One of the first things I noticed listening to both the new Blu-ray Disc and a 96 kHz, 24-bit advance download of the new John Lennon collection called Gimme Some Truth is that the music immediately sounded warm and rich, much more akin to the original recordings as I remembered them growing up in the 1970s. Analog in flavor, listening to this has been an enriching experience which, among other revelations, once again reaffirms that digital transfers can be done well if handle-with-care effort is applied.
With the U.S. Presidential election in full swing and American socio-political fractions at an all time high, the times are ripe for a new look at the life-affirming anthems Lennon crafted at the height of late 1960s and early '70s societal upheaval (Richard Nixon, Vietnam, etc.). Songs like the set's namesake --Lennon's 1971 powerful calling out and slap-down of deceptive politicians, hypocrisy and war, "Gimme Some Truth" -- resonate truer than ever in this 21st Century era of fake news and political divisiveness.
Across 36-tracks, Gimme Some Truth delivers richly detailed -- and mostly true to the originals -- new mixes of most of Lennon's classic solo tracks from his albums and singles. The collection is available in a multitude of formats including a two CD set as well as a Blu-ray Audio Disc containing the Ultimate Mixes in studio quality 24 bit/96 kHz LPCM Stereo as well as immersive 96 kHz, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 48 kHz, 24-bit Dolby Atmos surround sound.
From the official press release for the album we learn:
Mixed and engineered by multi GRAMMY® Award-winning engineer Paul Hicks, who also helmed the mixes for 2018's universally acclaimed Imagine - The Ultimate Collection series, with assistance by engineer Sam Gannon who also worked on that release, the songs were completely remixed from the ground up, using brand new transfers of the original multi-tracks, cleaned up to the highest possible sonic quality. After weeks of painstaking preparation, the final mixes and effects were completed using only vintage analog equipment and effects at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles, and then mastered in analog at Abbey Road Studios by Alex Wharton in order to ensure the most beautiful and authentic sound quality possible.
So how does it all sound? Well, for starters I've done some rough comparative listening to various original domestic U.S. and U.K. vinyl versions of these recordings I own as well streaming incarnations to which I have access (Tidal, Qobuz). As I mentioned earlier, for the preparation of this initial review in the series I initially worked mostly off of an advance download of high resolution files of the album (96 kHz, 24-bits). [Note: the physical boxed set arrived, literally, yesterday afternoon so I've only had time to give it one listen on the Blu-ray Disc version so I could update my review before publishing].
That said, both versions of Gimme Some Truth that I have heard sound quite wonderful! According to the liner notes introduction by mixing engineer Paul Hicks, Yoko Ono hoped to achieve three things with this collection: "remain faithful and respectful to the originals, ensure that the sound is generally sonically clearer overall, and increase the clarity of John's vocals."
I think Mr. Hicks achieved all three goals and then some...
It can not be overstated enough as to the value of remixing the tracks in first generation quality from the master multi-tracks. As we heard on 2018's fabulous Imagine Ultimate Mix collection (click here for access to my three part review series), they have been able to get back to the original studio sound and present it all in equal clarity that wasn't always possible back in the day due to the technological limitations of multi-track recordings and mixdowns.
The difference is significant.
A collection like this is powerful, calling attention to important "deep cuts" which even I -- a life long Beatle and Lennon fan -- may not have paid enough attention. For example, "Angela," is an incredible collaboration written with Yoko Ono in tribute to political activist Angela Davis that is buried at the end of side two (on the original LP version) of Sometime In New York City. An under-rated and admittedly quirky album, on Gimme Some Truth this track just jumps out as the majestic opus it is. On the original LP it is tucked away, sandwiched between the equally important tribute "John Sinclair" and the rocking album closer "We're All Water."
Compared to the version on the original US pressing, this new version is a night and day listening experience. Where the original sounded quite reigned in dynamics wise -- I hardly noticed that there was a string section there before! -- now you can hear lots of incredible detail. Lennon's rousing bridge section shines brightly in the new remix. Even comparing it to versions of the original mix on Tidal and Qobuz, it is clear that the song was originally poorly mixed and very much in need of this reinvention.
The live 1972 recording of "Come Together" (which wasn't officially released until the 1980s) flows perfectly in the context of this collection coming right after "Angela." The songs which follow from 1973's Mind Games (probably my third favorite Lennon solo album after Plastic Ono Band and Imagine) come to life with a clarity I've only dreamed about. The original LP was always a bit on the murky side (especially compared to the albums surrounding it) so its nice to hear songs like "Out Of The Blue," "I Know (I Know)" and the title track coming into incredible focus, with sparkling detail. Yet, it all still sounds like Mind Games.
One of the nice things about hearing "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" (from the Walls & Bridges album) is now you can feel all the funky little interlocking parts -- electric guitar disco riffs, honky-tonk piano, layered handclaps, electric and acoustic rhythm guitars -- with a very clear distinction between Lennon and Elton John's duet vocals. "Bless You" sounds better than I've ever heard it, even compared to an original UK pressing.
One of the most significant remixes on Gimme Some Truth is Lennon's cover of the Ben E. King classic "Stand By Me" which has been surprisingly -- and for the purposes of this set, wisely -- stripped of much of its echo-drenched Spector-esque production aesthetic and presented in a more appropriately raw form. True to intent of this set, John's vocals are clearer here than ever before, with a bit less "slap" applied to his voice so it sounds more vivid. The organ part at the intro is a bit lower in the mix now as are the rich saxophones, yet it all still works really nicely.
Don't get me wrong, the original is great! However, sequencing wise, I can see why producer Sean Ono Lennon likely decided to pare the mix style back. What with the song coming after "Steel & Glass" (from Walls & Bridges) and followed by "Angel Baby" (from the post-humous Menlove Avenue album, originally recorded during the Rock 'n Roll sessions) and then leading into "Just Like Starting Over" (from Double Fantasy), it all works together wonderfully without feeling awkward or dated.
And don't worry folks, just because this version has been changed doesn't mean you can't still listen to the original. That isn't going away.
Along the way listening to Gimme Some Truth don't be surprised if you hear some differences on some songs which you might not have noticed before -- heck, that sense of discovery is half the fun of listening to a set like this! For example, on "Working Class Hero" for I noticed a distinct change in the recording quality for part of the a verse (around the 1:15 mark), a likely "punch in" edit from a different session or perhaps "flown in" snippet dubbed over from a different take/tape; on the original it is there but the edit is just not quite as audible on the original vinyl mix due to the production design (compression, reverb, etc).
Out of curiosity, I compared this to two earlier versions which are streaming up on Qobuz. It is quite interesting as on the CD quality (16-bit, 44.1 kHz) version the difference is audible but less pronounced but on the 96/24 Hi Res version it is quite clear. So, assuming that both of these versions are taken from the same master source, then clearly the increased resolution delivers a truer picture of the music. I don't mind hearing an anomaly like that. The trade off is more than worth it as you can hear every word he sings in incredible clarity.
There is also a lot less tape hiss on the new version.
Anyhow, I think you get the idea that Gimme Some Truth is a powerful and comprehensive collection which sheds new light on John Lennon's life work and spirit.
In part two of this review I'll be exploring the new 5.1 surround sound remixes.