Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (50th Anniversary Reissue)
There is an inevitable weariness at the prospect of yet another Beatles re-release. How much more of their glorious output can be remastered, remixed or repackaged? How many more of studio sessions can be exhumed to create another peek behind the curtains? Turning era defining magic into more 'product', cheapening its cultural worth in the process. I have genuinely felt queasy at some of the clumsier 'mash ups' on the 'Love' album, and I will always feel uncomfortable when I hear Paul and George trying to harmonize with a scratchy 'lost' recording of John Lennon's sketchy 'Free as a Bird'.
I approach this fiftieth anniversary version of the most famous album of all time with a considerable amount of scepticism. Of the handful of different packages available, most will opt for the double disc comprising the remixed version, and the album in demo form. The promotional blurb suggests that the remix (by George Martin's son Giles), was done to right some of the wrongs on the original stereo version. Within the first 30 seconds of the album, my cynical doubts fade as Paul's vocals are now placed centre stage, and suddenly it's no longer a whimsical ditty about a fantasy band, but a ragged and direct prologue to what's about to unfold.
The emphasis on Harrison's fuzzy guitar during the chorus of the title track is another revelation, showing that beneath all of the theatrical French horns was a band that were exciting and captivating, something that previously felt hidden under the brightly coloured circus canopy of the original album. And so it continues, Ringo now shines (vocally) on With a Little Help From My Friends and with urgent drumming on Good Morning, Good Morning. The Indian instrumentation on Within You, Without You is given the weight it deserves. Lennon's vocals on A Day in the Life now seem more haunted and lonely than ever before.
Released between the ambitious glory of Revolver (1966), and the sprawling and complex White Album (1968), Sgt. Pepper can seem like a bit of a curiousity to latecomers (and as I'm only slightly younger than the album, I consider myself to be just that). Those songs about traffic wardens and circus performers and the music hall parody of When I'm Sixty Four, felt far too whimsical alongside favourites like Rain, Tomorrow Never Knows and Revolution. But somehow by subtly moving the furniture, the new mix actually places the emphasis on the musicians that made the record, no longer obscured by the fairground setting.
My apprehension returns before I venture into the demo/early sessions version of the album. Weren't all of the early takes worth listening to dredged up for the Anthology series? Apparently not! Whilst, predictively, some of the versions here don't offer much insight into the creation of the actual album, the early interpretations of the title track and Good Morning Good Morning, give an indication of what a scintillating experience it would have been if they had ever performed them live.
Despite being half a century old, Giles Martin's remix has saved Sgt Pepper from being an album that can only be looked on with nostalgia. I'm certain that The Beatles re-releases and repackages will continue unabated, but with Sgt Pepper, there's finally one worthy of their spectacular canon.