[Scott discusses the Beatles Remasters]
Critiquing the Beatles catalogue would be like critiquing Shakespeare or the Bible; it’s quite simply one of the most influential bodies of work ever created and we all have our most favorite components as well as those parts that we think aren’t so good, all of which have probably been discussed ad infinitum. So, with that in mind, when looking at the newly remastered Beatles’ discs, it is best we look at what is new.
First of all, the aspect of these reissues that people have most anxiously been awaiting: the sound. When I first heard they were going to be doing these remasters, I wondered about the necessity. Having grown up with the 1987 CD releases and, since my parents did not have an extensive Beatles record collection (unlike the parents of many in my generation), I always felt that the Beatles CDs sounded fine; better, in fact, than more recently recorded albums available on CD. U2’s Rattle & Hum, for example, recorded in 1988, one year after those original issues of the Beatles catalogue, always sounded far more in need of a remastering than the Beatles (still does). In short, I thought the complaints in quality were the result of audiophiles who, as Johnny Greenwood once put it, “desperately wanted music to sound as good to them as it did when they were fifteen.” Upon my purchase of the complete stereo remasters boxed set, I must say that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
First of all, a word on the process (a more detailed description of this can be found in the August 18 Rolling Stone featuring the cover story of ‘Why The Beatles broke up, sorry, couldn’t find a link to this); the idea was not to replicate the vinyl versions of the album but, rather, to create a sound as close to the original master tape as possible. Additionally, as mono was the dominant format at the time, with the exception of Help! and Rubber Soul which were both given stereo mixes by George Martin for the 1987 release, this is the first time any real attention has been given to the stereo mixes of most of the albums. The band’s first three albums benefit the most from this process and, as clichéd as it may sound, it is truly like hearing them again for the first time.
At a casual listen, the first thing that you will notice is that the songs sound louder, crisper and fuller; that, in itself, is a major improvement. But, for long time Beatles fans, the real treat will come when you put your headphones on and find yourself hearing instruments you’ve never heard before. The differences are subtle but, at the same time, undeniably noticeable. McCartney’s serpentine bass lines from “Please Please Me” to “Paperback Writer” to “Something” are more at the forefront than they’ve ever been and little things like Lennon’s vocal having a little extra growl make songs you’ve heard a million times sound brand new. On “I Saw Her Standing There”, it sounds like Harrison is IN THE ROOM with you on the guitar solo. On “Twist and Shout”, one of the finest vocal performances in rock, you can actually hear Lennon’s vocal chords shredding (proving that great minds think alike, Anthonly DeCurtis made this EXACT same observation in his review of the set). Rockers like “Paperback Writer”, “Helter Skelter”, “Back In The USSR” and “Revolution” sound like the monsters that they always should have been and, when you get to the final orchestral swell of “The End”, it is a damn near transcendent experience. The clarity on these recordings is so great that even the slight degradation in quality that comes from transferring the files to mp3 barely affects their quality.
In addition to the sound, the packaging is a treat as well; all albums contain, when applicable, the original liner notes (my favorite is from Please Please Me where a reviewer declares the Beatles the most interesting band “since the Shadows”), many of which were not even available on the 1987 releases, in addition to newly penned historical notes as well as ‘recording notes’ that track the growth of the Beatles recording process from two track on their earliest recordings to eight track on their final. Each CD contains a ‘mini-documentary’ (most are about 3 minutes) that is playable on your computer but, if you get the boxed set, it comes with a DVD which contains all the mini-docs that can be played individually or back-to-back.
The boxed set contains all 12 studio albums, the Yellow Submarine soundtrack (so now I finally have “Hey Bulldog” and “All Together Now” in my library) and the Past Masters, now combined into a two disc set (16 discs in all). They come in a wrap-around case with a slip cover which, in an age where most of us rip our audio to our computers or iPods, provides a convenient method of storage until you feel the need to break them out again. All in all, it’s well worth the price tag (somewhere between 170-180 dollars but, for me, once I’d traded in my old Beatles discs-and a few other less notable CDs and DVDs-gotten an additional 20% on my trade in and an additional 10% discount, I ended up paying about 60).
For the serious Beatles fan, you MUST have this; go buy it now. For the more casual fan, put it on your Christmas Wish List and, in the mean time, go pick up a couple of your favorite albums just to give it a listen (if you’re a hardcore audiophile, the mono albums are also available in a more expensive and limited boxed set).
And, for the record, my favorite Beatle is Ringo and my favorite album alternates between Revolver and The White Album but, depending on my mood, I just might choose A Hard Day’s Night over them all (the best of their early albums and, in my opinion, the first ‘true’ Beatles album).