September 23, 2009

Beatles sell 2.25 million albums in 5 days

Beatles sell 2.25 million albums in 5 days
Sep 22, 9:28 PM (ET)
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Nearly 40 years after breaking up, The Beatles are still breaking records for album sales.

EMI Group PLC says consumers in North America, Japan and the U.K. bought more than 2.25 million copies of the Fab Four's re-mastered albums in the first five days after their Sept. 9 release.

Most of the records were broken for most simultaneous titles in the top-selling charts by a single artist.

On Billboard magazine's pop catalog chart, for example, the band had 16 titles in the top 50, including all 14 re-mastered CDs and two box sets.

The Beatles' original U.K. studio albums were re-mastered at Abbey Road Studios in London over four years and released to coincide with the sale of "The Beatles: Rock Band" on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.

September 16, 2009

Remastered CDs Review from TONEAudio

The Beatles Stereo and mono box sets
EMI/Capitol , CD
Beatles’ box in stereo and mono…

Please Please Me: The Beatles Remasters

TONEAudio Exclusive by: Bob Gendron

The cost of owning a good-sounding Beatles record just got significantly cheaper. Arriving 22 years after the band’s catalog was originally issued on compact disc, Capitol’s long-awaited remasters of the Fab Four’s 12 studio albums, Magical Mystery Tour, and the Past Masters collections—as well as the label’s limited-edition Beatles in Mono box set, comprising 10 studio records in their original mono mixes plus the Past Masters set—sound, as a whole, uniformly fantastic. It’s clear that the team of engineers responsible for the four-year project ensured that the world’s most important and famous pop catalog finally received the care it’s always deserved no matter what mix is heard. While hardcore fans will want both the mono and stereo editions, the general populace is almost guaranteed to be content with the widely available stereo versions. Not that everyone will be happy. All accomplishments aside, it’s a foregone conclusion that no matter what the results indicate, certain parties will complain, criticize, and nitpick. Those curmudgeonly detractors and obsessive freaks are better off waiting for the second coming of Christ; rumor is that the payoff will be a lot better.

For the majority of listeners, however, any temptation to spend hundreds of dollars on rare vinyl pressings should erode as they become acclimated to what often resembles hearing familiar records for the very first time. Such are the near-miraculous improvements in the key areas of information retrieval, hidden details, palpable physicality, expanded midrange, transient presence, and frequency response. As expected, the mono and stereo editions have their share of positives and negatives. Yet the benefits of the mono mixes reign supreme through Revolver, no surprise given that original producer George Martin intended for the Beatles’ records to be enjoyed in mono. With Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the tide begins to turn, yet efforts like The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) remain toss-ups for myriad reasons.

There will be little debate surrounding what box set received the superior packaging. Collecting a total of 13 discs in a plain and compact white box, The Beatles in Mono presents each album in replica mini-LP jackets that feature faithful reproductions of the original artwork, labels, and inserts. Protective plastic sleeves shroud the discs, and a re-sealable plastic cover slips over the glossy mini-vinyl CD holders. A booklet containing rare photos and copious notes by Kevin Howlett rounds out the rather economical and practical bundle. By contrast, The Beatles In Stereo set is housed in a shoebox-sized box that opens up to reveal two stacks of digipak CDs. (Unlike their mono counterparts, the stereo discs are available individually.) Enthusiasts should note that the discs slide in and out of the digipaks without any extra padding or protection. Still, the classy packages conform to the original vinyl artwork and contain archival photos, recording notes, and historical notes—but lack inserts and faithful gatefold replication. Each disc also comes embedded with a QuickTime mini-documentary about the respective album. Curiously, the set lacks an accompanying booklet. Not that it matters much.

