Tuesday, 21 January 2020

"The Beatles: Anniversary 3CD Edition 2018" aka "The White Album" by THE BEATLES – Studio Double-Album Originally from November 1968 (UK and (USA) on Apple Records Reissued 2018 As "The Beatles And Esher Demos" - featuring Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr with George Martin and Chris Thomas (Production), Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott (Engineers) and guests Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Chris Thomas and Mal Evans (30 November 2018 UK Apple/Universal Reissue with 27 Previously Unreleased 1968 Demo Tracks – Giles Martin, Sam Okell, Miles Showell and Others Remix and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Don't Pass Me By..."

Like so many fab-four obsessive hairy-men of a certain age, I've been digging this humungous 2018 reissue campaign for "The Beatles" – their fantastical, trashy, half-genius, half-indulgent knob 1968 2LP urge splurge - commonly known of course as 'The White Album'.

First up - on the audio front - this wee 2018 remix/remaster beastie knocks spots off what went before in my very blotted jotter and the 27 Previously Unreleased Demos done at George Harrison's house in Esher, Surrey in May 1968 just days before sessions at Abbey Road started - throw up an amazing Beatles-unplugged insight into their recording/thought processes of the time. We're finally offered actual White Album outakes in the guise of "Not Guilty" and "What's The New Mary Jane" and even given demos of Harrison's "Sour Milk Sea" which he gave to Jackie Lomax alongside "Not Guilty" and "Circles" – tunes George would return to in his own solo career in 1979 and 1982 (the "George Harrison" and "Gone Troppo" LPs). My only disappointment and misgiving is with the 'Anniversary 3CD Edition' variant and its rather boring and crappy-feel packaging that I wished Apple had pushed the repro boat out on a little (more of that later happy campers). But let's focus of what is here - time for Dear Prudence, Rocky Raccoon, Mother Superior jumping the gun and Sadie who may or may not be alluring...

UK released 30 November 2018 - "The Beatles And Esher Demos" by THE BEATLES on Apple/Universal 0602567571339 (Barcode 602567571339) is a 3CD Reissue and Remaster of the 1968 STEREO vinyl double-album "The Beatles" (commonly known as "The White Album") with an additional and Previously Unreleased 27 Bonus Demo Tracks known as "Esher Demos". The 3CD variant plays out as follows:

CD1 "The Beatles" (Side 1 and 2 - 46:28 minutes):
1. Back In The U.S.S.R [Side 1]
2. Dear Prudence
3. Glass Onion
4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
5. Wild Honey Pie
6. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
9. Martha My Dear [Side 2]
10. I'm So Tired
11. Blackbird
12. Piggies
13. Rocky Raccoon
14. Don't Pass Me By
15. Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
16. I Will
17. Julia

CD2 "The Beatles" (Sides 3 and 4 - 47:19 minutes):
1. Birthday [Side 3]
2. Yer Blues
3. Mother Nature's Son
4. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
5. Sexy Sadie
6. Helter Skelter
7. Long, Long, Long
8. Revolution 1 [Side 4]
9. Honey Pie
10. Savoy Truffle
11. Cry Baby Cry
12. Revolution 9
13. Good Night
All 30 tracks across both CDs are the double-album "The Beatles" - released 22 November 1968 in the UK on Apple Records PMC 7067-8 (Mono) and Apple PCS 7067-8 (Stereo) and 22 November 1968 in the USA on Apple Records SWBO 101 in Stereo only. Produced by GEORGE MARTIN and Engineered by Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott - all songs written by Lennon/McCartney except "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Piggies", "Long, Long, Long" and "Savoy Truffle" by George Harrison and "Don't Pass Me By" by Ringo Starr. It peaked at No. 1 on the LP charts in both the UK and USA enjoying eight and nine week runs (respectively) at the top.

