Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review: 50th Anniversary Edition of The Rolling Stones''Their Satanic Majesties Request'

In his liner notes to last year’s Rolling Stones in Mono box set, David Fricke wrote that Their Satanic Majesties Request “is no one’s favorite Rolling Stones album of the 1960s.” Loyal Psychobabble readers know that I take great issue with that conclusion. Not only is the Stones’ one concentrated trip into dizzying psychedelia my favorite Rolling Stones album of the 1960s, but it is also my favorite Rolling Stones album, period. I find it endlessly more alluring than the album to which it is endlessly compared: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I do not see it as an aberration as so many critics do. I do not dismiss it as nothing more than a stepping stone to the Stones’ “peak” period of 1968-1972. I see it as the peak.

If Fricke had done a little research, he might have concluded that I’m not completely alone in this opinion (one of my favorite defenses of the album is a blog comment left by Captain Sensible of my favorite punk band, The Damned). Still, it is not a particularly popular opinion, so when I saw the press release for a multi-disc, fiftieth anniversary edition of Their Satanic Majesties Request, I literally gasped. My delight turned to disappointment when I saw that the four-disc package was to contain remasters of the original stereo and mono mixes spread over two LPs and two hybrid SACD/CDs and nothing else. This struck me as a major missed opportunity considering how much fascinating material could have been appended to this set. There are a few outtakes, such as the winding instrumental listed on bootlegs as “5 Part Jam”, the Procol Harum-esque “Majesty Honky Tonk”, and the bluesy (though less interesting) “Gold Painted Nails”. The Satanic sessions also produced such interesting items as takes that really showcase the Mellotron in “Citadel” and “2000 Light Years from Home”, early acoustic takes of “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Child of the Moon” (though some estimates place these tracks in the Beggars Banquet era), and most revelatory of all, the fifteen-minute jam that was ultimately edited down to create the two versions of “Sing This All Together” on the completed album. The period single “We Love You” b/w “Dandelion” and its sundry sessions and alternates (including the famed “Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Blue” demo of “Dandelion”) could have also found a place in a truly deluxe Satanic Majesties Request.

That is not the edition we received though, so let’s look at what is here instead of what isn’t. Mastering was not performed through an analog process but with Direct Stream Digital, which is very faithful as far as digital processes go. Compared to 1967 stereo vinyl and 2002 stereo SACD/CD release, this remaster is louder though not brick walled, with pleasing high ends and much more dynamic bass. That bass could get a tad overpowering at times on punchier tracks such as Citadel” and 2000 Man”, but it sounds good overall and didn’t give me a headache. To my naked ear, the mono vinyl sounds identical to the one included in the Rolling Stones in Mono set so I’ll assume that the CDs are the same too.

The heavy-duty packaging is a major improvement over any version of Satanic Majesties since the original release. This fiftieth anniversary edition is the first since the mid-seventies to restore the 3D, lenticular cover, though the image is slightly bigger yet also slightly cropped compared to the original. While the low-quality, misproportioned, 2D cover included in The Rolling Stones in Mono held a plain, white inner sleeve, the deluxe set reproduces the clouds-on-a-red background sleeve of the original release for the mono LP and a blue version similar to the front-cover border for the stereo disc. Unfortunately, it’s a tight fit and a bit of a chore to get the vinyl in and out of the sleeves.

The big, unexpected boon of this set is Rob Bowman’s essay in the booklet slipped inside the gatefold. There are no apologies in this essay. No dismissals. Bowman treats Their Satanic Majesties Request like the psychedelic royalty it is, providing history, a track-by-track analysis, and some truly valuable nuggets of trivia that answered some of my own questions about the pinging sounds on Citadel”, the weird backing vocals on Shes a Rainbow and other behind-the-scenes details. I could read an entire book of this stuff (get cracking, Rob). The booklet also contains some very groovy photos of the Stones trying on their wizard costumes and constructing the fantasy tableau on the front cover.

So while this might not be ideal as a deluxe edition of Their Satanic Majesties Request, its a very nice fiftieth anniversary re-release, and really, Im just grateful that this thing exists at all. Spotlighting Their Satanic Majesties Request with any kind of special edition will hopefully draw more attention to it, win some new fans, and make opinions like David Fricke’s even more inaccurate and irrelevant.
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