Release Date: May 26, 2017
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Hard Rock, AM Pop, Baroque Pop
Hate the idea of remixing the Beatles? Smacks to you of sacrilege? Then look away now - there is little for you in any of the variants of this new incarnation of Sgt. Pepper. Not even the 33 variously revealing, previously unreleased takes scattered across its formats will assuage you. And yet it's hard to imagine anyone feeling too protective of Pepper's original stereo.
If you're reading this review, chances are you've already made up your mind about whether you're going to plunk down some cash for one of the four versions of this "Anniversary Edition" of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Heck, you probably decided that when this deluxe reissue was first announced. What you're really looking for is justification for your purchase.
In 2006, the Beatles coaxed producer George Martin out of retirement to remix and rearrange several of their iconic songs for Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas stage production Love. Martin, though, had a worry: At age 80 his hearing had turned difficult, and so he brought in a collaborator: his son Giles. The younger Martin had produced classical music, as well as recordings by Kula Shaker, Jeff Beck, Elvis Costello and Kate Bush.
I n 1987, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on CD for the first time. It was, by some considerable distance, the most ballyhooed reissue in the history of pop. A two-hour documentary about the album and its place in history was shown at prime time on ITV, even then a very peculiar place to find Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman discussing LSD and the Exorcism of the Pentagon protest.
For the generation who experienced The Beatles first-hand, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band wasn't just the greatest Beatles album, it was also the greatest album of all time. There had been nothing like it before: a sort of concept album, born of studio experiment, and taking recorded music where it had never gone before. Its reputation dominated the popular and critical view of The Beatles for nearly 20 years, until the arrival of CDs and the renewed popularity of Fabs records such as the White Album and, particularly, Revolver, shifted the balance away from Pepper.
"With great power comes great responsibility," according to some old sage or another. It may well be the motto embroidered on Giles Martin's jammies, because it's difficult to think of a band with a back catalogue that's handled with the same kind of caution as The Beatles'. In this age of three-disc comes-with-translucent-mouse-mat editions of records by everyone from Britpop also-rans to none-hit wonders it's startling to consider that this is the first time any of their albums have been given the multi-disc deluxe treatment.
Critics of all stripes love analogies. We use them, too often and crutch-like, for rhetorical support. A waggish film critic once, in jest, took the practice to its logical extreme and called Citizen Kane, “the Citizen Kane of movies.” Well-deserved mockery aside, certain monuments tower high enough into the firmament that we can’t help but point to them over and over again, cliché be damned.