CD3 "Esher Demos" (75:20 minutes):
1. Back In The U.S.S.R.
2. Dear Prudence
3. Glass Onion
4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
5. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
7. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
8. I'm So Tired
9. Blackbird
10. Piggies
11. Rocky Raccoon
12. Julia
13. Yer Blues
14. Mother Nature's Son
15. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
16. Sexy Sadie
17. Revolution
18. Honey Pie
19. Cry Baby Cry
20. Sour Milk Sea (Vocals: George Harrison)
21. Junk (Vocals Paul McCartney)
22. Child Of Nature (Vocals: John Lennon)
23. Circles (Vocals: George Harrison)
24. Mean Mr. Mustard (Vocals: John Lennon)
25. Polythene Pam (Vocals: John Lennon)
26. Not Guilty (Vocals Paul McCartney and John Lennon)
27. What's The New Mary Jane (Vocals: John Lennon)

I've had varying CD reissues of "The Beatles" before and almost all (apart from the gorgeous Japanese SHM-CD reissues) have been less than inspiring in the art department (unlike the epoch-impact we all felt when the original Apple 2LP set was released in November 1968). This 3CD variant I’m afraid feels like yet another compromise. The 24-page booklet has a "We, The Beatles" preamble by Paul McCartney, and "Introduction" by Giles Martin, liner notes by Kevin Howlett called "On The Road To The White Album" and further very illuminating notes on Esher Demos by KH towards the end culminating in the usual reissue credits (done in respectful conjunction with Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison). The chunky but hardly sturdy card digipak has two nods towards the original double - "The Beatles" embossed on the front and the foldout poster inside (pictures on one side, lyrics on the other). CD1 and CD2 have both sides of the Apple label logo, while CD3 sports a sort of acetate/demo variant (a nice touch). But the four uber-cool colour picture portraits of the dishevelled boys aren’t here as separate inserts - moved instead to inside the first flap of the digipak. It's also rather crudely entitled "The Beatles And Esher Demos" on the garish lettered spine while the sticker gives it a more accurate "The Beatles: Anniversary 3CD Edition". I can't help thinking that a card slipcase like the 2017 "Sgt. Peppers" reissue was the way to go here with booklet, poster and picture cards as separate inserts. But all of that goes out the window once you clap your weary lugs on the audio...

A whole team of people have handled the transfers and mastering – son of the original Producer George Martin GILES MARTIN has done the principal honours of Production alongside Engineers SAM OKELL (Mix), MILES SHOWELL (Stereo Mastering), MATTHEW COCKER (Transfers), JAMES CLARKE (Audio Restoration) and Assistants Matt Mysko, Stefano Civetta, Paul Pritchard and Greg McAlister. Some have complained of compression and I’d admit that at times the cleanliness of the sound is startling and even overpowering given five decades of hearing the notorious lo-fi that is the Stereo Mix. But I say cobblers to that – there is barely a moment across any of the sides where you don't hear something new and feel instinctively as you listen that serious work went into these transfers by a crew that cares and was meticulous. To the music...

From the moment you hear the sheer punch of the bass and drums after the jet sounds slide in on the Side 1 opener "Back In The U.S.S.R" and then the segued gorgeous acoustic guitars of "Dear Prudence" and Lennon’s voice so clear – you know you’re in the presence of a whole new thing. Never heard the white album like this. The Walrus Was Paul of "Glass Onion" sounds utterly transformed and even if it isn’t my fave of theirs – you can’t argue with the clarity of the acoustics on the acidic "Bungalow Bill". The spoken "ey-up" segue by Paul that usually starts "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is now at the end of "Bungalow Bill" so when you cue up "Guitar" – it goes straight into the song without it. More importantly - if ever a candidate for Audio Restoration Award of the Year was due – then it's on this layered baby. I've never heard Eric Clapton's guitar work or the too-dense mix feel and sound so good - and then the Side ends with the impossibly cool "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" – a titled suggested to John by George Martin from a newspaper article he was reading at the time.

Side 2 opens with "Martha My Dear" - Paul's piano parts clear as a bell (you can so hear his later Wings material in this song). Still can't make what the gibberish spoken at the end of "I'm So Tired" means but what a thrill to hear Macca's gorgeous "Blackbird" sounds so clear and present (it's an entirely solo entry, none of the other Beatles played on it). Again more Audio Awards but this time for a double-whammy - the harpsichord on Harrison's "Piggies" and the George Martin barrelhouse piano part on "Rocky Raccoon" both sounding all shiny like new diamonds. I've never had much truck with the throwaway "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" while "I Will" sounds like a precursor to McCartney's "Ram" album material. The side ends with Lennon's beautiful "Julia" - a tribute to his mum that includes a nod in the "ocean child" lyric to his lady - Yoko Ono.

