Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Review: 'Beatles 1+'

From the very beginning of their career, The Beatles were a multi-media project. Sure, Elvis’s hips rattled small screen variety shows and corny matinee features and The Monkees had their own weekly series and starred in a fabulously avant garde big screen flop, but The Beatles not only appeared on TV with great regularity and variety (let’s not forget their charmingly cheesy cartoon alter-egos that mesmerized kids every Saturday morning from 1966 to 1967), but they made their own promo videos even before “The Monkees” went on the air, appeared in live action and animated feature films, often allowed cameras to capture their concert and studio work, and even recorded on live TV for an international audience. With so much material, nearly every one of the whopping 28 number one hits they scored in the UK and US has its very own visual document.

The Beatles’ latest multi-media project groups those videos—and more on a limited deluxe edition—with Giles’s Martin’s stereo remix of the 2000 compilation Beatles 1. The videos provide a nifty and swift romp through the Beatlestory, as we see them shake stages and rooftops, mime in absurd circumstances that find Ringo working an exercise bike instead of a set of Ludwigs and George pretending to sing into a punching bag, float through London on an acid cloud, transform into cartoon characters adrift on a yellow submarine, and make goo goo eyes at their wives.

Most of this material has already been available to anyone who owns the old Beatles Anthology DVD or has bookmarked YouTube, so the big news is the new HD restoration. Quite a bit of expectation management is necessary to appreciate the visual quality since a lot of these clips are upscaled from video. The filmed clips are the ones captured at their native frame rates, and some of them are excessively grainy and soft. However, if you A/B them against the versions that appeared on The Beatles Anthology discs, you can see how much improvement went into each clip, and some of them are genuinely dazzling, particularly the McCartney-directed “Hello, Goodbye” video in which the guys’ Sgt. Pepper’s costumes are so vivid you’ll think a tab of acid was included as a blu-ray bonus. I noticed neither scratches nor blemishes— neither irritating NR nor edge enhancement.

The major downside of this shuffling of upscaled videos and true film clips is that your blu-ray player will have to constantly adjust to the different frame rates, which can mean extended wait periods between tracks. My player got over-taxed by “Lady Madonna”, and I had to run a cleaning disc through it to get it back in fighting condition again.

Giles Martin’s remixes won’t necessarily box your ears either. Don’t expect to hear new sounds not present in the original mixes or the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songtrack remix. However, playing these remixes against the originals does reveal better balance and more forceful sound without excessive loudness.  Martin clearly approached these old recordings with a light hand out of respect for recordings that really didn’t need to be monkeyed with.

Bonuses on the video discs include introductions for “Penny Lane”, “Hello, Goodbye”, “Hey Jude”, and “Get Back” (and “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the limited edition disc) from Ringo that mostly consist of laughing, goofy descriptions of what’s happening on screen, and peace-sign flashing. He provides the most detail about the rooftop concert. Paul McCartney’s commentaries over all those videos (except “Get Back”) are considerably more detailed. He doesn’t spill anything revelatory, though it’s amusing to hear him comment on the various people in the “Hey Jude” chorus. The extra disc included in the limited deluxe edition, however, is far more than a nifty bonus. With clips for such essential tracks as “Strawberry Fields Forever” (perhaps the most beautiful restoration of all), “Revolution”, “A Day in the Life”, and “Rain”, and relative oddities such as “Hey Bulldog”, this disc really rounds out the story with some of the very, very best Beatles songs. It also provides opportunities to see the band working in the studio, getting really weird, and hanging out with Mike Nesmith that the main disc does not.
Get Beatles 1+ in various formats on Amazon.com here:

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