June 5, 2017

50th Anniversary of Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper' Sounds Fantastic

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club BandSgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released a few years before I was born, but it was one of the albums I heard most often during my early childhood. It was (and still is) one of my parents' favorites. It also had the distinction of being one of the few albums my mom would permit my dad to play as loudly as rock deserves to be played...sometimes. To say I heard it often would be an understatement, but I never minded. I seem to have recognized that it was something special even though I lacked the context to appreciate what things were like before its release.

For the 50th anniversary of the album, a newly remastered version has been released. As I understand it, the Beatles were primarily interested in the original mono version at the time they recorded it. This was the one that got all the attention, leaving the stereo version as something of an afterthought. The new remaster attempts to correct that, going back to the original studio masters and giving the stereo version some love.

I almost didn't bother checking it out. As much as I like Sgt. Pepper, it has never been my favorite Beatles album. It is a great album; it just isn't my favorite album of theirs. I was also skeptical about how much different it could sound. In far too many cases, the remastering process has ruined albums I've loved. I hesitated because I feared that could be the case here. Man, was I wrong!

The new version of Sgt. Pepper sounds fantastic. This is by far the best sounding version of the album I've heard. Admittedly, I have not attempted to set up a blind A/B test to compare this version with my old stereo version. That means I cannot dismiss the placebo effect entirely. It is possible that I just think it sounds better because I know it is supposed to sound better. Still, I am convinced that the remastering has significantly improved the album. It seems to have brought out details I don't remember hearing in the previous recording. It sounds less muddy and more intimate than the previous version. In any case, I find myself wanting to listen to it again. Truly impressive.