A rocking "Birthday" kicks Side 3 into gear with guitars punching above their weight all of a sudden. In direct contrast to the light-hearted opener comes the heavy-heavy grunge attack of "Yes Blues" which even now in Beatles lore sounds like a Fab Sound from another planet (such a huge geetar sound). I've always loved Nilsson's smart cover of "Mother Nature's Son" on his third album "Harry" from July 1969 - but you can't beat the bird-chirping original where once again McCartney plays all instruments and is augmented only by session musicians playing complimentary horns (so sweet the sound). I never really rated "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" but this reissue wows on two fronts - the sonic blast of the finished album cut and the acoustic unplugged demo version over on CD3 – a deliciously different vibe that compliments. Legend has it that when The Beatles were in India seeking genuine spiritual enlightenment with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he apparently tried something on Mia Farrow that wasn't very enlightening and John saw the Bentley-driving guru's true colours for real. But I suspect with the 'bigger than Jesus' debacle fresh in mind - he changed his initial scathing song title of "Maharishi What Have You Done, You've Made A Fool Of Everyone" into the catchier "Sexy Sadie". While The Beatles do Nirvana scream of "Helter Skelter" still manages to sound so Tarantino frightening (even after 50 years), Harrison's "Long, Long, Long" is probably the song many will want most to not be muddled. But because of the way the vocals are so far back in the mix, I think it's improved for sure - but not nearly as starkly as the rest (shame that). Unfortunately for me, Side 4 is where The White Album falls apart completely - indulgent dross like the eight minutes of the Avant Garde "Revolution 9", the ambling strangely tuneless "Cry Baby Cry" and mediocre "Savoy Truffle" are only alleviated by the lush "Good Night" where Ringo gets to close proceedings with a 30-piece orchestra. Overall though, impressed is a good word to use. Which brings us to CD3 that for Beatles nutjobs like me represents eureka and a bore all in one 75:20 minutes love fest...

First up – the 27 previously unreleased cuts on CD3 were taped not as sloppy demos on some cassette but on George's professional four-track tape machine at his Surrey home in Esher – and in Stereo too – many with doubled-vocals and doubled acoustic guitars – giving them a muscle and audio whack that is startlingly good. As per Kevin Howlett's superb liner notes, typically it seems that The Beatles had inadvertently invented acoustic 'unplugged' in May 1968 in one afternoon when MTV would later claim that 'unplugged' moniker with so many artists in the 1990s. These demos (especially 20 to 27 not used on the released double-album) also present a 'what-if' moment for compulsive re-arrangers like moi (I get to remake Side 4 from them, but more of that later).

Of the 19 that made "The Beatles" - the three rockers "Back In The U.S.S.R", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Everybody's Got Something To Hide..." show up here as fabulous acoustic strummers. John's "Dear Prudence" sounds as beautiful as the finished album cut and McCartney's "Blackbird" without Brass and Chirping Birds is even prettier - both thankfully with gorgeous remastered Audio care of Giles Martin. For sure some of the tracks like "Julia" and "Honey Pie" begin to sound like curios that are pleasant and even boring. But overall, this is revelatory stuff.

Tracks 20 to 27 are the anomalies/outsiders - "Sour Milk Sea" is a Harrison song given to Jackie Lomax as an Apple 45, the lovely melody of "Junk" by Macca would show up on his "McCartney" debut LP in 1971, Lennon's "Child Of Nature" later morphed into "Jealous Guy" on his 1971 classic "Imagine" album, Harrison's "Circles" and "Not Guilty" also appeared in reused form on solo LPs - "George Harrison" in 1979 and "Gone Troppo" in 1982. John singing "Mean Mr. Mustard" followed by "Polythene Pam" would of course feature as part of the song-cycle on Side 2 of 1969's "Abbey Road" while "What's The New Mary Jane" (along with "Circles") are the two genuine White Album outakes rarely if ever heard. I kind of wish they done finished versions of "Not Guilty" and "What's The New Mary Jane" because they could have replaced some of the dross on Side 4 and made the whole double-album a commentary on the social scene of the day - giving "The Beatles" an overall theme - this is us and our world in 1968.

Whatever way you look at it and despite niggles over packaging - you'd have to call this 2018 reissue a winner - especially on that all-important audio front.

"Don't Pass Me By" Ringo sang on his lone song-contribution to the world's most famously down and dirty double-album. And after 50 years waiting for decent transfers in Stereo, you would have to say that the drummer with the natty moustache has finally nailed it...

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