Let’s take a look at
what we know about those ace remasters, shall we?
By Fred Mills
Beatles completists have begun to queue in anticipation of tomorrow’s
(Dec. 8) release of the remastered Beatles back catalog in digital format, as an
Apple-shaped USB device, although there’s a good chance that if you didn’t
preorder it you’re out of luck for now: the limited edition (30,000 units
worldwide) is currently showing as being on back order at most online
retailers, such as Amazon, which indicates customers can “sign up to be
notified” when it becomes available.
So we thought this was a good opportunity to revisit those
remasters via Blurt editor A.D. Amorosi’s September overview, which is
republished below. Happy holiday shopping!
Meanwhile, it was reported late last week that a small,
maverick minded website called BlueBeat.com has been selling Beatles MP3s
despite the fact that Apple has not licensed individual tracks for sale on
iTunes, Amazon or other digital music portals. As a result, EMI has filed for
copyright infringement against BlueBeat’s partent company, Media Rights
Technologies. Read the background story here.
THE BEATLES REMASTERS
BY A.D. AMOROSI
The Beatles thing is a lot to get through if you let it; the
televised network interviews you knew would come (who knew Mary Hart was so
close to them in the day?); the utter creepiness of the The Beatles: Rock Band video game (what happened to Ringo’s nose?)
and its ad campaign (a digitally enhanced furriness added to Lennon’s beard
that you’d never expect); the rush of good feelings warranted and unwarranted.
There’s the technology of engineers at EMI’s Abbey Road
Studios sitting down for four years with vintage studio equipment, 24 bit 192
kHz resolution via a Prism A-D converters and the ideas behind what would stay
(bum notes, microphone vocal pops) and what would be cleaned up (bad edits) so
to keep the original dynamics of the original analog recordings.
After that though, the 12 Beatles albums in stereo, the Magical Mystery Tour LP and the Past
Masters Vol. I and II combined as one title (along with each CD’s enhanced
content (save on Past Masters)
featuring documentaries, photos and related album art; all compiled onto a
single DVD if you purchase the stereo box), is what I sat down with.
Before that, though, is where the process starts-
remembering as much of the music as you could before THE BOX.
The crackle and pop of vinyl albums and singles, the din of lousily mastered
first pressing CDs: I checked these things for myself. At that point in the
listening (months ago, when THE BOX became, finally, THE REALITY) is where the
joy started: this is how we know these songs for however long we’ve been here.
And radio – don’t forget AM (if you’re over 30) and FM. And television. It
keeps going. It does. You can’t avoid that you know “Norwegian Wood,” “Every
Little Thing,” or “Helter Skelter” beyond the past week or so.
These songs were the personal soundtrack to sex, violence,
laughs and so many more occurrences, you’d had to have felt them a first time
(or hundred) to feel them anew now.
That said, there’s not one aspect – save for the real time
memories connected with the originals – of hearing every new track from every
new CD from the heavy kinda-Velcro-ed BOX that isn’t a more dubious, depth
defying sonic experience.
From Please Please Me,
not only does Lennon’s infamous first-take-last take on “Twist and Shout” reveal
every polyp scratching breath; the entirety of the production now feels as
urgent and teen-incendiary as it was in 1963 (not that I’d know), from the kick
of “I Saw Her Standing There” to the bossa’s bounce of “P.S. I Love You.” The
same can be said of the covers-laden With
The Beatles for sure, but the punch-and-rush away of a re-mastered “I Wanna
Be Your Man” and it descending chords’ crunch can’t be overstated.
