It's been awhile since the last Beatles cash-in album, so fortunately along comes the Yellow Submarine Songtrack for those out there who need to buy a Beatles-related CD every couple years to demonstrate some kind of emotional loyalty to the Fab Four. Actually, this one is one of the most interesting things that's been done with the Beatles catalog since the band broke up there have been plenty of compilation albums through the years (Love Songs, 20 Greatest Hits, Rock and Roll Music), but it's only recently that Capitol has been able to take its golden act off the dusty pedestal its been on since 1970 and really attempt any sort of reevaluation.
The Anthology series was flawed but at least showed that the label was willing to stop being so pointlessly protective of the Beatles' recorded legacy. Conventional industry wisdom was dictating that you don't mess with history you don't re-edit Romeo & Juliet to make it more relevant, and you don't mess with Batman. Of course that's crap look at the movies of both Romeo & Juliet and Batman in both cases they only renewed interest in the originals, rather than tarnishing their "classic" status.
So it's high time that the Beatles are honestly revisited for what they mean musically at the end of the 20th Century. I mean, no one is arguing that they're irrelevant, but there's no reason to keep insisting that everything they ever did was brilliant.
Yellow Submarine has always been the album Beatles fans have allowed themselves to admit they "don't like as much," mainly owing to the fact that it was really only half an album filled out with George Martin's instrumental score for the film. The new Songtrack, which ties in with the theatrical re-release of the film as well as its release on video and DVD (in a brilliantly restored print and greatly improved sound), seems like an attempt to get it right, finally. I have to say, it's hard not to like this album it's like getting a great Beatles mix tape from someone whose taste you really trust.
The first good sign is the presence of four George Harrison songs I'm one of the few who believe that the more Harrison, the better the Beatles album. The next good sign is that every track has been remixed and remastered, meaning that this is the first time that the Beatles' original masters have been messed with since the original CD transfers that came out in 1987. The sound is so much better than I can only hope that the whole catalog will be similarly revamped.
In many cases, the remixing has uncovered bits and pieces that were not present in the original mixes ("Hey Bulldog" and "Yellow Submarine" are the most noticeable examples), but in most cases, the result is just amazingly clean, strong, and present Beatles songs the harmonies shimmer, the arrangements ring out clearly, counterpoint melodic lines rise to the surface and say hello, have we met before? The whole thing has been done brilliantly.
Basically, the endeavor is for the first time to present an album that features all the songs that are included in the movie, and as a result we have, for the first time, a truly hip Beatles album. "Only a Northern Song" brushes shoulders with "Baby You're a Rich Man," which hobnobs with "Nowhere Man" and "It's All Too Much," and look who just arrived, why it's "Eleanor Rigby" and "All Together Now."
The Yellow Submarine tracks have always been the most overlooked in the Beatles catalog, and this album really brings the spotlight to them in the best possible way. The flow is terrific even though the track listing represents many different Beatles periods and styles. Best of all, the CD renews my love of truly neglected songs like "Only a Northern Song" and "It's All Too Much" two of George's finest.
I'm sure in 1968 John and Paul were like "Sure George, you can have two tracks on the album the Yellow Submarine album!" But 30 years hence the joke's on them, as Harrison's hipness makes stuff like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" seem pretty plastic.
Another great treat is the illumination of some of Ringo's best drumming ("Hey Bulldog" in particular) really clear and up-front. He wasn't a power drummer, but he was usually a perfect drummer, God rest his soul. We miss you Ringo. What do you mean he's still alive? Oh, I must be thinking of Ringo Farr, that other drummer. What do you mean I made that up? Leave me alone!
Highly recommended. If you have no Beatles, why not start with this one? If you have all these tracks already, get this and see how great the sound is compared with your old '87 issues for anyone who thinks there has been no difference in CD technology since then, this is an eye-opener. And for helpless Beatle fans, what are you waiting for? You know you're powerless not to buy it, fattie.
Review by Whimparl Pampy