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Oasis: what’s the story with the brickwalling glory?

  • Some might say that it was Noel Gallagher’s songwriting genius that propelled Oasis to international stardom. They took out an Ivor Novello for “Songwriters of the Year” in 1995, the same year that their sophomore album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? went champagne supernova.

    A year later Noel Gallagher took out the very same gong for his contributions to the songwriting world. To this day I wonder why. Had those same judges wandered off to Camden High Street by the time (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’s closing track lumbered into view?

    “How many special people change
    How many lives are living strange
    Where were you when we were getting high?
    Slowly walking down the hall
    Faster than a cannon ball
    Where were you while we were getting high?”

    Faster than a cannon ball, huh? Each and every line = total bobbins. Someone needs to exhume Ivor Novello to make sure he’s stopped turning. Are we really to believe that it was the more sensible Gallagher’s wordsmithery that made them one of the most popular British bands of all time?

    I have a different theory as to why Oasis became so darn popular. Actually, I have two theories.


    The first is LOUDNESS. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? remains one of the worst early offenders of dynamic range compression. The Dynamic Range database pegs its average score at 5 with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 10. But you don’t need numbers to tell you that the mastering is brickwalled. You don’t even need a good stereo system. Listening on Apple earbuds and a smartphone is exhausting enough.

    You couldn’t spend more than ten minutes in any Oxford Street clothing store in the mid-90s without being pummelled to death by “Wonderwall”. If that didn’t kill you, the Blur-duelling “Roll With It” certainly would.

    The cringeworthy lyrics I can just about get past but when combined with the headache-inducing mastering – especially noticeable over a good headphone rig – I’m eventually forced to reach for the stop button before taking a lie down in a darkened room.

    Here’s what opening track “Hello” looks like on the original CD from 1995:


    And here’s “Some Might Say” from that same CD rip:



    Proving that hi-res formats can’t possibly restore the dynamics lost during mastering, here’s “Some Might Say” ripped to 24bit/96kHz FLAC from the 2003 SACD:


    It’s quieter but still brickwalled to the moon and back.

    Word has it that only the stereo layer suffers such intense dynamic compression and that the multi-channel layer comes off much better. This seems to be borne out by the DR scores in the above table.

    Perhaps it’s a UK thing. The Japanese CD single issue of “Some Might Say” yields a greater dynamic range. Just look at those never-before-seen peaks:


    It would appear that whoever mastered this in Japan was far less determined for it to be the loudest song on the radio.

    For Oasis’ Chasing The Sun re-issue program, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was remastered at Metropolis Studios by Ian Cooper and Andy “Hippy” Baldwin using PMC BB5 XBD A reference monitors. With high quality active loudspeakers at their disposal and the album’s original producer Owen Morris dropping in to supervise, here was an opportunity for Cooper and Baldwin to the right the wrongs of the 90s and issue a master more in keeping with the iTunes Sound Check times. Hopefully they’d take the lead from their Japanese counterparts.

    Droppping US$30 over at HDTracks gets you 24bit/44.1kHz versions of all songs included on the 2014 ‘3CD’ Deluxe Edition physical release – almost 3 hours of music. Even if you don’t believe a 24bit version would sound any better than the CD, you’d probably assume that HDTracks would offer the best master available. I did.

    Dropping the freshly remastered “Some Might Say” into Audacity I hoped for something at least as dynamic as the aforementioned 1995 Japanese CD. This is what I saw:


    Still brickwalled – can you believe it? The Beatles in Mono this is not. Perhaps Sony was concerned that the man in the street would be turned off by an apparently quieter release and opt to stick with his 1995 CD instead of ponying up for the Deluxe Edition remaster?

    Not only should this give you the reader pause for thought in buying this new version digitally but it might also cause you to rethink that vinyl purchase. Especially as the 2LP set contains only the original 12 songs and none of the bonus material.

