In a rare acknowledgment of their age, The Beatles have released a stunning remix of their Sgt Pepper album to commemorate the album’s 50th anniversary. Released on May 26, 2017, there are several configurations of this remix including a massive box that includes four audio discs, a DVD/BluRay, and a gorgeous hardcover book. For the purposes of this review, we’ll be looking strictly at the new remix album but, suffice to say, if you can afford the box, get it. It’s beautiful.
Producers must tread lightly when it comes to remixing iconic albums such as this one. Having remixed several songs for the widely acclaimed Yellow Submarine Songtrack in 1999 and for the widely less acclaimed Beatles 1 reissue of 2016, the history of remixing these well known tracks has a bit of a mixed history. That all ends with this Sgt Pepper release. Giles Martin, son of The Beatles famed record producer, has taken care to utilize modern mixing techniques while paying homage to the spirit of the material’s original mixing and the result is a sound that is fresh, crisp, modern, and meaty.
As the story goes, The Beatles were present during the weeks long process of mixing the mono mix of Sgt Pepper in 1967, agonizing over every note and achieving a mix that presented the songs in exactly the way they had hoped. For the stereo mix, however, they weren’t present and the process took hours instead of weeks. What we were left with was still a brilliant collection of songs that changed the way records were made forever but a fully unrewarding listen on headphones or in a room with speakers too far apart from each other. Martin, to his credit, studied the mono mix very carefully and used that to inform his new stereo mix which, finally, makes Sgt. Pepper one of the most rewarding headphone experiences in their catalog.
Whereas a remaster simply enhances the final generation of tapes, with this remix, Martin was able to go to the first generation of tapes recorded by the band and fully isolate instruments that had not been isolated before. Sgt. Pepper was, amazingly, recorded on four track tape machines so when the band had filled up all four tracks, they would mix those four down to one or two new tracks on a new tape. Each “bounce” had a degradation of sound quality and forever locked those instruments together in the mix but going back to the original tapes opens up the stereo and EQ spectrum for Martin to truly highlight every instrument appropriately.
Aside from the near perfect balance and mix, though, is the presence of things like bass and drums. As stated earlier, this album is meaty with a much more distinct and pronounced rhythm section that thumps and bangs in ways that it never could in 1967. There are some surprises, particularly in Good Morning Good Morning, where you can hear (and feel) the interplay between Paul and Ringo in a way that you never could before.
Upon first listen of this mix, there are a number of “wow” moments, a number of “I never noticed that before” moments, and a number of “holy !@#$ @#$% that was #%*^& amazing” moments. At the risk of drooling all over the keyboard, suffice to say, you should buy this remix.
Of special note, too, Giles Martin decided to mix She’s Leaving Home at the mono pitch and speed — about a half step higher and noticeably faster — which is a treat to listeners who have only heard the original stereo mix over all these years. Also, for those who may unfairly skip the track, listen to Within You Without You in its entirety. Sure, the sounds on this track are an acquired taste but this remix may just grant a new appreciation of this Indian/Western hybrid masterpiece.
For the die hard Beatles fan, this new Sgt Pepper mix will likely bring a tear to your eye. Listen to it all the way through and try not to be dumbstruck as the final chord of A Day In The Life fades into the distance. The mix is a treat and only makes the prospect of a Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, or White Album remix all the more enticing. On June 1, in 9 cities across the United States, a special Dolby Atmos mix of the album will be presented to lucky fans able to get a pass. As good as this stereo mix is (I have not yet listened to the 5.1 mix), it is hard to fathom that I’ll be able to contain my emotions for the Atmos mix but I’m going to try my best as I will be listening to it in San Francisco with a smile plastered to my face.
The new Sgt Pepper remix has, simultaneously, reminded me why I got into music, songwriting, and recording and reminded me why every day I consider quitting. This music is just that good. It’s both inspiring and humbling and presented in this beautiful new context it becomes almost too much to bear. Enjoy the greatness. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.