Wednesday, May 31, 2017

First impressions: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Super Deluxe Edition

This was a great Memorial Day Weekend for American Beatles fans. Not only did last Friday mark the arrival of the big Sgt. Pepper box, but most of us had an extra day off to enjoy it.

Even with the extra, time, though, I haven't quite made it to the video content. However, I have had a good listen to the outtakes disks and the glorious new remix.

The new mix was the first thing I played, literally out of the box. It sounded jaw-droppingly fantastic coming through the living room speakers. And loud! The opening track rocks and rocks hard, with booming drums and dirty, overdriven guitars. But, even with all that power and volume, there is definition and clarity to the vocals and instruments and full range of dynamics. The best thing about that first listen, though, was my teenage daughter sitting across the room from me on the couch, singing along with all the lyrics of the opening tune and even scatting its French horn parts. I raised her right.

I need, and want to, listen more. Especially with headphones. But I immediately loved what I heard and want the rest of the Beatles catalog re-mastered, stat. More comparison with the album's older mixes will be necessary, but I think Giles Martin did a great job of creating a best-of-both world's Pepper that incorporates everything great about the mono mix but places it in stereo in best-ever sound, thanks to his ability to go back to the original, unbounced, four-track master tapes.

The outtakes are fantastic, too. So much of this is new to us, not even found on bootlegs. I loved hearing the Beatle chatter before, during and after takes of the songs, and hearing all the stripped down arrangements and early recordings. I was struck by the similarity between the abandoned, final "hummed" chord from "A Day in the Life" to "Our Prayer" from the Beach Boys' Smile.

The hardcover book also is extremely well done, featuring detailed notes by Kevin Howlett on the songs and recording sessions, a look back on the 1960s underground in Britain by Joe Boyd, great photos and more.

The "Mr, Kite" poster and album promo poster are nice extras. Plus, we still get the sheet of paper cutouts, just like with the original.

The only thing missing, in my opinion, are a selection of original home demo tracks (even John's demos for "Strawberry Fields" included in the Anthology release get left out) and the never-heard-outside-the-confines of EMI "Carnival of Light," a free-form experimental piece recorded for "The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave," held in London's Round House on Jan. 5, 1967.  A comprehensive historical box should include such odds and ends. I don't know where else Apple would put them, now.

Still, that's a small complaint when you consider the vast richness of this set. I'm excited for whatever comes next.

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