    Which brings us to my second theory as to why Oasis managed to straddle both critical and commercial acclaim, at least for a while.

    Like fellow Britpoppers Suede, Oasis B-sides were knockout, often eclipsing their lead singles by a significant margin. For this music nut, this is where Noel Gallagher’s songwriting talents really shine through.

    Fans jumping on WTSMG lead (CD) single Some Might Say were treated to three additional songs that easily bested the lead cut: “Acquiesce”, “Talk Tonight” and “Headshrinker”. How these songs never made the long-player proper we’ll likely never know. Perhaps Oasis were then mirroring the New Order tactic of keeping the best stuff away the album.

    The Roll With It single begat the epic, driving “Rocking Chair” and (the now unlistenable) Wonderwall unleashed “The Masterplan” and catchy-as-hell “Round Are Way” [sic] unto the world.

    Each and every one of these B-sides is a pearler. Their inclusion alongside a whole bevy of bonus material on the Deluxe Edition of WTSMG is why I’m looking past the dynamic range compression; if the music moves you, not even studio fuckwittery like this can diminish its impact.

    Here’s hoping b-side compilation The Masterplan gets better remaster treatment than this.

    Further information: WTSMG 3-CD Deluxe Edition at Amazon | WTSMG 24-bit Deluxe Edition at HDTracks

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Rocking Chair is enchanting. My favorite Oasis tune. Gotta fire up Masterplan right now!

    2. The fact that the multichannel SACD has a much higher DR seems to indicate that the master hasn’t been Volume Compressed to that brickwall standard.

      What’s amazing is that they did it again to the 24 bit release. It’s one thing to do it to mp3 or even CD, but a 24bit “audiophile” release? Hi-res releases aren’t for the “man in the street”; they’re supposed to be for a more discriminating audience that one would assume has better than average playback setups, be they mobile or home ones.

      Some other bands have made this distinction, for example: the 24/96 of Greenday’s “American Idol” doesn’t have the hard VC of the CD and consequently sounds much better – and even more powerful once you turn the volume up. Amazing how actual dynamic range does that…

      Luckily I was suspicious of this one from the start and asked around on forums till someone confirmed for me that the Oasis 24bit release hadn’t been improved from the head splitting sound of the CD. So I didn’t buy it. A shame, because if they had truly made it “audiophile” sounding, I would have spend the money on it.

      BTW, I don’t blame HDT or other hi-res vendors for this. They are not very powerful resellers. The blame should go to the producers/record companies releasing this junk. HDT are right when they say that the level of volume compression is an “artistic” decision that they don’t/shoudn’t interfere in. Where I do fault them however, is not allowing a review section on their website (like Amazon) where people can comment on the releases. Then at least everyone except the very earliest buyers would know what they are or aren’t buying.

      • Indeed, the amount of dynamic compression used falls under the authorial intention banner. And therefore I don’t blame hdtracks either. However, the consumer must tread carefully: hi-res encoding is no guarantee of a stellar listening experience.

    3. Love it. One of the best articles you have written recently I think… and not just because I agree with your sentiments about Oasis. This loudness issue is, along with other dreadful features of the mixes on some CDs and (of less significance) the surprising number of CDs that contain tracks which are lossy, sometimes makes me wonder whether it’s worth piling cash into a first rate digital playback system (I refuse to return to vinyl now). A couple of examples. There are three versions of most Zappa material: Vinyl, the original Ryko CDs (masters blessed by Zappa amazingly) and the recent Zappa Records remasters. Some of the Ryko releases are absolutely awful suffering from excessive treble and brightness. Try listening to the drum intro on Peaches en Regalia on the Ryko CD: it sounds like a formica table top not a set of drums. The new remasters are mostly good and return to an overall sound closer to the vinyl, showing that the basic CD format is not that limited when the masters are good. Not much point going to hi-rez formats when the master is poor (as I think you have pointed out more eloquently before). And for an example of lossiness I’d be interested to know if anyone has a copy of So by Peter Gabriel where all the tracks test as lossless using the commonly used retail testing programmes. Both my copies have tracks that test as compressed.

