The Beatles – The White Album (2018)

I have never really felt anything post-Pepper to be a “proper” Beatles album, tainted by the now apparent path to their break-up in 1970 and exemplifying how the individual creativity of the Beatles was widening the cracks that had already started to appear in the band. The White Album was released following a time of turmoil and upheaval for the band that began with Sgt. Pepper.  The relentless touring of their early years had tired them in every way, their whitealbumfront_index manager Brian Epstein had died from a drug overdose,  the psychedelia of ’66 was giving way to a more spiritual outlook, the Magical Mystery Tour film had failed to give them direction and John had allowed Yoko into the Beatles studio sanctum.  In these circumstances the White Album seems to signpost the beginning of the end, easy as it is to be preconditioned that such a large collection of songs highlight each Beatles individuality rather than a cohesive band effort.  The release of the 50th Anniversary new stereo mix of the album presents the opportunity to not only listen to the album with a new set of ears, but to also consider it as a collective release rather than an album of disparate music recorded in an atmosphere of conflict and enforced toleration.

It is thought by some that the mono version is the way the Beatles intended their albums to be heard as the band directly involved themselves in the mixing.  Giving a more “in your face” listening experience I have always mainly listened to the mono albums.  The engineers at EMI created the stereo mixes which in most cases suffer from severe channel separation, great for picking out particular musical elements but for me rarely an enjoyable listening experience overall.  This is where the White Album becomes distinct from their earlier albums as the Beatles themselves participated in the stereo mix of the White Album and for the first time it was only available in Stereo in the US,  mono being phased out and now becoming the novelty.   Mixed as its own entity, there are some things that set it apart from the mono version which was also mixed by the Beatles and released in the UK.   The extended Helter Skelter and right-speed Don’t Pass Me By make for a better listen than their mono versions but the harsh channel separation has always been too uncomfortable for me, even though there are some tracks that do sound better in the stereo mix. I wanted to hear how good a job they have done with the 50th Anniversary remixes and this provided an opportunity to have a proper listen to the three versions of the album to see how they sounded.  To do this I created a playlist featuring the 2009 mono remaster, the 2009 stereo remaster and the new 2018 mix, sequencing each track one after the other.

Immediately I was surprised that the mono sounds really dull in a way I hadn’t noticed before, sounding much less clearer than the original stereo. You can hear different elements of the songs, perhaps aided by the channel separation, but there is a definite clarity there that is missing from the mono.  A few of the original stereo mixes are actually pretty good, not having such harsh separation of sound, and for this mono die-hard my appreciation of the original stereo mix has been raised up a notch (although the channel separation is still jarring).  However with the new 2018 mix we get the best of both worlds. The stereo separation has been improved across all tracks, centralising vocals and other elements and creating a much wider stereo soundscape. The clarity is further improved from the 2009 stereo remaster with elements like the drums and the bass really standing out without overpowering everything else. In some tracks the vocals have been brought a little more into the foreground and there seems to be something in every track that makes you think you are hearing it for the first time.  This new mix provides a far superior listening experience than either the 2009 mono or stereo mixes, replacing the mono version as my go-to listen, although I still enjoy the head-on mono experience.  It has also made me think about creating a similar mono-stereo-new stereo playlist for Sgt. Pepper to see if another mono-crown can be usurped.

As for whether I am able to appreciate the White Album as a “proper” Beatles album, well I’m not completely there yet.  Certainly the Sessions recordings found in the Super Deluxe edition do elicit the band having a bit more fun than might be expected but it still feels like less of a band creation than previous albums.  Perhaps my mindset will shift a little more with every listen and I will certainly be listening to the White Album a bit more often than I have up until now.

One more thing in case your wondering, I didn’t to listen to Revolution 9 three times in a row.  It’s an interesting track but i’m not sure that would have helped my appreciation of the album!

Standout track: Too many to pick, but how about Dear Prudence to start with?

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Florence + The Machine – Lungs

You used to be able to get a Mars Bar for less that 50p. Nowadays it can’t get you much but in my local charity shop it got me this CD!  This is another album that passed me by Florence-And-The-Machine-Lungs-Official-Album-Coveron release in 2009 even though I am a fan of Florence Welch’s distinctive vocal style.  It’s possible that her version of “You’ve Got the Love” put me off this album.  For me the definitive version of this song is the unofficial Candi Staton / Frankie Knuckles version from 1989 however Florence’s  album version is different to her single release and it seems more original than the remixed single was.   It is an album with a several musical styles but rooted in incredible vocals and one of my pet loves – interesting lyrics and narratives that pull you into little four minute worlds. Definitely one of the best ways to spend 50p!

Standout track : My Boy Builds Coffins

Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony

catb balconyWhen you don’t listen to the radio much new music can be hard to get into. Sometimes you listen to an album and something clicks.  I have had a few like that and end up loving them.  I want to like Catfish and the Bottlemen primarily because its a great name for a band. Also all the track names on The Balcony are one word titles which is a very satisfying thing. As music goes The Balcony has a lot of guitars and driving drums and is a great listen.  At the moment though nothing has clicked yet that would make this a go to album or band. It will stay on my iPod for now at least and I have their second album to listen to as well.  Definitely one to play when I fancy a bit of rock, but not a fave quite yet.

Standout Track : Sidewinder

Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

Alanis_Morissette_-_Jagged_Little_PillCharity shops are a great place to pick up CD’s you thought you still had or never got round to buying, plus they are cheap! I never bought Jagged Little Pill which is practically a greatest hits collection for Alanis Morrisette who culled a run of hit singles from it in the late 90’s. I like clever or interesting lyrics and there’s a lot of that in this album. When she pulls back her voice on some of the quieter tracks you get to hear how melodic it can be. The songs that scream bitterness are countered by some more vulnerable performances, both of which relay emotional hurting. Frequently cited as one of the best albums of the nineties, if you like angst ridden jangly guitar pop rock to start the day then this is a good choice.

Standout track – You Oughta Know ; Alanis literally spits the lyrics at you.

Sheryl Crow – Be Myself

sheryl-crow-be-myself-2017-2480x2480-cd0294c5-fe01-4c6c-bfef-14831022bd44I’m a big Sheryl Crow fan but not in the same way as I am with other artists who I can really get obsessed about, but I buy all her albums and is probably one of the artists I listen to the most, so not being obsessed about her is a bit weird for me! She manages to blend country, rock and pop in a really great way that means that I rarely get bored with her music and her voice suits all these genres. Her latest album is supposedly a return to her rock roots of the nineties, and it’s a change from Feels Like Home which was a very intentional country album. For me that’s the attraction, that Sheryl mixes it up with every album and gives you something new to listen to.

Standout Track – Only just getting into it really but the title track is a great.