For Beatles fans, a Super Deluxe release like the new Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band boxed set has been a long time coming. It was bad enough waiting 22 years for the band’s catalog to simply be remastered following their CD debut in 1987. With that batch of 2009 remasters, the first four albums were finally available in stereo and all of their mono mixes were now on disc. But after that there wasn’t too much to get excited about until the 2015 reissue of the 1 compilation, entirely remixed by Giles Martin (son of the late Beatles’ producer Sir George). The remixes were subtle, tasteful, and hinted at a future in which the stereo mixes would make more sonic sense than in their original form.
Purists take note: the one thing you won’t find in the six-disc, lavishly packaged Sgt. Pepper’s box is the original stereo mix. The new mix, by Giles Martin and Abbey Road Studios engineer Sam Okell, attempts to create a stereo expansion of the original mono version (which is, in fact, part of the package on its own disc). The mono mix was the vision labored over for weeks by the band and George Martin. The balance of the instrumentation and effects is notably different in the mono—something which was new to many listeners in 2009 when it made its official debut on CD. This new stereo mix sounds like a punchier, fuller, and overall more detailed expansion of the mono.
The other two audio discs contain the the most expansive Apple vault offering since the mid-’90s Anthology series. It should be understood going in: there isn’t really any buried treasure among these outtakes, in terms of complete versions. Many of these are instrumental takes and some of the ones with vocals are the basic, un-dubbed master takes. For instance, “When I’m 64” is the version on the final album but prior to the addition of clarinets. So while the two outtakes discs don’t make for a satisfying casual listening experience, they are great for taking a closer look at how the album was assembled. By peeling back the layers of production, we get a glimpse of Sgt. Pepper’s in its embryonic form.
The remaining two discs are a Blu-ray and DVD, each containing the same content. The benefit of the Blu-ray is lossless audio. The entire album is presented in three audio options: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and uncompressed 2.0 stereo. A 1992 documentary, The Making of Sgt. Pepper, is the primary video supplement. At about 50 minutes it doesn’t go terribly in-depth, but it’s a solid program with valuable reflections by George Martin. The original promo clips for “A Day In the Life,” “Strawberry Fields,” and “Penny Lane.”
It’s worth mentioning that Mikal Gilmore raised more than a few eyebrows with his Rolling Stone review of this new edition by detailing what he claimed were changes to the album’s songwriting credits. This is an example of what is commonly referred to as “stirring the pot.” Over the years, Paul McCartney has ruffled feathers by crediting Lennon/McCartney tunes as McCartney/Lennon on some live albums. This much-discussed ‘McCartney revisionism’ (he unsuccessfully lobbied Yoko Ono to allow “Yesterday” to be listed solely as a McCartney composition) was on many Rolling Stone readers’ when Gilmore appeared to break news of altered credits.
Following numerous reader comments to the contrary, Gilmore issued this defense: “iTunes’ composer column lists the writing credits for the main disc of the 6-disc of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Deluxe Edition) as they appear in this review.” Talk about fake news. Folks, the credits are as they always have been. Sometimes errors and omissions are made when credits are entered into the Gracenote database. Had the majority of Sgt. Pepper’s been re-credited, it would’ve been heavily publicized and widely covered. Gilmore should’ve made a correction to his review, rather than attempting to justify his misreporting.
All in all, this is a spectacular set for Beatles fans (the box includes an LP-sized hardcover book detailing the recording process, songwriting, marketing, and more). Those looking to spend less money can opt for the two-disc edition (new stereo mix on disc one and a limited selection of the big set’s outtakes on disc two).