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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock > John Lennon - Imagine (Limited Gold CD)

John Lennon – Imagine  (Limited Gold CD)


Sound: B     Music: A-



I was five years ago when it looked like the end for Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, folding suddenly and shocking the industry.  To the end, the most well-known audiophile company ever was producing amazing vinyl and CD versions of key music.  In the end of that incarnation, they issued two Who albums (Who’s Next & Live At Leeds (catalog #s 754 & 755) and their first SACD, the underproduced Duke Ellington – Blues In Orbit.  Roy Orbison Sings Lonely & Blues followed (catalog #s 757 & 758 respectively), each only produced at 2,500 copies and that was it, or so it seemed.


Reborn now as a Super Audio CD company, Mobile Fidelity is back and has decided to give the Gold CD-only series a new lease on life.  Sporting catalog #759, John Lennon’s 1971 classic Imagine (1971) relaunches one of the most imitated series in music history.  The same lift-lock jewel box is here, along with the same full liner notes and great graphics that made their Ultradisc series legendary.  They will only issue discs in any of these series if they can use the original master tapes.


This was his third post-Beatles album, continuing the direction launched with his first studio album, the amazing Plastic Ono Band album in 1970.  Phil Spector co-produced both, and this album was a #1 hit.  Heard today, everyone who only knows the title song and albums’ only (remarkably) hit single expects the album to be a dozen tracks of the same thing.  Many with that expectation get quickly disappointed.  In real life, there are ten tracks here and most of them are personal, powerful, and even devastating.


Crippled Inside” is done in an ironically old-styled arrangement that is ironically playful, talking about the inability to conceal hurt, pain, or long-term damage.  However, the only thing the song never considers is if everyone is savvy enough to read such a thing form others.  Ultimately, it is a personal message with an undeniable point.


Jealous Guy” is a famous album cut that is really a love song.  After thirty years, this is still a remarkably bold, honest work that shows a man and his emotional side.  That was groundbreaking at the time and still ahead of ours.  Oh My Love” and “Oh Yoko” arc closer and closer to explicit autobiography of his muse.


It’s So Hard” is somewhat in a 1950s style: Blues, Rock & even a touch of Country.  This is the album’s biggest change of pace and is not bad.


I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier Mama” remains one of Lennon’s greatest political songs and has a later corollary in Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” from his 1973 breakthrough album Innervisions, if not quite as political.  Of course, this is one of the most blatant anti-Vietnam songs, bashing the now-defunct military draft system.  Many would argue now that the decline in economic opportunity leaves few choices for many, so the military suddenly becomes an option whether a war is going on or not, but the song still applies.  The lyrics may be limited, but the impact is massive.


Gimme Some Truth” is another one of the well-known album cuts and of the five tracks George Harrison plays on, his unmistakable sound is most blatant here and this is a blatantly political song against how hypocrisy kills.  Then-President Nixon and his influence (pre-Watergate yet) is singled out and it rivals even the title song of this album in its brilliance.


How Do You Sleep?  has always been considered a song aimed at Paul McCartney by Lennon, and it still sounds like it today.  Just because Harrison plays on it does not mean he was also joining in, but then, The Beatles have had a long history of such public conflict since they formed and long after they broke up so it’s hard to say to what degree of conflict this escalated.  We’ll leave that to the historians.


How?” is a fine piece about relationships that remains another one of the album’s well-known cuts.  The arrangement is not as paired down as many of the songs here and is very effective because it is honest about the unknown of any relationship.


Then there is the title song, which has a long-running debate involving its meaning.  One of the more bizarre debates has been on Right-wing radio (usually AM) talk shows, which try to determine the meaning of the words.  Many of them go gunning for the song as “Communist/Socialist propaganda”, but can never nail the song on that, idiotic as they may be and idiotically as they may try.  So lets run down what the song asks us to pretend about.


Forget there is any afterlife, but we could have a physical world where people live for the moment without any overly outrageous exercises of the Reality Principle.  The basis of many a religion, the idea that you give (or keep giving) things for a better future, or promised land, that you might make it to.  Forget about countries, or civilizations, and then he reiterates forgetting about religion.  Forget about possessions, either because they have disappeared, or their ownership has been eliminated (which would be possibly Communism), then he anticipates the moment the listener might tune out when they would want to most trash the song.  This would eliminate greed and hunger?  Well, failed Communism proved that wrong, but the point offered is more abstract, as the whole song is abstract.  It also is not a tune-out song that says avoid religion and politics.


That is also among the things that makes it so subversive, because it trashes the ugly ideologies of the time, especially those that tried to say that Vietnam was a good thing (even read a “God” thing), a battle for a supposedly Christian God (the only one?), that genocide was “OK”, that there was something to win in East Asia, that one should never question your country (especially the U.S., because they beat the Nazis after all) and just shut up and put up with this.  If the song had put it like that, it would have never got its point across, and fans are bound to find the last two paragraphs (at least somewhat) bad, because even this thinking could limit the song’s intents.  However, Lennon was so forward-thinking that this is exactly the kind of pettiness he expected and was strongly dealing with at the time.  After he assassination (he was being watched, but the watchers sure did not foil the “lone nut” who killed him, did they?  So why not call it that?), that ideology came back with a vengeance, but Lennon gets the final laugh because their very ideology is so hypocritical that its narrowness could not begin to take on the song’s brilliance.  That is why the album and the song will never go away.


The PCM CD stereo tracks come directly from the original master tapes and the CD is pressed in 24-karat Gold like its long line of predecessor and imitators.  It is listed as an Ultradisc II using the Gain 2 system, which at first might indicate that it is only the second highest level of this series.  The top level was not with Super Audio CD tracks either, but was CD tracks that used the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) system as a stage of mastering for the best possible fidelity when brought back to CD-only status.  The result would still be really good, but not like using DSD.  Despite that, it turns out DSD is being used, but not put on the label so consumers do not confuse it with actual SACDs.  With that said, all future Ultradiscs in this revival of the series will use DSD.  There is still distortion that keeps the songs here from having more clarity, but it is actually part of the music.  That is due to the producing of Phil Spector, who may have abandoned the “wall of sound” mono techniques, but still has some unique harmonics that cause a distinctive sound in conjunction with the kinds of equipment Lennon was working with at the time.


On “Imagine”, the way you can tell how good this transfer is comes from what you hear versus so many playbacks of the song in inferior circumstances.  Think analog radio, commercials, older CDs, worn-out vinyl, later-generation copies, etc.  As compared to that, the playback of the song here makes those sound sterilized and even “ethnically cleansed” if we can apply that to technological character.  Certainly, there is an ethnic character to the work of any true artist and when anything interferes with their autueristic mark that demeans the intent.  Mobile Fidelity is one of the few companies that understands this and goes EXTREMELY out of their way to make the playback as authentic as possible.


As for the album as a whole, it is one of the most vital music works ever made, especially of the Rock genre.  Lennon’s vocals are deeply heartfelt, not the kind of contrived phoniness that is slaughtering the music industry today as severely as any file-sharing technology.  This is an extremely personal work and was also a huge commercial success; laying low the myth that developed in the 1980s that only heartless, soulless works could (or should) be blockbuster financial successes.  The very existence of The Beatles is testament to that.


Though it is not the SACD everyone might be waiting for, that looks to be a long time away and this is a one of the best editions of this album yet, so I strongly recommend picking up the Mobile Fidelity Imagine while it lasts.  It is timelier than ever!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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