In part one of my review of John Lennon's wonderful new retrospective set Gimme Some Truth we looked at the excellent new Stereo remixes crafted by producer Sean Ono Lennon in conjunction with Yoko Ono and engineer Paul Hicks. If you missed that review, please click here to catch up. In part two here we'll look at the intriguing and inspiring new surround sound mix.
Available in 96 kHz, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio or 48 kHz, 24-bit Dolby Atmos, the new surround sound remix strikes a compelling balance between deep immersion and being true to the feel of the original analog mixes.
Indeed, the first thing I found exceptional about Gimme Some Truth was how much the music felt like the analog recordings even when listening to a Blu-ray Disc.
I suspect this is because-- and kudos must go out to him for having that insight and passion-- Sean Ono Lennon made the decision to create a fresh transfer of all the analog multitrack recordings in high resolution and use period-accurate mixing gear to more closely approximate the feel of the original recordings.
Thus, here we get to listen to classic John Lennon tracks in 5.1 surround sound yet it feels like you are listening to a bigger version of the analog vinyl.
There is not much information in the set about these mixes but what is there is revealing: "Also included in this set are brand new 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos mixes that include all the bounced analogue effects used for the analogue stereos, to create the more three-dimensional digital mixes."
So as I read it, the analog-digital multi-track transfers were run through the same analogue effects used to create the stereo mixes and then mixed down back into the computer to create the high resolution DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Atmos encoded files used for delivering surround sound on Blu-ray Disc.
This probably included having the signal fed through the analog mixing board which many audio engineers will tell you is a crucial step contributing to the sound of many classic albums. Side note: if you want a good primer on that concept, see Dave Grohl's fabulous documentary Sound City which is all about the love of a particular mixing board (which was used on hits by Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac and many others) with a great soundtrack to boot (click here for my review!).
Accordingly, Gimme Some Truth takes a subtle-yet-distinctive approach to delivering a completely enjoyable surround sound mix which feels inherently analog. I think many listeners who sometimes have trouble with purely digital surround sound mixes will enjoy this. In addition to that rich sense of analog warmth, the mixes offer discrete detailing without extreme ping-ponging sensibilities. Its very 3D in that sense and for this music it works just dandy. There are definitely distinctive things going on in the rear surrounds and around the room, but it is carefully blended to create a more lush and (dare I say) natural sound field.
There are subtle but significant differences between the two and while those remain great, these feel a bit truer still to the sound of the original recordings which is nice on many levels.
In other words: this is one of the first surround mixes I've heard that feels like an analog record... and that is a pretty cool thing indeed.
Here are some of my highlight notes on what you can expect to hear:
I enjoyed how on Mind Games the orchestral strings and signature slide guitar riff flow forward from the rear into the middle of the room. The ending of Jealous Guy is magnificent with the strings fading out in the rear speakers.
Gimme Some Truth has discrete rear channel detailing going on as the orchestral strings fill the room. George's guitar solo mostly lives in the rear but seems to pan out into the middle of the room at times.
Angela features strings and saxes leaning toward the rear while John and Yoko sing up front -- its one of the rare instances where you're really hearing the two of them singing a duet together (super passionately, I might add!). The live version of Come Together has a sweet "slap" on Lennon's voice which seems to go front to rear. So when John sings "shoot" at the intro it goes right through to the back as if you were sitting in the fifth row center in Madison Square Garden!
Just Like Starting Over comes alive with fat guitar power chords slapping front to back for a live-on-stage feel reverb effect. I'm Losing You shows fantastic detailing of all kinds of little textural parts which were layered and blended in the original stereo mix but which you are now able to hear without stepping on the vocals.
Angel Baby is especially revelatory in that there are Tom Toms being played which I never really noticed on the Stereo version. They come to life in the surround mix!
Listening to Steel & Glass I noticed something I overlooked in my earlier review of the Stereo mix: the saxophones are missing from this version on Gimme Some Truth. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. And even with out the "Little Big Horn" saxophone section the song still works really well, maybe even better!
The song now feels edgier while also giving John's voice a bit more space in the mix. The track builds a bit differently than the original, revealing the string section's near Paul Buckmaster-esque vibe (Elton John's early orchestral arranger). The Jerry Garcia-like envelope filter on the lead guitar is haunting.
Nobody Told Me comes alive in surround sound with sweet double tracked guitars in the front channels and rich feel of being in the recording studio with the band. Hearing the quirky cowbell clanks in the rear channels is a sweet touch. An unlikely winner in surround sound is Grow Old Along With Me. Here the orchestral strings lift the simple homemade-in-the-bedroom beatbox-driven boombox demo to another level. It is just gorgeous. It may make you cry - I know I did!
So, there are some of my highlights from listening to this excellent new overview of John Lennon's solo career. I'm sure you'll hear other things when you get your copy of Gimme Some Truth. In the comments section below, let us know about your favorite surround sound moments in this new release.
What a fine way to celebrate John Lennon's 80th birthday and life!