Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Beatlemania Remastered - Part Two

See Part One for the introduction. And now, the individual reviews:

Please Please Me

Abbey Road had four-track recording capabilities, but all The Beatles were allowed to use was lousy two-track -- hence the binaural stereo soundscape. And some of the selections on this album were intended only as singles when the Fab Four laid them down in the studio: recorded in two-track to get a good balance on the mono mix used for the singles. In those days, recordings intended for singles would often be mixed and mastered in mono and then the multi-track session tapes required to make a stereo mix would be reused, discarded, lost, or destroyed. If the time came for those singles to reappear on a stereo album, the stereo pressings of the album would use alternate takes, fake stereo versions, or true stereo mixes that were somehow pieced together from whatever tapes remained. The Beatles were not immune to this! Thus, the stereo edition of their first album included fake stereo versions of the songs from their first EMI single, "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You." Mercifully, the new CD includes these tracks in mono. But the album's title track was not spared. Mind you, the song "Please Please Me" does not appear in a fake stereo mix. It's true stereo, alright, but based on an inferior alternate take (in which there is a painfully obvious lyrical flub), with the harmonica passages cut-and-pasted from the mono version into the right channel. This is the atrocity I used to hear on oldies radio and I couldn't stand it as a teenager! I haven't grown any fonder of it now; if you want the correct version (the mono!) in clear sound quality, it's most readily available on the mono box set or the ubiquitous 1962-1966 CD comp from 1993.

Another issue with the Please Please Me album is that most of it was recorded in a marathon style throughout a single day. The remastering makes it clear just how raw The Beatles' voices were during these sessions, and did I mention that John had a bad cold? On the remaster of "Twist and Shout," you can hear how much John struggled, both because of his cold and because it was the last song they recorded that day.

So is this remaster too much of a good thing? Not entirely. Primitive though the mixes may be, the level of detail in the sound allows you to hear just how skilled these guys were as musicians even in this early stage. And the rawness is strangely charming, like you're at a show and these guys have been singing and playing non-stop all night long. Also, these mixes have not been soaked in echo like a lot of the US releases of the early Beatles, so they're crisper than what many of us Americans are used to hearing. You get to hear that less really is more on "There's A Place," and you can appreciate just how hard Ringo could rock (even as a singer!) on "Boys." "P.S. I Love You" is simply a revelation, with the distinct percussion parts finally being discernible from each other (Ringo was left to shake maracas while session man Andy White took over the drums).

The final analysis: If you love the early Beatles, you should get this remaster. If the middle or later Beatles are more your bag, you might not even like this album, so hearing it in remastered form probably won't change your feelings.

A Hard Day's Night

Well, this is the ultimate Beatlemania album, isn't it? But does the remaster do it justice? Let me see if I can answer that question in a classy, dignified manner.


Okay, I tried to contain my enthusiasm, but this remaster really is that good. The 1987 CD version sounded lifeless, and even the good stereo remasters of certain tracks on 1962-1966 didn't bring those tunes to life as much as this new CD does. The boys were now recording on four-track and could make more sophisticated records with more careful overdubs and more nuanced stereo mixes -- no binaural here. Listen to John and Paul's thoughtfully-layered vocals on the title track; Ringo's swinging drumming on "Can't Buy Me Love"; George's textured guitar playing on practically every selection. These cuts happened to be well-recorded by the standards of the time; while this remastered version does expose a few inherent flaws (the guitars on "I'll Be Back" never did sound right anyway), it mostly brings out the best in this album. "Tell Me Why," "Any Time At All," and "Things We Said Today" just leap out of the speakers, with both the fun and drama of those songs brought to the fore. And I never realized just how funky "You Can't Do That" was until I heard it here.

I should note that the stereo version of the album is materially different from the mono. You'll notice that the opening harmonica passage on the stereo "I Should Have Known Better" is not as smoothly played as it is on the mono (although it's a great song and recording either way). "If I Fell" has differences in the vocals and if you ask me, the vocals on the mono version are superior, though in both versions Paul's voice breaks on the word "vain" (if McCartney had a hard time hitting that note, you know it's a tough note to hit!). If you're trying to be a completist, you'll need the mono version of this album as well as the stereo.

The final analysis: You're reading this because you like The Beatles, right? Anyone who likes The Beatles should own this CD.

Beatles For Sale

This is probably The Beatles' most maligned album, and it's true that no amount of remastering will make "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party" less depressing or turn Ringo's butchering of "Honey Don't" into a tour de force. But it's still a Beatles album, so it still contains some classics and the 1987 reissue didn't present them in the best light.

Sometimes the stereo mixes on this album are just not as thoughtful as they were on A Hard Day's Night. It's clear in many cases that their main objective with four-track was to have more flexibility in the recording and mixing processes, not to create balanced stereo mixes. Still, hearing "No Reply" in crystal-clear stereo really brings out the darkness of the arrangement, the morbid piano chords and cymbal crashes jumping at you with dramatic intent. "I'll Follow The Sun" sounds warm and spacious, while a seeming throwaway like "Mr. Moonlight" becomes a multi-dimensional listening experience.

"Eight Days A Week" is a delight here. Squashed and warped on the 1987 reissue, it has unprecedented breathing room on this remaster, allowing you to hear how closely twined John and Paul's voices are on this brilliant co-lead vocal.

Then again, "I'm A Loser" just sounds too clean and, as a result, soft. I'm not about to lay down the cash for that mono box set, so the 1987 mono will have to suffice -- it's listenable and unlike the stereo remaster, it has teeth. "Every Little Thing" is also too pristinely remastered, to the point that the vocals hit me right in the head, and not in a good way. The stereo version on The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2 has minor flaws, but it's easier on my ears.

The final analysis: Since it is one of their least celebrated albums, you have to really like it (or at least some of it) in order to consider this remaster a worthwhile purchase. It's worth buying if you really do care that deeply about the content of this album; otherwise, you can live without it.

If you have any comments about these or the other new Beatle remasters, please share them -- but please be civil. Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
The best way to follow ONA: become a fan of the new Facebook page.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.