Parlophone / Apple Records / Universal Music Group PCS 7009, 0602445599691
The new reissue of The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver follows the pattern of recent re-releases of the band’s recordings: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2017); The Beatles, aka The White Album (2018); Abbey Road (2019); and Let It Be (2021). Those reissues came in various download and physical media formats, and in packages that would satisfy everyone from the casual fan to Beatles obsessives.
In the case of Revolver, consumers again have the choice of a number of versions of the reissue: a single LP; a two-CD set that comprises the original album in a new stereo remix and a second disc of outtakes and alternates; and CD and vinyl deluxe sets that include the stereo remix, the mono mix, several discs of alternates and so forth, and some fancy booklets and packaging. All of the stereo Beatles reissues since Sgt. Pepper have been remixed and remastered by Giles Martin, whose father, George Martin, produced the band’s recording sessions.
The remixes have altered the sound of the original releases to various extents, and I direct you to the links above to my earlier reviews for more background. The new Revolver is another Giles Martin remix. Apple Records and Martin had previously nixed the idea of revisiting Revolver because of limitations in the original 4-track recording.
Martin supervised and mixed the music for Peter Jackson’s Get Back, last year’s documentary on the making of Let It Be, and discovered that Jackson’s team had found the means to isolate various elements in older recordings. “While working on [Get Back], we developed this tech where we could de-mix stuff,” he told NME, “which is basically separating multi-tracks out, so it was really a technological breakthrough which allowed us to do it.”
These innovations gave Martin and Sam Okell, who collaborated with him on the remix, a way to sort out individual instruments and voices that were sharing the same space on the original 4-track tapes. I was eager to hear the new mix, but I didn’t need the additional material included in the deluxe LP set. I already have the 2014 mono vinyl reissue, and I’ve learned from experience that I rarely turn to the extras on these sets. I opted for the single-LP remix; Miles Showell cut the lacquer for the vinyl at half speed. My point of comparison is a 1966 UK first pressing of the LP on Parlophone.
As soon as the band began playing “Taxman,” I could hear how successful Martin and Okell had been in carving out more space for instruments and vocals on the recording. The guitars, bass, and drums were arrayed across both channels, while in the original they were panned to the left. Paul McCartney’s bass sounded strong on both discs, but individual notes were sharper in the new mix, and Ringo Starr’s kick drum punched harder. When Starr introduces a cowbell into the song, it rang out more assertively in the new version, and the tambourine in the right channel was more audible. George Harrison’s vocals were centered, as they were in the original, but more out front, and the harmony vocals were arranged expansively behind him.
John Lennon’s voice on “I’m Only Sleeping” was slightly panned to the right channel on the original mix, but the new reissue has centered it. During this comparison, background harmony vocals also skewed to the right on the earlier release but were more centered and behind Lennon on the remix. McCartney’s bass was more prominent on the 2022 release without being overemphasized, and Starr’s drums were cleaner and brighter. The acoustic-guitar chords were easier to hear, and the reverse guitar lines inserted at various points floated out in front of the music.
“Tomorrow Never Knows” was probably the most sonically adventurous track the Beatles had recorded up to that point, and it pointed the way to even more daring experiments that would follow. I found that the sitar that begins the track echoed from the left channel into the right more clearly on the new mix. Starr’s snare drum was more firmly centered, and his tom-drum hits were more securely placed in the right channel. On the original, they were pulled closer together and softer at the edges.
Lennon’s voice on “Tomorrow Never Knows” was fuller and more three-dimensional on the Martin/Okell remix, as was his processed voice later in the track. Effects, from the seagull sounds that run through the song to the shifting keyboards and guitars, were easier to follow. Martin and Okell made some changes to the way many sounds are presented. The guitar solo, for example, crossed channels more than it did in the original.
McCartney’s voice on “Eleanor Rigby” was in the right channel in the original mix, with the strings in the middle. On the new LP, McCartney was in the center, the low strings were in the right channel, and the higher string parts were on the left. Instruments that shared the right channel on “For No One” have been reassigned now. The harpsichord was shifted to the left, which let me hear how much it brings to the arrangement, and gave the piano more space to fully register; especially the low notes. The horns on “Got to Get You into My Life” were in both channels on the remix, which presented a better division between the reed and brass sections.
Beatles reissues on vinyl since 2009 have been pressed by the now defunct Rainbo Records or by Optimal Media in Germany. My copy of this version of Revolver was pressed by GZ Media in the Czech Republic. I’ve been pleased with my LPs from GZ Media in the past, but my first copy of Revolver was badly dished and so warped I couldn’t lower my tonearm on it. I got a replacement, which was also dished but playable. Both copies had a surprising amount of dust on them. Companies may be running at capacity, but I’ve run into quality control issues on a few recent LPs. Pressing plants need to address these kinds of errors unless they want to bring the vinyl revival to an abrupt end.
For me, the remixes of Beatles albums don’t supplant the originals, and I don’t think they should. George Martin, Geoff Emerick, and others at Abbey Road Studios worked ingeniously to transcend technical limitations of the era in order to bring the band’s ideas to life. Their work drove an explosion of invention and transformation in pop-music recording.
Giles Martin and Okell have tweaked Revolver to reveal the nuances in the album’s innovative arrangements and studio recording techniques, and Showell’s vinyl mastering gives the music a firmer low-frequency foundation. The masterful original is still widely available and should remain so, but any fan of The Beatles will enjoy this remix.
. . . Joseph Taylor