Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: The Beatles’ 'U.S. Albums' Sampler

The twenty-five track U.S. Albums sampler features two tracks from each of the dozen musical discs included in box set and one from the narrative Beatles Story. Since this isn’t quite enough material to adequately assess a 275-track box set, I won’t pretend that this is a review of all thirteen CDs or their packaging (which is reportedly authentic right down to the mini-inner sleeves contained in the mini-LP covers). Making that ruse particularly difficult are the particular tracks on the 25-track sampler. The Beatles’ U.S. albums on Capitol differed from their U.K. ones on Parlophone in several ways. I’ll be detailing and assessing these differences all year long in Psychobabble’s new series Turn Left at Greenland, so I won’t get too specific here, but broadly, the track-lists were reordered and spread over nearly twice as many records as were released on Parlophone, and more relevant to this review, many of the stereo mixes in the U.S. differed from the U.K. ones. Songs only available to Capitol in mono were transformed into “fake stereo” mixes (meaning all the highs were equalized to one channel while the lows were pushed to the other channel in a poor simulation of stereo separation) and doused in echo. Super Deluxe Edition.com has been releasing some early reports on The U.S. Albums stating that these excessively echoed and fake stereo mixes would be replaced with the proper Parlophone ones from the 2009 stereo remasters. This is hard for me to confirm definitively since only one of the tracks that Capitol originally put out in fake stereo—“I Want to Hold Your Hand” from Meet the Beatles—is included on the sampler. I can confirm that this particular track is, indeed, in proper stereo and not fake stereo. This leads me to assume that Super Deluxe Editions.com’s reports are correct: the stereo tracks have, for the most part, just been ported over from the 2009 remasters. To my ears they do sound exactly the same. I cannot make a similar assessment regarding the mono tracks, because I don’t have 2009’s mono box, but since “She Loves You” is in mono on the stereo Past Masters and the U.S. Albums sampler, I can say that this one track sounds like the same remaster on both discs.

So the question is, what are you expecting from The U.S. Albums: the best sound available or authenticity? Folks who want the best sounding albums will probably do well to just stick with their 2009 Parlophone remasters (even as I personally feel that a couple of the Capitol track lists are stronger than their Parlophone counterparts). My guess is that the majority of people who’ll want the Capitol albums will want them because, like me, they are the albums they grew up with. They’ll want them to replace their scratchy old LPs, to recreate the experience of listening to them with clearer sound. They’ll want them to authentically recreate the experience of hearing The Beatles for the first time. Replacing those crappy, echoy fake stereo mixes with better quality ones messes with that authenticity.

Reportedly, differences in mixes that extend beyond fake stereo and excessive echo matters will be preserved on The U.S. Albums. I assume this means things like Paul’s false start on “I’m Looking Through You” from Capitol’s Rubber Soul and the different placement of George’s backwards guitar leads on “I’m Only Sleeping” from Yesterday… and Today. I can’t confirm this since neither of these tracks is on the sampler. One thing that is clear from the sampler is that the sound is an improvement over the two previous box sets of U.S. Beatles albums: The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 (2004) and The Capitol Albums Vol. 2 (2006). There is greater presence and depth on the sampler than on those sets. Paul’s bass is a sonic boom on the mono mix of “I Need You”.

So my apologies that this review isn’t as complete as I would have liked it to be. I’m sure there are other reviews by reviewers who actually got their hands on the whole set out there that provide more definitive assessments. You can get your hands on it from Amazon.com and make up your own mind. I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Update: For all you many, many folks who have questions I was not able to answer, Paul Sinclair now has the set and he's fielding reader questions in this post on Super Deluxe Edition.com.

These are the 25 tracks included on the sampler:

1.     I Want to Hold Your Hand (stereo)
2.     All My Loving (mono)
3.     Money (That’s What I Want) (mono)
4.     She Loves You (mono)
5.     If I Fell (stereo)
6.     And I Love Her (mono)
7.     Matchbox (stereo)
8.     Anytime at All (mono)
9.     A Hard Day’s Night- Their First Movie (stereo)
10. I’ll Be Back (mono)
11. Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby (stereo)
12. P.S. I Love You (mono)
13. Please Please Me (stereo)
14. Tell Me What You See (stereo)
15. Every Little Thing (mono)
16. Help! (stereo)
17. I Need You (mono)
18. In My Life (stereo)
19. You Won’t See Me (mono)
20. Drive My Car (stereo)
21. What Goes On (mono)
22. I Want to Tell You (stereo)
23. Here, There, and Everywhere (mono)
24. Rain (stereo)
25. Hey Jude (stereo)
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