The Beatles Mono Box Set - Limited Edition: A Review

If you weren't around in 1963, it's sometimes been difficult to work out precisely why the music contained on the early Beatles albums had such impact. If you grew up in the 70s or later, you invariably heard them in that terrible early-60s brand of stereo, with the instruments bunged in one speaker and the vocals in the other, as if a blustery old man with a bowler hat had covertly crept into Abbey Road and attempted to sabotage the coming youth revolution by making its harbingers seem as pathetic as possible. The 1987 Beatles CDs restored the first four albums to mono, but they still sounded brittle and tinny, as if they'd have difficulty changing a lightbulb, let alone the social order of Britain.

This may be where The Beatles in Mono comes into its own. At first glance, it looks an extravagant frippery: a £199 11-CD box set, featuring perfect miniature reproductions of albums pristinely remastered in a sonic format rendered obsolete almost half a century ago. But until 1969, the Beatles were disinterested in stereo: they oversaw the mono mixes of their albums, then left the rest to George Martin. The box set can thus proudly claim to offer "the closest you can get to hearing the authentic sound of the Beatles". On the later albums, that amounts to a handful of cosmetic differences: if it's striking to hear Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds with added psychedelic phasing effects, it doesn't radically alter your perception of the song. The early albums, however, are transformed.

The Beatles sound taut, vital and surprisingly brutal. Plenty of 60s British bands covered material by black US artists: they tended to bowdlerise it, but the Beatles made it more visceral. There's something authentically deranged about their covers of Twist and Shout and Money. Smokey Robinson's fabulous You Really Got a Hold On Me has its emotional compass shifted from melancholy to torment, with electrifying results.

If their debut suffers from a deficit of great original material, that only makes the subsequent qualitative leaps all the more astonishing. Within a matter of months, they had gone from the schmaltz of PS I Love and Ask Me Why to the accomplishment and forcefulness of With the Beatles' It Won't Be Long and Not a Second Time. Equally striking is how early and strongly the Beatles' respective personalities foregrounded themselves. The kind of anguish that was Lennon's stock-in-trade from Help! through to I Want You (She's So Heavy) is evident from the start: literally his first lead vocal on a Beatles album is "the world is treating me bad – misery". With the Beatles' Don't Bother Me is the first in a long line of George Harrison songs in which people were advised to bugger off.

By the time of 1964's Beatles for Sale, they're confidently pushing at the boundaries of their chirpy image. It opens with No Reply, I'm a Loser and Baby's in Black: utterly downcast, emotionally raw. Listening to them here, they sound not like a relic from a forgotten era of the 60s, but as thrilling and daring as they must have once done blaring from a Dansette in a suburban bedroom. You'd have to have cloth ears not to understand what the fuss was about.

The Beatles Mono Box Set at
The Beatles Mono Box Set at

No comments:

Post a Comment