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| 26 February 2019 | Reply

November 2018
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Giles Martin, son of original producer (and legend) George, oversaw the remastering of this revelatory 50th anniversary edition of The Beatles’ seminal self-titled (but forever better known as The White Album) double album, and describes the process in his liner notes thusly:

“In remixing The White Album, we’ve tried to bring you as close as possible to The Beatles in the studio. We’ve peeled back the layers of the ‘Glass Onion’ with the hope of immersing old and new listeners into one of the most diverse and inspirational albums ever made.”

That the album itself is a classic is undeniable (though an oft-debated one), and any attempt to analyse it deeply here would be completely superfluous. For many (this reviewer included) it is a far better (though arguably less cohesive) collection than the ground breaking Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and fifty years of arguing about whether it would have been a better piece of work had it been pared down to a single record are, to us, redundant.

There’s only one question that really needs answering here: what is this new remaster really like?

The short answer, as the above spoiler has already teased, is: revelatory.

Martin and his team haven’t just tweaked the original mixes and given it a new lick of paint, like most remasters. They have gone back to the original tracks and discovered elements which have long remained hidden and unheard, drowned in the mix due, perhaps, to limited technology available fifty years ago. By bringing these elements up in the mix they, in some cases, have made tracks which some have long argued to be second rate (ie the ones which some naysayers would have dropped in support of the incomprehensible Single Album Theory) into far more fascinating pieces of art. Peeling back the layers of that ‘Glass Onion,’ is one thing – the secret here is in the reassembly.

Whilst some tracks retain mostly the same balance as the originals, the entire album sounds somehow more crisp, like the songs have more depth, perhaps, with their sonic spit and polish.

But it’s the tracks which have undergone some kind of transformation which make this album so essential, so bright and joyous. The end result is to make this version of the album ripe for rediscovery.

Amongst other revelations, Dear Prudence becomes an even more trippy psych classic with the addition of an in-your-face tinkling piano. Piggies is eye opening. Ringo’s Don’t Pass Me By has so much more depth with its music hall organ and fiddle that it’s like a new song. The backing track for Why Don’t We Do It In The Road now features a mesmerizingly quirky keyboard counterpointing the bullish vocals. Yer Blues and Honey Pie sound otherworldly. Savoy Truffle’s sleazy brass makes it sound like a brand new contender for the crown. Cry Baby Cry will make you think it’s been re-recorded, so different does it sound. Even Revolution 9 – long considered a joke or at best a loopy art experiment by many – even sounds like it makes a lot more sense.

What Martin & his team have done is akin to restoring a 15th century painting, wiping away layers of dust and revealing details lost for decades. Listening is a pure, unadulterated joy.

This is all wonderful – but, unbelievably, there is more. For starters, a 27-track acoustic demo recorded at George Harrison’s pad in Esher. The Esher Demos, as it is known, is an eye-opening testament to the band’s songwriting skills. Early versions, early lyrics, hummed solos, and a plaintiff, heart-on-sleeve rawness are the key take homes here, along with a couple of witty and/or caustic asides, mostly by Lennon. The album where The Beatles became more decisive with their own songs and less reliant on producer George Martin, this disc shows how close to final versions many of these songs were from the start.

Primarily made up of tracks that ended up on this album, there are also a few tracks which went on to feature on Abbey Road, or McCartney, Lennon or Harrison solo albums after their split, which was only a couple of years away at this point.

There’s also a Super Deluxe version with another fifty works-in-progress, but we weren’t sent that one to review. Rest assured it’s on the wish list.

Category: CD Reviews

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