What does matter, of course, is the sound. And it’s largely excellent, improving in accordance with time, parallel to advances in recording technology and the band’s groundbreaking studio techniques. As previously mentioned, every Beatles album through The White Album was mixed with the purpose of being heard in mono. Capitol’s remasters mark the initial occasion of Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, and Beatles for Sale being available on disc in a stereo mix; the converse is true for Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, and The Beatles. Finally, the mono editions of Help! and Rubber Soul also include the original stereo mix, which makes comparison listening that much easier.

Without diminishing the value and impact of the stereo editions, which blow away their 1987 digital predecessors in every imaginable facet, the mono discs are where it’s at for experiencing the Beatles in the most “authentic” manner. (Officially, no compression or de-noising was used on the mono mixes; a sum total of less than five minutes of de-noising graces the stereo editions.) Specifically, the group’s early records tend to sound unnatural in stereo, as the hard panning seems forced and artificial—which, in actuality, it is. In mono, the Beatles’ music thrives from ultra-dynamic front-to-back layering that, intentionally or not, often gives the impression of a stereo mix. The changes wrought by the remasters are dramatic.

Please Please Me is distinguished by a previously vacant fullness, richness, and enormity. There’s discernible air and echo around the swooping vocals on “Misery,” and resolute imaging on “I Saw Her Standing There”—quite a thrill. And the bottom end—quite possibly the single-biggest enhancement on all of the remasters—registers with a forceful thump rather than a dull, empty thud. No longer an undefined aural morass, “Twist and Shout” explodes with a clean yet musical clarity, the singing more distinctive and immediate, the instruments possessing true timbres and resonant clatter. And who ever notices the expressive “Yeah!” at the end of the take?

Similarly, the mono With the Beatles unfolds with ear-bending vibrancy and liveliness. The rolling vocal harmonizing on “All My Loving” astounds. Across-the-board upgrades in airiness, dimensionality, depth, size, and Paul McCartney’s vastly underrated bass lines are detectable on every song. And whether it’s the now-noticeable presence of the piano or the wonderfully rattling chords on “Money,” or discernible rhythmic rumble on “Hold Me Tight,” the record has received a startling facelift that even Hollywood’s most expensive plastic surgeon wouldn’t be able to configure. With the band long faulted for being too sweet, the mono remasters open up space for the argument that the Beatles possessed an edge—if not a slight mean streak (witness the 3-D imaging of “No Reply” off Beatles for Sale).

Vocal precision, smoothness, and extension become even more pronounced on Help! and Rubber Soul. Ditto for the realistic bottom end, long absent on most Beatles recordings. McCartney’s bass and Ringo Starr’s percussion ride side-by-side, and smart albeit illuminating shades and accents—the tambourine on “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” the twangy pitch of the guitar strings on “Ticket to Ride,” the breathlessness of Lennon’s singing on “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” the natural fade-out on “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” Lennon’s sucking of air through his teeth on “Girl,” the barbershop-quartet swoons during “Michelle”—emerge with breathtaking clarity. Enmeshed with the song as a whole, Starr’s Hammond organ playing on “I’m Looking Through You” now comes across as an integral part of the arrangement.

Revolver marks the point at which the mono-versus-stereo debates begin to get interesting. Admittedly, the backward tape loops on “Tomorrow Never Knows” sound cooler in stereo. In addition, stereo is how most listeners are accustomed to hearing music; for some, mono seems bare. Yet all that’s sacrificed with the latter versus stereo is a larger soundstage, a perceived sense of “hugeness,” and the security of familiarity; mono mixes exhibit an organic presence, naturalness, purity, and outright musicality that render moot any tradeoff. The horns on “Got to Get You Into My Life” have never emitted such boldness or pizzazz; the transparency of the chords during “Here, There and Everywhere” and movement of the bounding piano in “Good Day Sunshine” are utterly staggering. Pure genius.