A Hard Day’s Night,
truly my first fave of the Fab Four, pulled me in in a fashion I can’t quite
comprehend. “I Should Have Known Better”‘s newly heard Lennon seems more
pulsating than the past, his voice more yearning for me to get to him. Meanwhile, the folk-ish “I’ll Cry Instead”
portrays a rougher past (musically, personally) than Merseybeat might have and
the heavy blues in McCartney’s voice on “Can’t Buy Me Love” isn’t so far away
anymore; not something you knew would happen because you have the later albums
The transition and sophistication of songwriting, singing
and playing – to say nothing of arranging – can be more richly realized in
re-hearing Help and Rubber Soul. Though the previous effort
pops while Paul does “The Night Before” and “Another Girl,” – a deepness in his
voice that rumbles more at present – the latter CD reveals the leaping
harmonies of “You Won’t See Me,” the rhythmic heft of “Drive My Car” and
Harrison’s Byrds-ian jangle for if “If I Needed Someone” finally to its fullest
effect. “Taxman” sounds greasier and more galling. Starr’s sticks on “Good Day
Sunshine” seem to tap dance. There’s a riff-and-rhythm roughness to “I Want To
Tell You” only vaguely hinted at on the original. The brass on “Got to Get You
into My Life” has balls and “Tomorrow Never Knows” is as succulent a stoner
symphony as you knew it could be.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour?
You can sense the Mellotron-tracked whistle and innovation
that went into “Strawberry Fields Forever” – the jazz of its drumming, the lope
of its bass. It’s sexier than I remember it. So is the ballad-that-bloops “The
Fool on the Hill.” Though its carnival environ comes first, this hilly goofball
has needs and a plaintive Paul’s yearning ache comes across greater with this
master. Even the nasty “I Am The Walrus” sounds more kitten-ish than nasty now.
Is THE BOX getting me horny after this many hours listening?
Sgt. Pepper, for
all its magic, always sounded as if had thudded on CD; flat-lined in its hope
for the grandeur. Yet, from the slap of its title song to the bludgeoning slam
and echoing hollow of “A Day in the Life” and all the sinewy orchestration in
between: I could write as much as I have already on the innovation of this
remaster. Leave it at this: Sgt. Pepper sounds fresh, new, now. If Justin
Timberlake or MGMT or King of Leon or Maxwell or Calvin Harris did these songs
it wouldn’t sound newer.
The Beatles – or
rather The White Album – was my true
test. Would one of my five favorite rock albums of all time prove better than
the vinyl version (the CDs are trebly, terrible and thin, so…)? The answer is
yes. But not as effortlessly as Sgt.
Pepper. Every voice sounds realer here – the high squeaking Lennon on “Dear
Prudence” and his more ruminatively insular “Julia”; the playful yodel-y Paul
of “I Will” and his screechy deep “Back in the U.S.S.R”; the glistening nasal
Harrison of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” This master shows and sounds off
the Beatles’ solo vocal prowess like nothing else. No wonder these guys went
off on their own. They could make a goldmine.
The same can be heard within the silken degrees of Abbey
Road and the more natural parts of Let It Be. The shunt-dun-din-delin-din
of “Come Together”‘s guitar is the glue that binds its bass line to the voice.
You may think the Lennon-McCartney vocal teaming is great. But it’s here that
you feel the harmony, get what being a band is all about without having to see
it in a video game. “Here Comes The Sun” is fresh and airy, as is the rush of
harmonies of “You Never Give Me Your Money.” Let It Be? Paul’s hopeful haunted vocals throughout and his
interplay with the piano is rich and effortless. This is the blues I mentioned
earlier – “I’ve Got a Feeling” – with a crushing guitar ascension that could’ve
made these guys into Cream before Cream barely got of the ground if they’d
bothered. You finally hear the progression from 1963 to 1969. You get why he
pushed for this recording even if bringing in Spector (not his idea) made these
songs unnecessarily sweeter.
The Past Masters‘
mish-mash finally, in this realm, sounds connected with the background voices
on the dear and playful “Love Me Do” – it’s nearly worth buying the entire box
for, were these CDs not sold separately.
Worth every penny just for re-lightening the memory banks.
Worth double for making bright the darkness cast upon the
reed-thin original CDs.
Worth triple for anyone who never got what the Beatles meant
to their generation and every one that followed.