Hate the idea of remixing the Beatles? Smacks to you of sacrilege? Then look away now – there is little for you in any of the variants of this new incarnation of Sgt. Pepper. Not even the 33 variously revealing, previously unreleased takes scattered across its formats will assuage you.
And yet it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling too protective of Pepper’s original stereo. Among aficionados it is no more widely loved than the stereo of Pink Floyd’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Abbey Road’s second-best coup/cock-up of that fecund year. The best you can say is that it is what it is – signed-off, historical – and that many of us grew up on it.
It’s harder still to deny that Giles (Son Of George) Martin’s new mix gets off to a flier – on CD and vinyl versions alike – with heavy oomph and immersiveness that adds much to the Pepper overture. All of the new mix’s strengths are writ large here. Ringo is restored. The voices feel ‘properly’ balanced and positioned. And in general, where there was whimsy (the bête noire of most Pepper agnostics) the power of solid drums and central voices irons it out. So if you’ve ever found Fixing A Hole or Lovely Rita more than faintly irking here’s a partial antidote. In fact, it’s only on A Day In The Life, where (as Giles Martin has conceded) the to-the-side voices added to the delicious disorientation, that you find yourself mourning aspects of the ’67 stereo, and that’s soon dispelled by the apocalyptic depth and resonance of that final chord.
One CD version of the new package offers the new mix plus a disc of outtakes – an alternative for each song, in order of recording – and stereo mixes of Strawberry Fields Forever and (all-new, benefiting from the discovery of a ‘lost’ 4-track of piano, harmonium and drum components, pre-bouncedown) of Penny Lane. It’s no slouch, but at the same time, pales rather in comparison with the premium CD box: 5 discs; 39 bonus tracks; impressive, multi-valenced book(let); plus slide-over lenticular (ie. 3D) sleeve/cover. It’s not cheap, but it may be the single most exciting Beatle product since Anthology 2.
Will it thrive or revive, as intended, in a world of swiping and streaming? It’s hard to say. Sonic fashions change and nothing is futureproof; Giles Martin’s mixes will someday sound as of-their-time as his dad’s ’67 stereos. What won’t change is the music, or the fact that it’s best experienced in one 43-minute sitting (no Pepper track, with the exception perhaps of A Day In The Life, stands outside its context like Norwegian Wood, or Tomorrow Never Knows, or Dear Prudence…). It’s an album – maybe the album. Swipe that.
Listen to an outtake of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, plus badinage...