(Sept. 24, 2018) - Today is early Christmas for Beatles fans. Apple has released a few selected tracks to preview The White Album box set, set for release on November 9.
Those tracks are the Esher demo, the take 5 backing track and the brand-new 2018 stereo remix of Back in the U.S.S.R. Here's our verdict:
The Esher demo
Each of Paul's double-tracked vocals is placed on a separate channel, with the lead on the left and the harmony on the right. Paul is literally harmonizing with himself, and the blend sounds seamless. Similarly, the main acoustic guitar (playing rhythm) is on the left, while a secondary acoustic strums on the right. Again, smooth.
Later in the song, other elements such as handclaps and slapping the guitar appear on the right channel, and a tambourine on the left. These elements are discreet, yet distinct. The detail in these secondary instruments, even buried in the mix, is startling.
All that hiss from the original 4-track reel-to-reel tape from May 1968 has been completely removed. A slight complaint may be the absence of a higher end, such as on the tambourine. But this version is a sonic upgrade that's light years from those raw tapes.
Take 5 instrumental
The only surprise with this backing track is hearing George at the start sing a few bars during warm-up and comment that he's been "wonderful on the last two takes" presumably to Paul, the composer of Back in the U.S.S.R. After that, the band launches into a slow, bluesy instrumental run, starting with the guitar squeal (we hear in the released take at the end of the jet plane intro). The bass and drums are mixed up, giving this track a lot of muscle, while the guitars sound dirty and biting. This is a good rock band. Sure, it's a fun listen, but, honestly, how many times will you play this? Me, I consider instrumentals interesting at best, though this certainly is.
2018 stereo mix
The main attraction is Giles Martin's new stereo mix. After his stunning work on last year's Sgt. Pepper remix, expectations are high for his White Album. He does not disappoint.
Just like Pepper, the lead vocal and drums are placed squarely in the centre, making the song soar after the jet-engine intro. Those sound effects remain woven in the left channel while the barrel-house piano rolls along in the right. George's growling guitar stays in the right, as well. All elements are well-balanced and complement each other. No instrument awkwardly sticks out.
The song is clearer than ever before. The bottom end is warm and powerful. The high end sparkles with detail. This mix is a pleasure to listen to on headphones, and it shakes a room when played on a sound system.
Overall, this Back in the U.S.S.R. rocks. It packs a punch similar to the mono mix. Arguably that mono mix still delivers more force, but this 2018 mix is the best stereo one, hands-down. This track promises that the 2018 White Album will rock. Play loud.