In 1968, The Beatles released what would become one of their most beloved and controversial records. The self-titled double album often referred to as ‘The White Album’ due to its blank cover contains thirty tracks, among them many of what are considered The Beatle’s absolute best and worst tracks. Now, for its fiftieth anniversary, the album has been remixed and remastered as part of a massive commemorative addition, including acoustic demos, alternate takes and personal stories from those involved.
From the very first track, Back in the USSR, its clear that the changes made are noticeable and in some cases, significant. Much of the warmth and ‘fuzziness’ common in recording from the 1960s has been exchanged in favor of a much crisper, more modern sound. The drums on Glass Onion are punchy and powerful, and the individual instruments in the composition are more distinct than in the original recording. This is the case throughout the record, and with a few exceptions, it improves the song. The exceptions mainly come when the rougher, bluesier tracks such as Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? and Yer Blues are remixed to sound cleaner, and so lose much of the roughness that made them sound like authentically angry breaks from The Beatle’s usually wholesome, almost childlike style of songwriting and production. In contrast, the especially heavy track Helter Skelter often called the first metal track ever recorded, is made more intense by a brightening of the guitar sound and a bringing forward of the vocal track into the mix. It sounds much more like a modern punk or metal song than ever before.
The new mixes shine brightest in delicate acoustic tracks like Dear Prudence, Julia, I Will, Blackbird and Long, Long, Long. Julia, in particular, has been given a new level of intimacy; it sounds like Lennon is hovering beside you, almost whispering the words straight into your ear. You can hear his fingers sliding across the neck of the guitar, and this sort of effect is found across the record, giving the listener the feeling that this album was not just remixed: it sounds as if it was written and recorded yesterday.
The dozens of demos and outtakes are interesting for those who want a look into the long, difficult process of making an album. Many of the takes are not and were not intended to be listened to casually, and so likely are there for a mostly instructive purpose; even The Beatles struggled to make good ideas into great songs. The Esher demos are essentially acoustic versions of the album tracks and are most likely to interest casual listeners. Others are early versions of tracks released on later Beatles albums and the individual solo albums, but again these will hold the most value for those who are interested in the Beatles from a historical or technical perspective. However, a few of these demos and outtakes are illustrations of what made The Beatles so great; what would have been songwriting achievements for other bands were left on the cutting room floor.
Any fan of The Beatles no matter how casual will find enjoyment with this new collection. There is new life in the album tracks and a few impressive surprises in the demos and outtakes. Those who have never enjoyed The Beatle’s music in the past will not likely be swayed by this lengthy and extremely in-depth collection.