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Category:    Home > Reviews > Music > Rock > Pop > Concept Album > Counterculture > Psychedelic > Documentary > The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Super Deluxe Edition 50th Anniversary Box Set (1967/Parlophone/Apple Corp./Universal Music Blu-ray w/4 CDs + DVD)

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Super Deluxe Edition 50th Anniversary Box Set (1967/Parlophone/Apple Corp./Universal Music Blu-ray w/4 CDs + DVD)



Picture: B Sound: Blu-ray: A-/DVD: B+/CDs: B Extras: A- Original Music Album: A+



There are many candidates for the greatest album ever made, including several from great all-time recording artists like Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Rod Stewart, Yes, Radiohead and many more in more genres than we can cover here, but The Beatles always have several entries on that list. Having created some amazing music upon arrival, it is still amazing many 'experts' and fans though the band might be washed up after Rubber Soul and Revolver, not seeing anywhere else for music, the industry or its formats to go. Even after The Beach Boys made Pet Sounds, its hard to believe the lack of imagination or lack of high expectation.


But if you have talent, will, care, ambition and energy, there is always somewhere new to go and the band, not being able to stand their mania of success came up with the novel idea of becoming another band to escape their public and private trappings. Some people would have considered this commercial and career suicide, but the band could have cared less about that and found a way find new creative space as the title characters of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), but it was no musical. Instead, it was a concept album and any actual reference to these characters would only appear in three songs explicitly.


To end the questioning of the doubters (though it did not totally work in an era of redoubters from sudden 'Mr. Roots Music' Keith Richards to alleged fans of The Beatles who say they like and 'understand' every album of The Beatles but this one!), they all went for broke and not only broke through their previous constraints, but took the final step into total surrealism in an almost cinematic way (promotion music films not even considered) and cemented the long playing record album as a permanent art form after scoffing at the time existed for decades since the rise of 78-rpm acetates.


Several new versions of the album have been issued for the half-century mark of this masterpiece, including a vinyl set, but we have the Super Deluxe Edition 50th Anniversary Box Set with all digital discs. This also means we get no less than EIGHT different sonic versions of the album based on various codecs and bit range. For starters, a reminder of all those great songs in the final order they settled upon:


1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2.
With A Little Help From My Friends
3.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
4.
Getting Better
5.
Fixing A Hole
6.
She's Leaving Home
7.
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!
8.
Within You Without You
9.
When I'm Sixty-Four
10.
Lovely Rita
11.
Good Morning Good Morning
12.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
13.
A Day In The Life

plus the hidden two extra music pieces at the end.


The various soundmixes throughout originate from the original 4-track magnetic soundmasters as originally produced by George Martin by Giles Martin (his son) and Sam Okell, appropriate for the album's golden anniversary. As many fans know, The Beatles and George Martin did not simply use four-tracks, but would take some four track recordings and mix them down onto other tracks (single, double) that resulted in the classic sound we here throughout, a rarely sited, unifying aspect of the album.


The first CD offers the 'new 2017 stereo mix' that is different from the previous stereo separation on all previous version up to the 2009 CD remaster, where you can hear how great the stereo really is, yet hear amazing music with total separation on many of the tracks by playing either the left or especially right track on its own. That is gone here and to my ear, these two-channel mixes cut into the depth of the stereo a bit. It is also the stereo mixes on all discs here. CD 4 is the album in all monophonic mixes, plus the following bonus mono tracks:


Strawberry Fields Forever (original mono mix)
Penny Lane (original mono mix)
A Day In The Life (unreleased first mono mix)
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (unreleased mono mix: No. 11)
She's Leaving Home (unreleased first mono mix)
Penny Lane (Capitol Records US promo single: mono mix)


The remaining CDs are almost all outtakes, starting with CD 2:


1. Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 1)
2.
Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 4)
3.
Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 7)
4.
Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 26)
5.
Strawberry Fields Forever (2015 stereo mix)
6.
When I'm Sixty-Four (Take 2)
7.
Penny Lane (Take 6: instrumental)
8.
Penny Lane (vocal overdubs and speech)
9.
Penny Lane (2017 stereo mix)
10.
A Day In The Life (Take 1)
11.
A Day In The Life (Take 2)
12.
A Day In The Life (orchestra overdub)
13.
A Day In The Life (hummed last chord: Takes 8, 9, 10 and 11)
14.
A Day In The Life (The Last Chord)
15.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Take 1: instrumental)
16.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Take 9 and speech)
17.
Good Morning Good Morning (Take 1: instrumental, breakdown)
18.
Good Morning Good Morning (Take 8)


and CD 3:


1. Fixing A Hole (Take 1)
2.
Fixing A Hole (speech and Take 3)
3.
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! (speech from before Take 1; Take 4; speech at end)
4.
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! (Take 7)
5.
Lovely Rita (speech and Take 9)
6.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (Take 1, speech at end)
7.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (speech, false start, Take 5)
8.
Getting Better (Take 1: instrumental; speech at end)
9.
Getting Better (Take 12)
10.
Within You Without You (Take 1: Indian instruments only)
11.
Within You Without You (George coaching the musicians)
12.
She's Leaving Home (Take 1: instrumental)
13.
She's Leaving Home (Take 6: instrumental)
14.
With A Little Help From My Friends (Take 1: false start; Take 2: instrumental)
15.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (speech, Take 8)


They are all presented in PCM 16bit/44.1kHz sound and save my misgivings on the new stereo mix, are as good as they are going to sound in this format. We also get two version of the album in higher-sound capacity video formats. The DVD has PCM 2.0 Stereo at 48kHz/24bit, which is the same dynamic range as the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossy older DTS 5.1 mixes. They 5.1 mixes (especially the DTS) handily beat the CD stereo versions here and on the CD, but the Blu-ray is the one to beat, offering its three mixes in lossless 96/24 sound from that 2017 Stereo mix to high bitrate Dolby TrueHD 5.1 to an especially impressive and sometimes jaw-dropping DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 mix that I liked best. Along with the album, you get Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane in the three mixes on each video format, two songs (especially Fields) that could have made the album and can be found on the second CD in this set.


Particularly in DTS-HD 5.1, the music is stunning! Having heard this album literally hundreds of times and several of the songs on their own a few hundred more over the years, it is like hearing the lost first-generation version of the album. The new mixes have not tampered with or altered the original masters, the clarity will be a revelation to most people who have not heard The Beatles in the highest fidelity formats in recent years (the DVD-Audio 5.1 mixes on the Love DVD/CD set, DTS lossless on the Criterion A Hard Day's Night, the DTS lossless on Yellow Submarine movie Blu-ray, the DTS lossless on the #1s collection) showing the still ahead of its time fidelity, engineering and production this album actually possesses. It is not to say other albums of the time were not great (just listen to the 192/24 DVD-Audio 2.0 Stereo side of the 1967 Casino Royale soundtrack, the Super Audio CD 5.1 mix on The Who's original Tommy or The Moody Blues' Days Of Future Past, DTS lossless tracks on the Blu-ray edition of The Yes Album, the DVD-Audio 5.1 mix on Pet Sounds) at the time, but yet, The Beatles and George Martin were still working on a higher, more advanced level that would be their experimental peak (despite the decline being VERY slow before their break-up) and would push Brian Wilson to temporarily self-destruct with his unfinished Beach Boys answer to this album, Smile.

While many bands would be going psychedelic (in itself avant garde and opening wide levels of experimentation, like The Pink Floyd) or pushing higher levels of Rock sound (The Who) or the highest levels of actual recording fidelity (Burt Bacharach and Hal David on Royale), The Beatles and Martin had already established the higher fidelity a few years ago everyone was trying to catch up on (save Motown's stylized recordings of the gruff sound of The Velvet Underground and Nico) and beat everyone to the next stage on pretty much everything. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band can show its sonic age in sone ways, of course, yet even that is offset by the character of the surrealism and experimentation, including more than a few instances that could NEVER be created or originally exist in the digital sound realm.



