Graded on a Curve: The Beatles, Revolver Special Edition Super Deluxe 4LP + 7” Vinyl EP

Since 2017, Apple Records through Capitol/Universal, under the Parlophone and Apple labels, has been releasing deluxe reissues marking the 50th anniversary of albums from The Beatles. Released so far are Sgt. Pepper, the “White Album,” Abbey Road, Let It Be, and now Revolver. Revolver, however, is not a 50th-anniversary reissue as it was released on August 5, 1966. Other reissues related to The Beatles have also come out in this period.

These five releases have been reissued in various configurations, but it is the deluxe packages that have been most anticipated by fans of the group and historians alike. Each reissue has been different from the others, with varying degrees of repetition of formatting and presentation. Although the Sgt. Pepper deluxe box was only available in a CD/DVD/Blu-ray configuration with a two-LP set also available, the “White Album,” Abbey Road, and Let It Be have all been available as both deluxe vinyl and CD/Blu-ray reissues. The “White Album” and Abbey Road deluxe sets offered a hardcover book in only the CD/Blu-ray packages. Let It Be was the first deluxe reissue to offer the hardcover book in both deluxe packages, giving vinyl fans the opportunity to buy only the deluxe vinyl configuration and still get a book.

The new Revolver deluxe CD set is the first time that no physical optical media (DVD or Blu-ray) will be included, thus not providing a 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby Atmos mix of the album, which has been the case on all of the deluxe reissues in the series so far. This has been a major disappointment for surround sound fans and those interested in cutting edge optical audio formats.

The Beatles have really been at the forefront of the innovative Atmos format and it’s surprising in some ways that they are not including a Blu-ray with the CD set. It may be part of the general overall reduction of physical optical media being released, particularly in the Blu-ray format. It appears there are many people that don’t have a Blu-ray player, even though they are easy to find and extremely inexpensive. The decline of DVDs and Blu-rays being released seems to be the result of physical optical media being superseded by the proliferation of streaming.

Regardless of the format wars and the fact that there is no 5.1 or Atmos mix of Revolver available on Blu-ray, this new reissue, like all the others, is a real winner. In fact, each new reissue has been an improvement over the previous one, taking into account the limitations or particular exceptional characteristics of each album. For our purposes, we will review the Special Edition Super Deluxe 4LP + 7-inch Vinyl EP set. The series also includes a 5CD set, a 2CD set, a single vinyl album, a single CD, and a picture disc.

The 4LP + 7-inch Vinyl EP set includes the new stereo mix on vinyl, with the stereo mix produced and mixed by Giles Martin and engineered and mixed Sam Okell. There is also a 2LP, gatefold, double album of Sessions, mixed by Giles Martin and mastered by Alex Wharton featuring alternative mixes, different takes, rehearsals, studio chatter, demos, and two tracks of mono mixes. Archive tape transfer engineer and Sessions demonstration mixes are by Matthew Crocker.

Included as well is the album in mono, mastered from the original analog tapes by Sean Magee. As a nice bonus, there is a four-song, 7-inch vinyl EP of two songs originally released as a single on May 30, 1966 (“Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain”), prior to the release of the album, featuring a new stereo mix and the original mono mix mastered by Miles Showell. While there was a four-song EP on the Let It Be reissue deluxe vinyl set, it was pressed on a 12-inch album and did not feature any period artwork. It was also available on the deluxe CD Let It Be box.

There is also a 100-page, album-sized hardcover book, very similar to the book that came with the Sgt. Pepper and Let It Be boxes. The book with the “White Album” CD box is 166 pages, although not album sized and not a standalone book. The Abbey Road book that comes with the CD box is also not standalone and is 100 pages. The book that comes in the Let It Be CD and vinyl boxes is a 100-page, standalone book, almost identical to the Sgt. Pepper and Revolver books, but the Let It Be CD set book was not album sized.

The Revolver book contains essays by Paul McCartney, Giles Martin, and Questlove. Kevin Howlett provides a detailed essay on the making of the album and the track annotations, something he has done since the Sgt. Pepper box, as well as for many other reissues of the music of The Beatles. He along with Mike Heatley are credited as archive tape research and editing. There is a unique, almost-graphic novel art approach by Klaus Voormann that provides a creative take on the history of his album cover design. There are some wonderful photographs of The Beatles, original EMI tape boxes, handwritten lyrics, session notes, and other period memorabilia. Additional fulsome liner notes are also included.

All of the vinyl was cut at half-speed at Abbey Road and pressed on 180-gram vinyl and the vinyl comes in poly-lined sleeves. The two albums of Sessions sport vintage Parlophone test-pressing labels. Everything is housed in a sturdy, hardcover slipcase. The only thing missing from this beautiful packaging is that the mono album jacket does not come in the original UK flip-back design that was duplicated on the previous mono vinyl reissues of the albums Please, Please Me through Revolver (except for Beatles for Sale, which was a gatefold). The EP is in a side-open jacket. The 1966-era sleeve, was a top open jacket. All of the pressings are supposed to be 180-gram vinyl, but almost all of them weigh in at just under 180 grams. The mono album was pressed at GZ in Czechoslovakia. The 2014 mono album reissue was pressed at Optimal in Germany.

