Friday, September 11, 2009
Review: The Beatles In Mono Box Set
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the actual Beatles music, the real reason anyone cared about my opinion this week. To put it into perspective: Like any honest music fan, I consider the Beatles to be one of the most important rock bands to ever come down the pike. But I’m not an obsessive by any stretch of the imagination. I have no idea how the “mono single mix” of “Help!” differs from the “stereo album version,” for instance. (Apparently, John sings a different word in one spot. Yes, I looked it up.) I never heard the original vinyl releases, so I have no ties—nostalgic or other—to the way these albums were “supposed” to sound. Heck, I don’t even own all the 1987 CDs… though I do have all the “essentials” (Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, and so on).
To be bluntly honest, I made my decision to buy The Beatles In Mono box set—as opposed to the stereo set—for one very simple reason: Availability. There are no plans to cease production on the stereo box, or any of the individual (also stereo) discs, whereas The Beatles In Mono is extremely limited. (We’re talking $350 on eBay limited.) And there is no way to buy any of the single albums in mono, either: You want that original sound, you cough up the big modern bucks. I hope EMI realizes the error of their ways and eventually makes these versions easily available—not because I want to devalue my set, but because of the blunt, nostalgia-free honesty of the following statement:
The Beatles In Mono is the definitive way to hear The Beatles. Case closed.
And I’m not even talking about the early albums, obviously mixed for mono all along. Classics like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sound more alive, more vibrant, more in your face in these mono renditions. It’s not just the stellar remastering job, although I can’t praise it enough: Crystal-clear harmonies, deep bass, the heavy “thunk” of drums, all with albums recorded on 2- and 4-track machines over 40 years ago. You can hear the same improvements in stereo as well, but the extreme spacing so common in the Sixties—vocals on one side, drums on the other—does the music no favors when heard through modern ears.
No such problems with mono. “Yesterday,” a chestnut bordering on cliché, suddenly sounds revolutionary, like Paul is singing two feet away from you. When the drums enter on “Ticket To Ride,” they now hit like a freight train. “Revolution” is nasty and raw, “Got To Get You Into My Life” wonderfully funky, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” even more trippy… You get the idea.
Throw in the amazing packaging—mini-album replicas complete with the original packaging, right down to Sgt. Pepper’s cutouts, White Album photos, and replicas of the paper sleeves—and you have a box set bordering on a work of art. Does it live up to the months of hype and speculation? You bet. Does it exceed expectations? Shockingly, it just might.
The Beatles. Never bet against ‘em.