For kicks, comparing the 1987 digital issue of Sgt. Pepper’s to the new remasters lends perspective to just how awful the former are, and how amazing Capitol’s 2009 entries sound. Whereas the previous edition of the landmark record comes across as tinny, lifeless, shrill, flat, and canned—to the extent where listeners are forced to mentally fill in parts they think (and know) should be present—both versions of the revised Sgt. Pepper’s present the album as an entirely new adventure filled with immense detail, holographic soundstages, authentic studio dimensions, and shocking instrumental and textural surfaces that heretofore have been missing in action. Tracks such as “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” seemingly float on an ethereal bed of studio effects, with tremendous top-to-bottom frequency extension revealing trippy surprises such as bells, wood blocks, congas, and various other percussive trinkets that possess a reach-out-and-touch presence.
Sgt. Pepper’s signifies the first instance where stereo gains an upper hand. Compared to the stereo pressing, the mono edition features less impact, punch, and dynamics. In some ways, it’s almost underwhelming when heard against its technologically advanced mate. Ironically, the results seem to argue on behalf of the use of judicious compression—meaning that the strategy can indeed be positive when used for intended dynamic purposes and not taken to loudness extremes as it so often is in modern recordings. And that’s exactly what Sgt. Peppers—and the Beatles records that follow—now resemble; the remasters make them sound like contemporary state-of-the-art albums that are recorded properly and brim with mind-blowing features that never grow tiresome.

And yet, the mono version of Sgt. Pepper’s trumps the stereo in several regards. In stereo, “She’s Leaving” runs slower and lower in pitch; the laughter in “Within You Without You” is quieter at the end; McCartney’s scatting is hardly audible on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”; the psychedelic phrasing on “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” isn’t as clear. Such discrepancies owe to the time lapses that occurred between the mono and stereo mixes as well as the full (or partial) participation of the band and George Martin, both of which favored mono. Such discrepancies are why owning both the mono and stereo mixes of Revolver, Pepper’s, Magical Mystery Tour, and The Beatles borders on mandatory.

Accordingly, the stereo version of The White Album boasts life-size images and discerningly more pronounced frequency extension than its mono counterpart. The immersive experience gives birth to underexposed intricacies (the single snare drum strike that parallels the “shot” in “Rocky Raccoon”), defined footprints (McCartney’s bass purrs and growls), and completely new sounds (“Revolution 1” has what seems to be a horn—who knew?). Differences still abound. The mono version of “Helter Skelter” is shorter, sped up, and without Starr’s renowned “blisters on my fingers” comment. The aircraft effects during “Back in the U.S.S.R.” vary, and there are fewer grunts in “Piggies.” Due such distinctions—and no clear-cut winner between the two versions, although stereo does seem to have the edge—both versions are considered “authentic.”
Again, listeners get to be the bench judge, and most likely, won’t be able to come down on one side or another, which is another benefit of the series.

No painstaking decisions involve Abbey Road or Let It Be, as only stereo versions exist. Each album unfolds like never before—particularly Abbey Road. Thicker tracks such as “She’s So Heavy” come on as indestructible walls of sound replete with phenomenal low-end weight, superb definition, vivid dynamics, and unlimited ceilings and floors. Starr’s drumming on “The End” is absorbing and titanic; it sounds so good, it’s almost difficult to believe this is the Beatles, which, unless one had unlimited funds for collectable LPs, have never sounded great. Depending on one’s perspective, such a conclusion is the ultimate sign that the folks at Capitol and Abbey Road Studios not only succeeded but surpassed most expectations. For if the Beatles remasters signify the last great hurrah of the compact disc, at least the format is going out in style. –Bob Gendron

Remastered CDs Review from NY Times

September 6, 2009
Long and Winding Road, Newly Repaved

THE newly remastered CDs of the Beatles’ original albums and singles, which EMI and Apple Corps, the Beatles’ company, are releasing on Wednesday, have less of a gee-whiz factor than The Beatles: Rock Band, which hits stores on the same day. But for those of us for whom the music is paramount — and who will forever refer to Rock Band as “the toy” — the game is a plastic tail wagging a cartoonish dog. And though the compact disc, as a format, may be on its deathbed, these remastered CDs are really the main event.