Revolver took three times the amount of time as Rubber Soul to record, clocking in at 300 hours of studio time. It was the first album which saw Geoff Emerick credited throughout as engineer. Being considerably younger than the previous engineer, Norman Smith, Emerick was much more open-minded and innovative than his predecessor and wasn’t afraid to experiment. Emerick was also experienced in recording tape loops, which would be a major electronic component in the revolutionary sound of the album’s most experimental and groundbreaking work, “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Although Rubber Soul was a turning point in the sound of The Beatles on record, Revolver was revolutionary. The album was yet another major leap forward from Rubber Soul, which at the time marked a distinct maturation in the group as songwriters. The album was a watershed release for George Harrison as a songwriter, with three compositions featured, including his first time with an album opener (“Taxman”).

As stated in the article that covered the Giles Martin press preview event back several weeks ago, the new mix of the album truly sounds spectacular, but there really was a light touch in creating the new mix. The feeling of the new guitar-rock sound The Beatles hit upon is prevalent, but even more so are the punch and variety of rhythms, again demonstrating what a truly excellent, versatile, and underrated drummer Ringo Starr was back in the ’60s.

This is the album where The Beatles really deeply explored different sounds and used the studio as more of a creative laboratory. This new stereo mix makes up for the uneven original and subsequent stereo mixes that have come out over the years. The album was always intended to be listened to in mono, and the initial rushed stereo mix and poor Capitol release, along with the 2009 vinyl pressing, have all been met with different degrees of dissatisfaction by fans, critics, audiophiles, and historians alike.

It’s a shame that the Dolby Atmos mix is not included on a Blu-ray in this package, as that mix was played by Giles Martin back at the press preview event and it sounded great. As stated in the previous article on this Revolver reissue which covered the Giles Martin New York press event, the technology that Peter Jackson’s audio team used on the Get Back series was used to make it possible to do this new stereo mix. The technology used is Source Separation/MAL, using Artificial Intelligence to recognize all the elements of sound in the original recordings.

The double-album Sessions discs are a real treat. There was a double album of sessions on the “White Album,” in a gatefold package in the form of the Esher demos; a double album of sessions on Abbey Road, but with no gatefold, and Let it Be boasted a double album gatefold package of sessions and an entire disc of the Glyn Johns mixes. Although the Sgt. Pepper reissue on vinyl was available as a two-LP set, with only one disc of sessions, the deluxe box contained three CDs of bonus material. Two included sessions and one included the album in mono and additional bonus tracks. That mono mix on CD and the mono mix included of Revolver are the only instances of full albums being presented in mono on any of these deluxe editions since 2017.

The only song from Revolver that is not represented on the Sessions discs is “Good Day Sunshine.” One of the revelations on the Sessions discs is a songwriting work tape of “Yellow Submarine,” which reveals the song in its infancy as a folky John Lennon song. It’s nice to hear Ringo’s unused spoken introduction of “Yellow Submarine.”

One of the opening tracks of the two Sessions disc is the famous RM 11 mono mix of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which was on the rare, withdrawn first pressing of Revolver, the so-called “loud mix” album with the matrix XEX 606-1. One of the versions of “And Your Bird Can Sing” has a very distinctive Byrds sound and owes a great deal to The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” from the group’s debut album in 1965 Mr. Tambourine Man.

The original, actual speed version of “Rain” is included, the one before the recording was slowed down. The slowed down one is the official release and that version’s change in speed is partially what gives it its dreamy psychedelic sound. “Rain” is perhaps the crowing achievement of the group’s rhythm section. It is Ringo’s most lauded drumming and another example that McCartney is a multi-faceted bassist who displays an unmatched melodicism and deft touch. It’s worth noting that some of the most accomplished rock songwriters, such as McCartney, Brian Wilson, Roger Waters, and Sting to name four, were all bass players.

The cover for the double-album, gatefold Sessions discs includes the original cover photo art collage by Robert Freeman who photographed the group’s second through sixth albums’ covers (With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, and Rubber Soul). This cover art was rejected by The Beatles and John Lennon asked Klaus Voormann do the cover. His iconic cover went on to win a Grammy for best album art.

Of interest especially to those who grew up with the US Capitol Revolver, three songs on the original UK edition, which is how the music of The Beatles has primarily been issued since 1987, were not on that release: “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Dr. Robert.” Those three songs had already appeared on the US Capitol Yesterday and Today album released on June 20th, 1966 before Revolver was released in the first week of August. In fact, those three songs have different mixes on the mono Yesterday and Today than on the UK Revolver and might have made for a nice inclusion on the Sessions discs.

The mono album here is a straight transfer from analog tape and has no EQ that is different from the 1966 mono mix. It sounds excellent and the natural mono mix makes for a punchy, visceral experience, especially on the heavier rock tracks. This is literal gold for fans of The Beatles, as Rubber Soul and Revolver are perhaps the two most coveted albums in mono, although John Lennon would have perhaps put Sgt. Pepper first. Some even rate the “White Album” in mono very high.

There is much to like about this box and it really offers a wide variety of material. There are the fresh new mixes which might be more appealing to younger fans and those who have been clamoring for a good stereo mix of the album on vinyl; the Sessions discs, which historians of The Beatles will relish; and the mono album and additional mono mixes, which will appeal to purists and audiophiles.

It appears the Revolver reissue series may not be over. In an interview by Mitch Axelrod and Rob Leonard of the Fab 4 Free Four All with Giles Martin, a standalone Blu-ray featuring 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos mixes of the album is a real possibility. While there were no details and any kind of certainty that would happen, such a release would no doubt delight fans of The Beatles and physical optical audio, but perhaps frustrate those who may not want to spend any further money. Tomorrow never knows.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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