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Their masters voice, remastered

Guess who is in the news today, oh boy? Angie Sammons samples the new digital Beatles

Written by . Published on September 10th 2009.


Their masters voice, remastered

NOTHING is ever going to turn Honey Don't into a great track, and had you come some other day, George might not have sounded so adenoidal on If I Needed Someone.

But that was before the great digital makeover of all the 200 tracks on all the 12 Beatles albums.

For those who can't cope with the odd electrical click or microphone vocal pop while enjoying their private Yellow Submarine party on the morning train, there's more good news: they've gone. Did you honestly know they were there?

On the release date of the Beatles Remasters - number nine, number nine, number nine - that's the 9th of September '09 to you, at 0909 (nine minutes past nine am they go on sale), there is much anticipation among the faithful. Not to mention the anoraks, the critics and the Amazon Christmas marketeers, even though others have viewed this numerical joy for what it is and have had a neuf.

It's being called Beatles fortnight by the people at EMI and has attracted massive media interest. The entire Sunday Times Magazine was dedicated to them this week, and there's a special edition of the NME reprising the 13 Beatles covers it produced.

Yet, the frank admission in a newly found Lennon interview (published last weekend) that he and McCartney gave Harrison all the crap songs to sing, may make you listen to tunes like I'm Happy Just to Dance With You with a renewed interest that no amount of remastering could achieve.

But “renewed interest” is the name of the Beatles game. Forty years after they split up, it's the Apple mission statement – both the Corps and, increasingly, the computer inc.

nthologies, Las Vegas shows, untimely deaths and the evolution of the CD have come and gone, so what does it take to keep the Fab dollars flowing in 2009?

The answer, a blindingly simple precursor to the Beatles' inevitable iTunes debut, is some digital remixing to get classics like I'm Down, down with the kids in the MP3 generation.

“You tell lies thinking I can't see...” screams bluesy Paul into iPod headphones, but not so loud that he'll shatter tender eardrums. No, overall limiting has been used, as is common on modern music production, to “normalise” sound levels, even them out and increase overall volume of the experience. So no crude vibrations.

For those who can't cope with the odd electrical click or microphone vocal pop while enjoying their private Yellow Submarine party on the morning train, there's more good news: they've gone. Did you honestly know they were there?

Such silence might be golden, but why bother? Well for all of the above, and apparently to make Please Please Me, for the first time in CD on stereo, sound like it was performed in a public lavatory.

The Beatles compositions were largely produced on a four track machine and, pre-Rubber Soul, were frequently put

out in (technically) unremarkable mono.

Later on, George Martin and his gang of four grew in confidence and panache, both as composers and producers, and tracks, on those primitive, thick magnetic tape contraptions, whirling and clicking away in the Abbey Road control room, would be painstakingly captured in parts and bounced down again and again, giving the sophisticated, multi-layered exotica we remember from Sgt Pepper on.

These 2009 remasters mark the debut of the CD stereo versions of the Beatles’ first four UK. albums, a move which Martin resisted in the past, saying they were never intended to be heard that way. One wonders what the “fifth Beatle” would make of this latest handiwork if his own hearing wasn't sadly impaired almost half a century after the event.

And while a good Beatles song will always remain a good Beatles song, is it worth parting with more than £200 of your hard earned for something more? Not if you've got them in any way shape or form already, and not if you play your Beatles on the kitchen CD player when you've got the dishwasher on. There's a new mono set of albums catering for that particular need (and obsessive collectors actually) which, by all accounts, hasn't been much messed with.

On the plus side of the remasters, you do notice stuff for the first time. like the sweetness of the harp and strings right throughout She's Leaving Home, not just in the intro, and a vocal from young Paul that flows with such purity you'd think it had been put through a water filter.

Meanwhile, someone from the new modern army of Abbey Road engineers seems to have tweaked his impassioned honky tonk piano up a notch on Back in the USSR. The result is that it now sounds, well, impassioned.

On the flip side, the mush of forgotten words on various verses of Please Please Me is crystal clear and Macca's bum note vocal, broken by fags, at the end of If I Fell isn't going anywhere but up.

But Christmas has come early for many, with advanced orders of the CDs said to be buoyant, while the digital studio capture of every track, over four long years, means the loveable moptops will be, forever, 23.

Unless you happen to be one of those people who remembers paying nine shillings and six for their vinyl Hard Day's Night.

In which case, the charms of the new Beatles and the imperative to “Turn on, tune in and download” might fall, in every sense, on deaf ears.

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