The complete catalog, in mono and stereo, has been given a careful digital upgrade. These are straightforward transfers of the albums as they were released in Britain, rather than the American versions, which were reconfigured by Capitol Records (to the Beatles’ chagrin). Do not look for bonus tracks: the only extras are making-of documentaries on each of the stereo discs. And although the stereo and mono mixes could have fit together on single CDs, in most cases EMI is selling them separately.

The up side: In most cases this music has dimension and detail that it never had before, and the new packaging reflects each album’s musical and cultural importance. Over all, the new discs sound substantially better than the Beatles’ original CDs, which EMI issued in 1987. The most striking and consistent improvements are a heftier, rounded, three-dimensional bass sound, and drums that now sound like drums, rather than something in the distance being hit. But because each album has its own sonic character, due partly to developments in recording technology during the Beatles’ career, and partly to the growing complexity of their work, some discs are improved more radically than others, and some are hardly improved at all.

Probably the most revelatory of the new transfers is the stereo White Album. From the opening jet engine effects on “Back in the U.S.S.R” to the final orchestral chord on “Good Night,” this album now leaps from the speakers. Gentler songs like “Julia” and “I Will” have a lovely transparency, and hard rockers like “Yer Blues” and “Helter Skelter” — as well as John Lennon’s quirky vision of dystopia, “Revolution 9” — have a power and fullness unheard until now.

“Abbey Road” also benefits considerably. The clearer instrumental profiles serve this rich-textured album beautifully: “Sun King” and “Here Comes the Sun” are unusually supple; the vocal on “You Never Give Me Your Money” no longer has a shrill edge, and Lennon’s proto-Minimalist “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” has never sounded more mesmerizing. Nor has the group’s valedictory jam in “The End.”

And if you are cherry-picking among these reissues, the two-CD singles compilation “Past Masters” should be near the top of your list. The stereo mixes of these songs are often less hard hitting than the mono singles were, but the remastered versions, with their enriched bass, palpable drum sound and improved sense of vocal presence, no longer sound anemic. You find yourself discovering textural details (the percussion overlay in “She’s a Woman” is one such surprise) that show how imaginative the Beatles’ arrangements are.

It’s about time. In 1987 the elation of finally getting the group’s classic recordings on CD, four years after the format was introduced, quickly gave way to disappointment with the discs’ sound quality and presentation. Like many early CDs, several (though not all) of the Beatles’ discs had a harsh upper range. And except for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which was put in a deluxe package with liner essays and archival photos, the 1987 CDs came with minimal, slapdash artwork.

Collectors who had long prized both the mono and stereo mixes of the group’s albums, which have different attractions (and sometimes different vocal takes and instrumental details), and had hoped that EMI would find a way to release both mixes on CD, were upset that the 1987 series offered the first four albums only in mono and the rest only in stereo. In one sense all of the group’s music had made the transfer; in another, about half the catalog was missing.

In a way it still is: the stereo recordings are available either individually for $18.98; $24.98 for double albums, or boxed (as “The Beatles”) for $259.98. But the mono albums can be had only in a 13-disc boxed set, “The Beatles in Mono,” for $298.98, which covers up to the White Album (the last album the group mixed in mono) and includes a mono version of the “Past Masters” singles compilation that includes previously unissued mono mixes of “Across the Universe” and songs from the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack.

The Beatles and their producer, George Martin, considered the mono mixes definitive, and you don’t have to be a Beatles completist to see why. “She’s Leaving Home,” which drags sappily on the stereo “Sgt. Pepper,” is faster on the mono album, which also has a decidedly more psychedelic sounding “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” a punchier “Good Morning, Good Morning” and a sizzling reprise of the title song. “Magical Mystery Tour” is far more solid and detailed in mono, and the White Album is packed with details you don’t hear in the stereo mix. But by making them available only in a collectors’ box, EMI has made it impossible for many listeners to sample one or two.

