The ambitious re-release of the entire Beatles catalog a week ago has the Fab Four's recordings flying off the shelves about as fast as retailers can stock them proving the passion music fans worldwide still have for the Beatles' music. Since their demise in 1970, each decade has featured some major event to reintroduce them to new generations and keep long standing fans fondness alive. In the late 70's, a few thematic compilations were released. In 1987, the entire Beatles catalog was issued on CD giving most Americans the first chance to enjoy the Beatles' music as originally intended on the British albums. The Beatles Anthology project brought John, Paul, George, and Ringo to television on a series of documentaries which was the introduction to three double CD sets of unreleased material, outtakes, and alternate versions of their material. They also obtained two demos from John Lennon's stash of outtakes which John, Paul, and George along with producer Jeff Lynne added tracks to produce what were marketed as new Beatles songs, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love." For the more dedicated fans, a multi-volume VHS and DVD set included not only the material from the television programs but much more. A huge Anthology table top book added to the hoopla. In late 2000, just in time for Christmas shoppers EMI released a nice, tidy one CD dose of the Beatles, simply titled, 1, all of the Beatles number one hits, 27 Beatles classics on one CD. On the dawn of music downloads and iPOD's, here was the ultimate Beatles quick fix consisting of most of their most familiar songs.
Much chatter arose over why it took so long for the Beatles catalog to be re-released to take advantage of advances in digital recording and the capability to restore older recordings to something really special. In contrast to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones catalog has been remastered at least three times; however, to the Beatles' record label's credit, the original CD's were not that bad where the first generation of Stones' CD's were at times just plain awful. The original Beatles CD's have held up pretty well. Many fans were disappointed that their first four albums were released in mono. Some of the packaging was woefully compromised paying no respect to the original album covers.
The burning question, are the new Beatles' CD's worth it?
The answer is a strong, "it depends."
There's nothing here that will convert folks who never were captured by the Beatles' magic in the first place. That the Beatles could be getting the attention that could bring younger people who never really sampled their music, however, this could be a wonderful occasion for them to discover some of the best pop music ever recorded.
For Beatles fans, folks who have no particular sense of high fidelity or sound quality who already have CD's and LP's that satisfy their Beatles' diet, there's really no reason to shell out $12-19.00 for new CD's.
For listeners who appreciate beautiful sound, the new CD's are a revelation. The songs sound faithfully familiar, no engineering liberties are taken, but the clarity and definition are absolutest breath taking. Acoustic guitars truly resonate, Paul's bass playing is clear and expressive not just the bottom thumping to the music, Ringo's drumming is sharp and crisp perhaps showing more skill than he was ever given credit for, and the vocals are absolutely fabulous without compression, RIAA curves, and all the distortion inherent in previous recordings.
Much of the Beatles early material up to Rubber Soul was released recently as part of the Capitol records boxed sets of their American albums. On first comparison, some listeners might think these recordings have more kick to them than the new remasters; however, the American recordings were given enhanced bass, more high-end EQ and reverb to give them that pumped up sound that would sound stronger on a 6x9 car speaker or the cheesy hi-fi systems of the mid 60's. The Capitol albums will never reveal the subtleties and nuances the new remasters give the listener. Pod listeners will have to choose which converts better to that environment.
The video clips added to each album for computer play, are decent little promos for each album, but they are just that. They're quick little spots for the album. The packaging is attractive but there is a serious drawback, the CDs are enclosed in slip packaging requiring the listener to pull the CD's out with his or her fingers adding finger grease and possibly scratching the disc surface. While it's nice to be ridded of the limitations of the jewel case, CD's should have a hub to hold them in place requiring as little touch and eliminating as much friction as possible.
The booklets are nice restoring all that the original CD's robbed from the package. The new commentary in the booklets though is truly for the technology freaks as they concern more the recording process on how the albums were originally recorded offering no new insight into the music or what the lads had in mind composing and performing the material.
Our bottom line is that only the most dedicated fans should probably purchase the entire inventory, but surely adding a few favorite albums will offer some real listening joys. The new Beatles releases remind us once again that the Beatles were the greatest band of their time.