By bookending the set with the narrative first two and last two tracks, they could create new sonic landscapes, worlds and ideas that mixed older music forms with a Rock sense without selling out either part of each song whether using Classical Music, circus music or kazoos. It matched their British whimsy (something Wilson could never fall back on unless he intended to spoof it) and the result is a new power and strength to these works as recordings alone that play like the next step for the band. They were still ahead of virtually everyone else in the music business save the occasional genius of a Tom Dowd, one of their few peers at the time.


It all starts innocent as if they have transformed into the other, implied-older, music act, but drug references are just the beginning of the rules they broke to make this THE album that transformed the music industry and by association, the entire entertainment industry forever and for the better. For those who complain about concept albums, why? Why dumb-down the artform? Sure, many albums that wished to be this one tried and failed, but at least they tried. Then you have the artistic success from Fragile by Yes, to Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? and Here, My Dear, Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Sign O' The Times by Prince, several Pink Floyd, Radiohead, David Bowie and Rolling Stones albums and even the insane triple album successes that marked the debut of Donna Summer. That's just the tip of the iceberg of what the album spawned, yet it is still so uniquely its own that even The Beatles (and better acts) never really tried to attempt anything exactly like it again.


So what about the songs on the album itself. You get the title song you expect to bookend the whole affair (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) and lands up not, a deceptively simple song about needing love (With A Little Help From My Friends) later proven otherwise quickly by Joe Cocker, one of the greatest imaginative fantasy songs ever made (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds) with one of the greatest vocal performances of all time (making any drug reference(s) incidental), a tale of masculinity gone wrong (Getting Better), an existential piece easy to underestimate (Fixing A Hole), a brilliant ballad (She's Leaving Home) with a really sad tale to tell about what we now know as the generation gap, a circus song (Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!) that fits the theme of the album and offers so much more, the song meant to original bridge the two sides of the vinyl release (Within You Without You) that actually makes total sense if you actually listen to what George Harrison is singing (!), a brilliant piece of comedy (When I'm Sixty-Four) in the face of aging and death, one of the greatest songs ever about lust (Lovely Rita), one of the best Rock romps of all time (Good Morning Good Morning) with its surrealism & all and the then, unexpected final track (A Day In The Life) that is more than just about one man's death and became one of the most powerful songs ever made.


The Beatles are being initially coy with their fans and audience, offer the fantasy of the alternate band for a while, then take the listener on one of the greatest journeys in all of music history that has been is and ever will be. By the time it is all over, it is not just a collection of great songs, but an experience like no other before or since, that an album, any album, could exceed its confines, limits, predictability, limited expectations and remain as powerful as it is smart 50 years later and counting is one of the all-time achievements in the arts. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an all-time watershed, landmark and though a time capsule in some respects, is a journey in time otherwise that is as relevant as ever, still influential and an undeniable achievement that is evergreen, endures and always holds up.



Though the video sets are mostly comprised of music, The Making Of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1992) documentary featurette runs about an hour and has been fully restored for this set, plus the classic promo music films for A Day In The Life, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane.


The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on the documentary looks just fine, down to the older footage, but the 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on the three music film clips (all at 4K apparently) look great here as they did in the #1s set. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the DVD (including putting the 1.33 X 1 films in a 1.78 X 1 frame as the Blu-ray does) looks just much softer by comparison and is passable at best.


Other extras in this great slipcase packaging include a lenticular version of the classic cover on the front of the box, reproduction of the cutouts from the original vinyl release on the inside, two posters and a nicely illustrated 144-page hardcover book on the album including informative text making this a sizable release worthy of an album of its importance, which can never be overstated.



- Nicholas Sheffo


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