To produce the new CDs, EMI returned to the mono and stereo masters prepared for the group’s vinyl releases in the 1960s, which the label says have remained in pristine condition. These are the same tapes EMI used in 1987, but analog-to-digital technology has improved considerably since then, making it possible to get a much more fine-grained, high-resolution digital transfer. And where the 1987 transfers were done quickly, the new set was assembled over four years, with different teams working on the mono and stereo recordings.

As in 1987 there are two exceptions to the “’60s masters only” rule: the stereo “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” discs use the remixes that Mr. Martin made for the 1987 CDs. It may seem inconsistent to present these remixes as the de facto standards, given that Allan Rouse, who oversaw the project, has said that the goal was to produce a series of CDs that sound as close as possible to the ’60s master tapes.

But Mr. Martin’s updates largely match the placements and balances of the originals, and because they were made from the multitrack session tapes, instruments and vocals sound strikingly fresher than in the 1965 versions (which are included in the mono box). Perhaps not surprisingly, given their digital origins, the new “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” CDs, though slightly louder than their 1987 counterparts — as all the new discs are — are identical in matters of timbre and definition. The group’s experimental “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour,” and its back-to-basics “Let It Be,” if not as lapel-grabbing as the upgrades of the White Album and “Abbey Road,” nevertheless benefit from the more distinct instrumental and vocal profiles of the new transfers.

“Sgt. Pepper,” oddly, is a mixed bag. Instrumental textures are crisper and cleaner, and the bass is firmer. And songs like “Getting Better” have shed the piercing treble sound that afflicted the 1987 version. Yet several songs — “Fixing a Hole” and “She’s Leaving Home,” among them — now sound flatter, or less dynamically fluid, than they did on either the 1987 CD or a good British LP.

Among the early albums I have always loved the wide stereo separation of “Please Please Me” and “With the Beatles” — despite its vigorous condemnation by Mr. Martin (which is why they have not been available on CD) — because it lets you hear exactly what’s happening in both the instrumental and vocal arrangements. Those albums sound superb, as do the better-balanced “Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles for Sale.”

Few listeners are likely to replace their CDs for the sake of new cover art, but it is a distinct attraction. The stereo discs come in three-panel (four for the “White Album”) laminated sleeves, with booklets that include the original liner notes and lyrics (if they came with the LP), contemporaneous photos and new essays about what the Beatles were up to when they made the album at hand and (more cursorily) how the recordings were produced. The discs are pressed on reproductions of the various Parlophone, Capitol and Apple labels on which the albums first appeared.

The video documentaries, embedded as computer-playable QuickTime files on the stereo CDs, draw largely on interviews recorded for “The Beatles Anthology” (1995) and offer a few surprises. With the exception of Mr. McCartney, for example, the group had an almost perversely dismissive attitude toward “Sgt. Pepper.” Ringo Starr says he preferred the group dynamic on the White Album (even though he quit in frustration during the sessions) and “Let It Be” (when the band was at its most fractious). The stereo box also includes a DVD compilation of these video clips.

The mono discs lack the documentaries (and the DVD) and are packaged as copies of the original albums. The covers are accurate down to the quaint way EMI LP jackets were assembled in the ’60s (with glued-down cardboard flaps on the back). Extras like the White Album poster and portraits, and the “Sgt. Pepper” cutouts, are included too, as is a 44-page book of historical notes and pictures.

In the 22 years since the release of the original, mediocre CDs, just about all of the Beatles’ great contemporaries — the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among them — have had their catalogs upgraded as technology has changed. Beatles fans have been begging EMI to do the same, and although the wait has been long, the new transfers are so good that this thrice-familiar music sounds fresher than ever.

Now EMI should consider moving the catalog to a truly high-definition format, like Blu-ray DVD, adding newly remixed Surround versions like those on “The Beatles Anthology.” With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first hit coming in 2012, there isn’t much time to waste.

You can get them here:
The Mono Collection here: