An exhaustive new re-imagining of Lennon’s masterpiece in surround, quadraphonic and mono sound, with extras, singles and documentaries.
Inhale…exhale. It was just a single breath and yet it sums up the wonders on the new reissue of John Lennon’s Imagine. Heard on the Raw Studio Mixes part of this massive reissue, that single deep breath that John Lennon took just before singing “Imagine there’s no heaven…” on what became the master take of the song, reportedly caused Yoko Ono to choke up the first time she heard it. It’s clear that Lennon knew he was about to make a statement that would define him forever as an artist.
Music collectors blessed (or cursed) with the completist gene, Lennon fans, surround sound devotees and just regular folks who love this landmark record will find much about this exhaustive—the label is using the term “immersive”—for this incredible rediscovery of what most fans agree is Lennon’s finest solo album.
Produced under the direction of Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s Imagine-The Ultimate Collection, to be released October 5, four days before what would have been Lennon’s 78th birthday, is a fascinating deconstruction and reassembling contained on four CDs and a pair of audio-only Blu-Rays. There are 61 tracks in stereo, 45 tracks in 5.1 surround sound, 10 tracks in quadrasonic and 17 tracks in Mono. Also include are audio interviews done with John and Yoko in the early 70s by Los Angeles deejay, Elliott Mintz and the album tracks used in the documentary film, Evolution. There’s also a fairly lavish 120-page book that comes with the set. Of course, parts of this set will also be available in a number of different forms including digitally, one and two CD sets and black and limited-edition clear vinyl LPs, but it’s only the full box that really provides the larger picture. As the reissue game has become a more important component of record label bottom lines, these sets have become progressively more elaborate. Even having said that, John Lennon Imagine, goes way above and beyond. Is it too much? You’ll be the judge.
To perhaps slightly unboggle the mind, let me try and simplify. The sources are 24-bit/96kHz digital transfers from the original multi-tracks rather than copies, bounces or mix downs. Thankfully, the tapes still exist and are in good condition. The original album can now be heard here in two new forms: a 5.1 surround sound mix and a stereo “Ultimate Mix.” The original 1971 stereo mix is not included. There are also Raw Studio Mixes as well as a plethora of singles, extras, outtakes and something called Elements, which are isolated parts from the final masters that were thought to be buried or not highlighted enough in the original mixes. All of this extra material can also be heard on the Blu-Ray discs in 5.1 surround. Again, before anything else, exhaustive!
As is now customary with all digital remastering/reenvisioning projects, the balances and overall mix of the Ultimate Masters is more about sharpening and polish than any radical changes. Most noticeable is the increased prominence, track by track, of certain players, certain parts. Both Klaus Voormann’s bass and Jim Keltner’s drums seem to jump out of these mixes. Overall, there is a much wider spread to the sound, a larger stereo image.
At a recent listening session at Beat Street Studios in Manhattan, it was immediately clear that fans of high resolution audio, and who have the proper setup for 5.1 surround, will find these among the best, the most sparkling and well thought out. 5.1 mixes yet created of rock masterpiece. The placement of instruments is unfailingly tasteful and part of a vision that Lennon could support. The book that comes with set contains really wonderful diagrams that explain how and where the music now lies in the surround scheme.
What’s most exciting for those who know the original record, are the Raw Studio Mixes, recorded live at Lennon’s home studio Ascot Sound Studios before Phil Spector added the production. All the effects like reverb and tape delay that Lennon preferred to have layered on his voice, are stripped away in these mixes that were supervised by Ono and Rob Stevens. These appear on CD 3 and also on Blu-Ray Disc 2.
Stevens explained during the listening session with appropriate amounts of incredulity, that Lennon was not a fan of his voice (Hendrix had the same issue) and so liked to mask it with effects. Here, for the first time, Lennon’s voice, exists in a stereo mix? Unadorned and warts and all. It’s a rare window into the creative process around Lennon’s most fully-realized solo statement. Without the vocal effects, the great Beatle, the legend in his own time who would turn 78 this year, sounds committed, searching and more than a little human.