I’m pretty unshockable when it comes to using super-heavy compression as a creative
tool, whether to completely change the character of individual channels or to give bussed
signals that exhilarating ‘everything fighting everything else’ effect that’s graced
many a rock freak-out. But, try as I might, I just can’t warm to the dynamics processing
in this particular mix, because it feels to me like it’s being used as some kind of
shortcut, to avoid actually balancing the mix sensibly.
Take the first chorus,
for instance. For a start, the drums just feel too loud to me compared with the rest of
the band, so although the hurricane-force compression is able to drag the piano and organ
up by their bootstraps between the drum peaks, the overall texture ends up lacking
harmonic warmth. Into the bargain, you get rather unmusical side-effects on the drums
themselves, such as small elements of the drum/percussion periodically taking startling
leaps forward in the balance — for example, the hi-hat at 1:41 and the tambourine at
Then there’s the vocal. While this is, for the most part, loud enough
to stay up front (by virtue of ducking the rest of the instruments via the
master-channel’s bus compressor, presumably), there are times when its balance is
unstable enough that it detracts from the phrasing of Rebecca Ferguson’s performance.
Check out the first two syllables of “no money” in the first chorus, for example,
which suddenly seem to submerge (perhaps on account of the loud tom hit there), while the
third whooshes out at you inexplicably — just one of many examples where the vocal
levels are pumped counter-intuitively, somehow. And then there are other moments (such as
during the little middle-section at 2:02-2:10) where the vocal pushes the rest of the
arrangement too far into the background instead — the way the piano/Hammond parts swell
up between “what if that day don’t come” and “I need love” gives a sense of just
how much gain-surfing is going on here.
So, overall, I reckon there are better
records than this to reference if you’re a fan of heavily squashed sonics as an artistic
statement. Maybe try something like Michael Brauer’s mix for James Morrison’s ‘One
Last Chance’, say, which has enough compression to give anyone a nosebleed, but still
retains a rock-solid balance.
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