player in my car ate at least one copy, and I have bought all of the versions on CD.
So, when I heard about the Steven Wilson remaster a while back, I ordered it from Burning Shed and on Nov 11, it showed up in the mailbox. (FYI, as is the case for Steven Wilson's King Crimson remasters, this version of 'Close to the Edge' includes both a stereo CD and a DVD-A containing stereo and 5.1 versions). My wife was working late, so I thought I'd indulge myself, sat on the throne between my M&K speakers - and cranked that sucker.
Unlike the 2003 Joe Gastwirt and Rhino remasters, which are more 'louder' than 'better' than the 1972 original, this 2013 Steven Wilson remaster is crystal clear, and there are also some very noticeable differences with the mixing. If you are into this album, you should buy this new one, plus one of the two others. Audiophiles (read: real fanatics) have several additional remaster choices as well. I've seen a few reviewers say that this Steven Wilson version lacks some cohesion, but I disagree.
In the title song of the Wilson remaster, I could hear things that I had never noticed before, and this is an album I've listened to perhaps 1,000 times. The instruments are not pushed or compressed nearly to distortion as the 2003 remasters are. There's still a lot of sub-bass in the fade-in, which I always thought was just turntable rumble, but it was still there. In the opening after the fade-in, Chris Squire's bass is no longer buzzy.
You can also hear some vocal counterpoint that wasn't evident before. Like at 4:44, at "Not right away, not right away," and in many other places. All the vocals are clear, and when Jon Anderson is singing without harmony, such as in the 'Eclipse' section after 6:00, the voice does not echo as if you were in a washroom. Rick Wakeman's Morse code in 'Total Mass Retain' is mesmerising.
There are also some things that I don't think were ever there before at all. At about 4:20 in the short break after "losing all against the hour" in the first verses, and before "and assessing..." there's a spacy whoosh that was never in any earlier versions. (Could it be that they were saying 420 means something? A hidden message?) And it happens again at ~6:30 after "...reasons we don't understand."
The ambient segment that begins ~8:25, preceding "I get up, I get down," has detail in it that I've never heard before. The bottom-end that was missing in that section is now there - and the bass even has some melody. Again, there's a lot of vocal detail and there's some instrumental dissonance that was not really evident before (to me, an enhancement, not annoying).
In the manic synthesizer/bass/drum instrumental after Rick Wakeman's church organ solo, the bass and drumming are very clear, no longer muddy or difficult to separate from one another. I mean, it would have been cool if Bill Bruford was playing timpani in there, but that's not what he was doing. Also, he hits a couple of sharp snare-shots in that section that I had never heard before.
Finally, the buildup and the "Now that you're whole" climax. I am speechless.
Oh, and 'And You And I' and 'Siberian Khatru' are pretty good too ;-) I'm a bit 'meh' about the Paul Simon song, 'America,' but it might grow on me. To me, it seems better suited to go with 'Time and a Word' or 'The Yes Album.' The second half of 'America' has a good driving instrumental jam.
If you're very familiar with the title track 'Close to the Edge,' you will find the last track, a production version that is complete but missing some of the instruments and vocals, to be fascinating. [ Much better than what Gentle Giant did by releasing several CDs worth of bits and pieces not too long ago (which, to me, was quite a disappointment) ]
But no, don't go buy this new version of Close to the Edge...waste of time (lol - Joking! Joking!). I can't wait to turn my 27 yr old son onto this. He is a metal drummer and loves this stuff. In fact, he's the one who turned me on to Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, etc...
For the first time, I could hear what these guys were individually doing. [ If anyone reading this might also have the Audio Fidelity SA-CD version, remastered by Steve Hoffman in 2013, please leave your comments here. Also, if anyone buys this Steve Wilson version, how does the stereo version on the DVD-A differ from the one on the CD? I don't have a DVD-A player, and there are no software tools to convert DVD-A to FLAC, that I'm aware of. ]
On Sept 25, 1972, some friends and I went to see them in Hartford, Connecticut, outdoors, Dillon Stadium. Just 10 days or so after this utterly unprecedented album came out, so we weren't really familiar with it yet (too much studying to do in those days). We were too far from the stage to see whether the drummer was Alan White or Bill Bruford, but apparently it was Mr White. (Who now is often a pick-up drummer at the Salmon Days festival each year in Issaquah, WA, where I live, and for whom, if he ever reads this, I will buy a beer.)