Some of you my remember my post last month describing how I obtained the deluxe edition set of McCartney II on sale for less than $40. During that sale I also got the deluxe edition of the first eponymously titled McCartney solo album.
So how did I tackle a review of it? I mean... how does one objectively review an album one has been listening to since they were a young child?
First I re-listened to the album while driving around San Francisco in the car (playing my UK edition CD), just to reacquaint myself with the music (it had admittedly been a few years since I played the album).
I then put on an original US pressing picking out some choice tracks ("That Would Be Something," "Every Night," "Junk") all of which sounded pretty good until I switched over to my original UK LP pressing. In comparison, the US pressing sounds like it has a layer of gauze over the recording as well as a bit more -- for lack of a better description I'll call it -- hiss and distortion, but its really not that. There is a sense of murkiness on the US pressing which makes the album sound a bit boxier, less three dimensional with decidedly less sparkle. Its not bad. But the UK press is a different animal.
I then went back to my UK CD and played it through my computer so it would have the same benefit of processing via my audioengineD1 DAC, as will the reissued CDs and, more importantly, the high resolution 96 kHz / 24 bit downloads which came with the set. The UK CD sounds pretty good with more of the presence lacking the US LP pressings but it also shows the effect of the CD compression process, particularly notable in the edginess and thin tonality Sir Paul's voice takes on, including some added distortion. The original CD is, alas, a shadow of the original recording, with bass markedly reduced and a sort of odd grit to the high end.
Now on to the remastered CD: this is much better! Back is some of the breathiness on Sir Paul's voice and the warm punch of the tom toms on "That Would Be Something." "Every Night" has some nice round bass sounds and a more open sound to Paul's voice. "Junk" sounds really nice with a nice thick kick drum and more of the sparkle that was missing from the US LP and the old UK CD, particularly when the glockenspiel comes in.
Now I can't wait to play the hi res tracks!
For the purposes of brevity, I'm going to just listen to the "unlimited" tracks but do note that as with others in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, the set comes with a complete set of "limited" tracks in 96/24, which attempt to add some of the, um, sonic flavor of compression which some may prefer.
How does it sound?
Pretty fabulous! It sounds much closer to my original UK LP pressing, with a greater sense of openess and air. Recognizing that a track like "That Would Be Something" is at its root a quite simple recording -- electric guitar, bass, acoustic guitar and limited drums -- there is still a lot of presence to be found here even if it is "just" a four track recording. This isn't a four track cassette recorder like Bruce Springsteen used on Nebraska, which some of you may be thinking -- this is a freakin' four track Studer reel-to-reel driving (likely) two-inch analogue tape after all, so there was a lot of detail in this album, no matter how "primitive" Macca's tracking process was.
Even the track most people skip over, album closer "Kreen-Akrore" takes on a fabulous presence, where you can make out the sound Macca's amplifier feeding back and the tone of his amp. His over-the-top heavy breathing takes on a new dimension -- were I Stephen Colbert, I might call it "breathier."
On the quirky rocker "Oo You," you can get a nice sense of the room where Macca recorded the drums. Remember he made this album in a markedly unconventional manner, plugging the microphones directly into the recorder, circumventing any added benefit of going through a mixing board and outboard processors before going to tape, so to bring down volume levels he would move the microphones away from the drums and amps and such. This is all very apparent on tracks like "Momma Miss America," with its big ambient drums and piano panned hard left and right the first half of the song.
Anyhow, the sound on this download is just part of the excitement of the set. You get two bonus discs which have some revelatory stuff on it. First and foremost is finally getting to hear the full demo of "Suicide" which Macca reportedly wrote for -- and submitted to! -- Frank Sinatra for consideration. Most of us have wondered for ages what the song was like, knowing only the little snippet Macca stuck at the end of the instrumental track "Glasses" to great an eerie effect.
We also get a live-in-the-studio Wings performance of "Maybe I'm Amazed" from the unreleased "One Hand Clapping" TV special (circa 1974), a warts 'n all take that has a certain charm about it. You also get three really nice previously unreleased live tracks from 1979 of the last incarnation of Wings performing that song (as well as groovy reggae-fied version of "Hot as Sun" and "Every Night") live in Glasgow, Scotland. These tracks sound pretty terrific, with Denny Laine still in the band and Laurence Juber on electric. You get to SEE that version of the band playing live in London during the Concert for the People of Kampuchea on the included DVD (note: the audio mix on that video isn't quite up to the level of the audio-only tracks from Glasgow).
In short, if you -- like me -- are a Macca fan and love the songs on this album almost as much as your Beatle records, then you probably need to pick up this deluxe package -- realize that a number of the songs here were probably written when the Beatles were still together ("Teddy Boy" in particular was recorded during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions). McCartney is very enjoyable album and this deluxe archival package includes the lovely photography of the young family out in the countryside and the seaside taken by Linda McCartney. The package includes some fascinating details that put this important transitional record into its proper historical perspective.
For me, this one is a keeper.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.