Coming together - the Beatles re-mastered

It’s never easy to eat a huge slice of humble pie, especially when you’ve previously been so vociferous in your opinions, but I think that in my revision of views on the Beatles re-mastering, a particularly large slice is about to be served up, and, maybe even enjoyed, because to be fair, I’m happy to be proved wrong.

It was easy to be initially cynical about the whole scheme, especially given that we live in a digital age where the album, as a concept and a medium is losing ground to the method of merely picking and choosing an MP3 file from a long list, and my view, almost a real fear, was that these re-masters would swiftly be swept under the carpet, shedding, in their turn, the impact that their re-issuing deserves.

There was also the uncertainty of how they would fare under the re-mastering scalpel. We’re so used to the sound of the 1987 mastering and in two cases (Rubber Soul & Help!) remixes, that any change in sonic quality is going to sound like a revelation, and in the case of the first four albums, now available in stereo for the first time in 22 years, a completely different record.

The dangers of too much remastering

It could so easily have been the case, that an indifferent or hamfisted job would have given the music the blank stare of a Botox devotee, devoid of expression and emotion, with the warmth stripped away and a wind-tunnel, cleaned up, effect left in its place. Even worse, an over-analytical re-mastering would have exposed every flaw, every fault in the recordings, aiming the focus squarely on the pitfalls, and by-passing the quality of the music within.

So when the 14 albums arrived here this morning – 1988’s PastMasters 1 & 2 has also been given the same treatment, there was a definite feeling of bated breath. First impressions, though, are good – no we didn’t get the boxed set, but we did get the 14 individually, and mercifully, in the correct packaging – no horrid white promo covers.

It’s obvious that time and thought has been put into the look of the product. Whereas the 1987 issue had badly re-produced original artwork and little else, the 2009 issue features extended booklets, rare photographs, recording notes, a mini documentary on each album and even the original vinyl label artwork appropriate to each album’s first release on the CD.

This looks, and feels, like a high-quality issue, and indeed, interest here has been rather keen, with each album fingered over, poked, prodded and looked at from every angle. So far so good, but what lies inside?

Seeing as this arduous task has fallen on my shoulders I started with my favourite album – Beatles For Sale. Flip onto what should be side 2, select track 11, Every Little Thing, two minutes and four second sof proto-Byrds chiming loveliness and harmonies and push the magic button.

Chiming Rickenbackers
It is, quite simply, glorious. All the warmth of your original vinyl is there, but with a crisp, solid bite that was missing from the previous release. When John Lennon sings ‘When I’m with her I’m happy’ I just want to roll over and kick my legs in the air, Rickenbackers chime and all’s well with the world.

This is the aural equivalent of being the kid in the candy store, it’s easy to go for my favourites – Rain, Yes It Is, If I Needed Someone but even tracks that I’d never really rated like Your Mother Should Know, Savoy Truffle and even, God help me, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer seem to take on new life and immediacy.

Chris, aged six...
All of a sudden I’m six and I’ve got my Dad’s battered to hell copy of Beatles For Sale (in a A Hard Day’s Night sleeve!) and I’m loving every second of what I’m hearing. That battered copy started a lifetime of love for The Beatles’ music (and music in general) and with this re-mastering it’s as if it’s all been leading up to this point.

Falling back to earth for a second, it’s time to discuss how these are being marketed. Today sees the release of two boxed sets – aimed squarely at the collector, both with a £170 price tag. One is the stereo set I have in front of me, the other is the mono re-issues of all the albums, plus the original 1965 mixes of Help! and Rubber Soul, which were substituted for the 1987 re-mastering.

If you know your Beatles mythology, the Rubber Soul mix is likely to be the fabled ‘loud cut’ mix, which is – allegedly – the best one available.

Sadly the mono re-issues aren’t available for the time being, and hopefully EMI will relent in the near future and press the LP’s with both sets of mixes back to back. This isn’t the time or place to go into that now, and it’s really a case of 'watch this space and keep your fingers crossed'.

In the meantime though, there’s more than enough to be getting on with here, and I have a sneaking suspicion what I’m going to be listening to tonight.

As the man said, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all”. Anyone for more pie?