Remastered editions of their 13 albums are part of this week's hoopla. It's about time, actually.
No, this isn't the 11th time they've reissued the Beatles albums. It just seems as if they're always tinkering with them.
This week's onslaught of Beatlemania Inc. includes the first-ever remastered versions of the group's 13 main U.K. catalog albums, newly bundled in a $259-advertised box set or sold individually at $18.98 (but cheaper at most stores). There's also a more niche-brand, $299 box set of all the pre-1968 albums reissued in mono, as they were originally made before stereo mixing was common.
Audiophiles have long contended that the sonic quality of all these records was subpar when they initially came out on CD. That's one reason it's still relatively hard to find a lot of used Beatles vinyl. To sonic geeks, it's been a long and winding road getting these reissues out. By contrast, the Rolling Stones have reissued their albums three times (but still didn't manage to make "Satanic Majesties" listenable).
You don't need to have all that keen an ear to appreciate the repolished sound in this case, nor do you need to worry about the sonic tweaking being too heavy-handed. The remastering was overseen by original Abbey Road engineer Allan Rouse and approved by the band members or their widows. It's not as if they applied T-Pain's Auto-Tune device to the vocals, even if Ringo's "Honey Don't" might have benefited from it.
Still, it should be pretty clear to the average listener that something is up -- namely the volume and clarity. There's simply a lot more oomph in the discs now. Rockers such as "Yer Blues" and "I've Got a Feeling" sound as if they come bleeding out of the speakers. More tender fare such as "Here, There and Everywhere" and "Norwegian Wood" also have more of a crisp, warm sonic panache. Extra geek-out value can be had by the mini-documentaries included with each album about its making, plus expanded liner notes and photos.
Listening to the more experimental (read: more drug-influenced) albums such as "Yellow Submarine" and "Magical Mystery Tour" -- which are hardly among their best collections songwriting-wise -- is especially more gratifying, boosting them back to the wild aural experience associated with modern recording innovators such as Grizzly Bear or TV on the Radio.
Let's not praise the Beatles for being so cutting-edge, though. The truth is, these remastered discs should have been out years ago -- when people still bought CDs.
As it is, one can't help but wonder if most fans -- and not just all the kids getting turned on by "The Beatles: Rock Band" video game -- will buy these discs and wind up condensing them onto their iPods or laptops. That's the equivalent of ordering a fine sirloin steak burnt. If you think that'll be you, in other words, maybe save your money for the next great wave of Beatles merchandising. Coming soon.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658