Be Bop Deluxe has reissued their sophomore 1975 studio release “Futurama” as a limited 3 CD + 1 DVD NTSC-0 region free deluxe box set. Re-mastered from the original tapes, the se contains all new 2019 stereo and 5.1 mixes by Stephen W Tayler. Previously unreleased out-take from the album sessions and BBC Radio In Concert performance from May 1975 plus a rare John Peel Show session from March 1975. Also included are a previously unreleased 1975 Harvest Records promotional video for Maid in Heaven and a session for BBC TV’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” show from July 1975. Additionally, there is fan extras such as a facsimile poster for Futurama, replica track sheets, and postcards.
Futurama is the first album by the band to feature Bill Nelson, Charlie Tumahai and Simon Fox, The record was produced by Roy Thomas Baker and represented a giant leap forward in creativity for both the band and Bill Nelson. It was recorded in the first two months of 1975 at Rockfield studios, with a few sessions taking place at SARM studios in London, and now has been reissued in audiophile quality with surround sound audio.
The first thing critical listeners should know is the new mix is drastically different from the original mix. These are distinct night and day differences that include balance and location changes for various parts within the stereo field, along with modernized echo and delays which absolutely change the tone and auralscape between the original mix and the 2019 version. The DVD contains the original mix in LPCM 96kHz / 24-bit, and I generally think this edition sounds very good, but without an earlier copy on hand to compare it to, I can’t offer a true analysis of this remaster of the original 1975 mix.
Now, let’s hop to it; Be Bop Deluxe certainly knows how to have fun, be quirky and still rocket hard on their second album Futurama. However, I wish that I could say that about the surround mix, which is way more subtle than I believe it could have been. But when it comes to audio quality, the DTS 48kHz / 24-bit 5.1 surround mix opens the soundstage to a variety of nuances that are somewhat buried in the stereo mix.
What is even better is the mix provides a nice analog feel, nicely cleaned up with a dynamic punch. “Love With The Madman” expands nicely towards the back with keyboards permeating from the back left channel. Two guitars play off each other across the left and right front channels, with the conclusion of one riff the other one picks up, creating a left to right channel effect, which is perfect for those who enjoy movement in the mix. Take note to the sweet depth to the soundstage which expands beautifully to the rear channels, where ambient echo and delays are most easily heard.
The analog source is very evident on this surround remix, it is warm and not excessively bright. One aspect that I really appreciate is the pure natural sound of the vocals that emanate from the center channel. Generally, the voice is free of sibilance and pops, giving an absolute life like quality, which is enhanced by a slight echo.
Futurama is certainly a guitar driven album, reminding me of some other guitar driven bands from that era such as the Outlaws and Lynyrd Skynyrd, albeit Be Bop Deluxe is far from Southern Rock. In fact, the band has distinctive progressive elements, but absolutely falls into the Art Rock genre for those who must classify the music they listen to! But I digress, tonally the guitars sound rich and offer up zesty punch as they fly through their riffs that fall perfectly under the vocals. The cymbals and hi-hat lightly tingle, while the snare snaps swiftly and the kick drum thuds softly underneath, which was common with many mixes back in the day and happens to be my personal preference. This all leads to a very well balanced musical presentation.
Surprisingly there is not a huge difference between the DTS and AC3 codec. Of course, there’s a roll off in the low end on the Dolby AC3 version, as well as an increased compression. But, for those who for whatever reason do not yet have the equipment that can support DTS, the AC3 version will due in a pinch, still providing for a pleasurable surround experience.
Listening to the new stereo mix provided for an absolutely wonderful listen. I found it to be musically more cohesive. I had noted just above how the kick drum was subdued in the surround mix, and now realize that it is because it was placed in the center channel, which in my setup doesn’t have an equally sized speaker as compared to the four main channels. I can only imagine that in many listeners rooms, the center channel likely rolls off the lower frequencies that convey the thump of the kick drum. This lead me back to my preference for quadraphonic mixes, since it stands a greater chance that audiophile surround listeners, like myself, will have four identical main speakers. Yet, even though my center channel is a full range speaker, its smaller size does cause a roll off at the bottom.
Wow, I sidetracked from where I was heading - the stereo mix. I sense that for audio files you will likely find the new mix to be the best sounding version of Futurama, provided you are not a purist and can accept the modernization of this classic album. Since I never had this in my collection, I can easily accept the new version without prejudice for the changes made. Qualitatively It simply sounds better and provides a very wide soundstage that has great dynamics with greater punch and deeper lows. Yet, the 2019 stereo mix is substantially brighter than the 5.1 mix. Barring the bright leaning soundscape, this version will likely be my first choice when listening to this album as I generally feel it is a great presentation that step forward as well as falling behind the speakers.
A few bonus videos are worth watching, and the BBC show on the third CD is an excellent document of the band performing back when the album was released.
If you are a Be Bop Deluxe fan, this is a fantastic box set to add into your collection. For Art Rock lovers and even Progressive Rock fans, Futurama is worthy of your ears. However, I don’t think this is a must have for surround enthusiasts, as the 5.1 mix really feels more like enhanced stereo, but if you are like me, and want to collect it all, then grab it before this limited edition is gone.
3 CD + 1 DVD NTSC-0 with both new 96k/24b 2.0 and 48k/24b 5.1 mixes limited edition box set .