Music Review: The Beatles - Abbey Road Superdeluxe 50th Anniversary Edition

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Fifty years after the release of their final masterpiece, a newly remixed edition of The Beatles' Abbey Road is now supplemented by two discs worth of studio outtakes and a Blu-ray disc presenting lossless Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD MA 5.1, and high res stereo mixes of the album. Much like the 2018 The Beatles (aka "White Album") and 2017's Sgt. Pepper's, the superdeluxe boxset is no-brainer for serious Fab Four fanatics. And an ideal holiday gift for anyone willing to wait patiently for year's end.

And as with those '17 and '18 reissues, the Abbey Road remix arrives courtesy of Giles Martin (son of the late Beatles' producer Sir George) and Sam Okell. Though nothing has been radically changed, there is an undeniable effort being made to rewrite history by effectively rendering the original mixes obsolete. This isn't a good idea. The Pepper remix attempted to expand the original mono to an acceptably balanced new stereo—the argument for the change being that the Beatles labored with Martin for weeks over the mono mix while leaving a quickly tossed-off stereo mix to Martin.

So, despite a plethora of unreleased takes (and a relatively successful remix), the resultant box set included neither the original stereo nor the original mono on CD. Likewise, for the "White "Album," the original stereo was MIA while the original mono was relagated to the Blu-ray audio disc. Expensive repackagings that cannot be bothered to include the album in its original, unaltered form. And so it is with Abbey Road (for which no unique mono mix ever existed, but whose original stereo mix is disregarded).

It doesn't ruin the album by any means and admittedly it takes an intimate familiarity with the original mix to immediately even notice any significant differences. But that points more to how skillful the original mix actually was (or is, if you track down the 2009 remaster). Remixing for the sake of remixing. It's simply unwarranted here but that didn't stop Apple from leaving the keys in Giles Martin and Okell's hands.

Listening to the album in 5.1 lossless surround is a nice treat, though not one I'm personally expecting repeat often. If you do a lot of dedicated listening in the room where your surround system is set up, then surely you'll glean more from this inclusion. Personally (and I felt this way about the "White Album," too) I'd have rather had some actual video content. Or a disc containing the original stereo version, not to beat a dead horse here.

The two "Sessions" discs actually contain less revelatory material than either of the two previous superdeluxe boxes. There's something off-putting about hearing the curtain pulled back to reveal wildly inferior lead vocals ("Oh! Darling" with its bridges delivered with zero energy) or without much difference at all except for an early end ("Come Together"). And the "Long One (Trial Edit & Mix)" will be an anticlimax for anyone who hasn't already heard it decades ago on a release like Unsurpassed Masters. Sure, it's oddly jarring to hear "Her Majesty" dropped in between "Mustard" and "Pam," but the "trial" mix is so close to the final version there's little reason to spend time listening to it over the final version (or rather, the Martin/Okell remix since the actual final version isn't included in this release).

But there are a few gems scattered among the alternates—the first-ever official release of McCartney's classic "Goodbye" (written for Apple artist Mary Hopkin) is essential. The drums'n'acoustic-only run-through of "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (not on the final album, of course, but a contemporaneous single release) is also a keeper. And the hardcover book is immediately the new standard reference for these sessions. Biggest revelation: George Harrison's "Old Brown Shoe" is a Ringo-less track recorded with McCartney on drums, Lennon on keys, George on guitar (and a good alternate take is included as well).

Just because this superdeluxe is the least-essential of the Beatles' box set reissue series doesn't make it one to skip. Even if you only listen through the "Sessions" discs once (and "Goodbye" is an all-time keeper even on its own) and don't think you'll reference the book regularly (lots of great photos, carrying the standard established by the previous two sets), Abbey Road is still worth putting on the ol' Holiday Wish List if you've yet to pick it up. Because it's The Beatles and if you're a serious fan, you know you'll want it regardless of any shortcomings.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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