      • Oh, I didn’t know about the issues with So. I’ve stuck steadfastly to the original CD and vinyl because PG fucked with the running order on subsequent reissues.

        Interesting on the Zappa Ryko releases. I think Ryko also amped the treble etch when they handled the Bowie Sound+Vision reissue program in 90/91. Some of those really grate after a while.

    4. I’m not a recording engineer and only have a layman’s interest in loudness issues. I’m wondering that if the original AND the remaster are brickwalled, why do a remaster at all? Is it possible for that kind of remaster to sound better in any way? Just curious.

      • Great question Bill. One could easily argue that in this particular case the remaster was kinda pointless. It would’ve been easy for the 2014 mastering engineers to create a fresh master with more dynamic range. But they didn’t. Their choice of course but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

    5. The 24/192 CCR – The Complete Studio Albums from HDTracks is unlistenable for me. The treble is super etched and shrill, a definite downgrade fro the 24/96 DVDA from Fantasy or the SACDs from tape.

      I agree that by not allowing customer reviews on their site, HDTracks is very aware of this situation and has taken the business decision to not support fair and open disclosure, or to support their consumer base by trying to provide feedback to the studios who are supplying these released to them. The silence is deafening.

      It’s going to take Pono or Apple or someone with more clout and visibility to affect change here. Between undisclosed provenance, DR compression and limiting more suitable for track-based MP3s, and high-res released with boosted to treble to demonstrate “more detail” the consumer needs to be very careful with their purchased. I’m seeing some of the best releases coming out on Blu-Ray Audio (The Who Quadrophenia, etc.) where they offer the original mix as well as a remaster on one disc with more mainstream appeal then with downloads. It clear that many consumers desire better quality as demonstrated by sales of expensive headphones and the resurgence of vinyl (Lazzareto, etc.)

      • Not necessarily. Theoretically the brickwall limiter pulls down the peaks so that they don’t actually clip.

    6. U2 must’ve also figured out the relationship between loudness and sales of their music. As their music gained in popularity the dynamic range of their recordings is practically non existent.

    7. I dunno about the wisdom of HD Tracks allowing customer reviews like on Amazon. Last year I downloaded their free 2013 HDSampler tracks and paid for Emylou Harris Directors Cut and sensed jitter on every track. But after you mentioned that ethernet cables may make a difference I realized I had wired the house many years ago quite sloppily – my MAC Mini server is 75 feet of ethernet cable and 3 floors away from the modem/router and worse I had linked 3 Ethernet cables end to end all of different specs (one even unlabelled). Now the modem/router sits 2 feet from the Mac with a 6e plugged into port 1. Last Night I downloaded the 2014 dozen free tracks – smooth as silk. OK, I made other changes too – upgrade to Yosemite and unchecking ‘Direct’ in Audurvana which I now understand is no longer needed. I don’t think HDTracks needs slow learners like me giving them unwarranted bad reviews – they should just indicate whether an album is brickwalled, or they feel it is full dynamic range or somewhere in between.

      • As you say Ken, perhaps HDTracks could add their own comments about the quality/provenance of the master. Won’t hold my breath though.

    8. Hdtrack specializes on legal rip offs. It only takes a few seconds to measure DR and they don’t post it. They do not allow comments because real listeners would slaughter their web pages. They have carefully crafted a business that creates the illusion of high quality while selling a lot of brickwalled crap.

      They have silenced a large portion of the audio reviewers by paying them off (many reviewers receive money for legitimate music recommendations and, then, choose silence when it should be their turn to criticize hdtracks). On top of that, they use david chesky’s charisma and highly skilled sound engineering reputation in order to project an image of legitamacy before the audio reviewers’ eyes.

      Hdtrack sucks.

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