The Beatles’ ‘Red’ + ‘Blue’ Reissues Review: The Good + The Bad
Now, we’re turning our attention to of 1973’s “Red” and “Blue” albums, out this Friday (11/10/23). Known officially as The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970, respectively, the sets are have gotten a complete makeover for 2023. There are more songs, many of which have been remixed by Giles Martin. Giles, of course, is the son of famed Beatles producer George Martin. The entire first disc of 1962-1966 has been remixed, as have 11 of disc two’s 19 tracks. On the 1967-1970 set, six songs have been given the Giles Martin treatment.
Before I begin, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I am generally not a fan of remixing Beatles songs. Or any songs, for that matter. I’ve always felt that the original mixes speak for themselves and needn’t be altered.
My Review Of The Set
Peter Jackson’s MAL audio technology was used on this set, making it possible to separate two sounds playing at once on a single track. This really opens up the individual instrumentation on the set and allows for a nice, balanced stereo picture. I think it is particularly effective on the first disc of “The Red Album.” I was happy Giles didn’t exploit this “mono to stereo” technology too far. His “stereo” mixes of “Love Me Do” and “She Loves You,” two songs whose master tapes have long been lost, are tastefully done. The stereo separation totally works in these cases.
Where I think the technology falls a bit short, at least in this case, is with Ringo Starr’s drums. Either that, or Giles Martin became infatuated with Ringo’s playing while remixing. Ringo’s drums never sounded more crisp than on these songs. But they’re mixed too loud in many of the 2023 remixes on “The Red Album!” In some cases (including “Roll Over Beethoven,” “This Boy,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and even “Michelle”), they’re downright distracting. Yes, it’s cool to hear the bass drum so well now, but not at the expense of hearing the song the way we’ve heard it for the last half-century.
A Few Red Album Highlights
- It’s wild to hear the “ching-a-ching” of guitars so clearly in “She Loves You!”
- The edits in songs like “She Loves You,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “This Boy” have been cleaned up very nicely and have never sounded better.
- Wait a minute! Is that a DIFFERENT Paul McCartney vocal on the opening lines of “Can’t Buy Me Love?” Before the first verse? In the originals, he lilts his voice on the word “love” when he sings “can’t buy me love,” yet on this version, he sings the notes straight. Where did this come from? Is it shipped in from another part of the song, or is it another vocal take found somewhere? This puzzles me to no end, and I hope my fellow Beatles geeks can get to the bottom of it!
On “The Blue Album,” my disdain for remixes hits me square in the face. To say that the 2023 remix of “I Am the Walrus” is a train wreck would be an insult to train wrecks. The end part, with the King Lear BBC broadcast, is completely botched. Parts are missing, and new elements are added that were not present in any earlier mix. Who approved this mix? Yikes.
Some “Blue Album” High(and low)lights
– Sadly, Giles has done a disservice to “Old Brown Shoe,” totally forgetting to bring up a fader on a guitar line after the words “from worse and tried to drag me down,” 0:41 into the song. I cannot believe no one caught that.
– A rhythm guitar has magically appeared in the right channel of “Magical Mystery Tour.” It stands out because it had been previously buried in the mix. Since the Beatles were quite involved in the mixing process by 1967, one must deduce there was a reason the guitar was not so prominently featured. This is why I am not a remix fan. There are too many liberties/decisions being made without all the participants’ input.
– The inclusion of “Now And Then” on this set is odd. First of all, it undermines the title of the set since it was recorded between 1979 and 2022. It would have been nice to release it as a standalone single like they did back in the day.
– One hilarious part of this remixed “Blue Album” is on “Hey Bulldog.” Again, a few changes were made to the chatter John and Paul do at the end of the song, and I swear I can hear someone (John?) say “What’s up boy?” at 2:34 into the song. See what you think!
Sonically, the sets do suffer from some heavy-handed limiting in the mastering. Of course, that’s how almost all songs are mastered these days…loud! In closing, I can say that there is something for everyone in this 2.0 version of the “Red” and “Blue Album.” You will definitely hear these songs in a whole new way, but is that really a good thing? Granted, I have not heard the Dolby Atmos surround mixes, but the remixing errors and decisions made here have left me more disappointed than excited.
My rating: 4 (Ringo) Starrs out of 5, and only because the songs are so damn good.