Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Across The Universe

Finally got a chance to watch Across the Universe, the Julie Taymor Beatles/60's film.

I had avoided it when it came out for a number of reasons. First off, I don't really like Julie Taymor. I never saw the Broadway production of Lion King, but I did see numerous clips and thought it looked boring. And I felt the hoopla over the costumes was unfounded. Who cares? It's a dumb Disney thing. Parent dies, funny sidekicks, dangers...yawn.

And I absolutely hated her film Titus. I thought it was gross, disgusting and long.

The critics and Broadway crowd fall in love with certain people and productions that I find dull and unwatchable. I hate things like Les Miserables and anything by Andrew Lloyd Weber. I had put Taymor in this group, i.e., mediocre entertainment for people anxious to be entertained.

And while Broadway has had some wonderful songs and shows (I like the old stuff, like Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma!) they have produced a lot of crap and a lot of irritating stars, e.g., Ethel Merman.

Second, I generally don't like Beatles' stuff that isn't by the Beatles. Whether it's cover songs, copy bands or movies (e.g., the horrible Sgt. Pepper film), I'm just not that interested. Whereas, if the Beatles are involved (e.g., the Love show in Vegas), I find that I usually enjoy myself and can sense the unique magical quality they provide their fans.

So what did I think of Across the Universe? I thought it was great. The colors, the songs, the actors, the dancing, the story...I loved it all. I wasn't so sure on first viewing, but the next day, I couldn't get the darn thing out of me head. I had to watch it again.

The story is simple enough. A group of kids stuck in the madness of the 60's. The war in Vietnam, assassinations, civil rights, etc. On reflection, they do seem to cram about ten years worth of stuff into what actually seems like only a couple of years, but I didn't care.

It's a fabulous movie and they treat the music with a lot of respect. They don't try to do the Beatles. The arrangements are true to the originals (e.g., they don't do slow songs fast or fast songs slow), but they manage to give them a fresh vibe that never bugged me. And I like the fact that they leave the lyrics alone. If a girl is singing a song about a 'girl', they don't change it to a 'guy'. Nice touch. Changing 'guy' to 'girl' and vice versa always sounds weirder to me than just leaving it alone. The Beatles figured that out when they did 'Boys'.

If you haven't seen it, Netflix the thing. And watch out for the 'I Want You' sequence. By far the best thing in the movie. And the 'Mr. Kite' number is a lot of fun, too.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sgt. Pepper in Mono

After a long search, I finally laid my hands on a nice mono copy of Sgt. Pepper. It's a Capitol copy, with the the cut-out inserts and groovy pink psychedelic inner sleeve. I know, I know. The EMI versions are better and they have the famous 'inner groove' gibberish, but I am trying to fill in my 'USA' collection and it's exactly what I wanted.

We've long heard that the mono version is the best version. Also, The Beatles were present during the mixing of the mono but did not attend the stereo mix.

I had never heard the mono Pepper, so when I sat down the other day to give it a listen, I was anxious to see the difference.

First off, it's not all that radically different. However, the mono does seem heavier. The guitar, bass and drums are more present. This is apparent the minute the album starts and continues throughout.

Besides that, there were a few things that jumped out. The end of Side One, 'Mr. Kite', has a much more abrupt, non-echo ending. It's quite different and shocked me when I heard it. Also, during the transition from 'Sgt. Pepper Reprise' and 'A Day in the Life', you can hear McCartney ad-lib yelling (I can't make out what he says but it's along the lines of his scat singing on 'Hey Jude'). And the laughing at the end of George's 'Within You Without You' is much louder. It's buried on the stereo and if you're playing the stereo at low volume, you don't even hear it. Having it louder is much better, I think, and continues the feeling of there being an 'audience' (as was the set-up at the beginning of the album).

'She's Leaving Home' is a bit faster (they either slowed down the stereo or sped up the mono. Not sure). 'Lucy' is more echoey but not much. And I noticed the chicken cluck and guitar lick at the end of 'Good Morning' was timed differently (I think the stereo actually got it timed better, but that's after listening to it for 40 years, and only hearing the mono a couple of times).

So is the mono really better? I actually think it is. Slightly. Just the fact that the guitar/bass/drums sound is deeper and more up-front makes me prefer it. If you don't have a copy, get one on eBay...or you can wait for Capitol Albums Vol. 3, which should have both mono and stereo mixes, as well as Yesterday...and Today, Revolver, and Magical Mystery Tour. That is, if Capitol doesn't screw it up.