The Beatles top music reviews

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:56 PM ET

The Beatles
Stereo Vinyl Box


If any band truly belongs on vinyl, it’s The Beatles.
Granted, The Fab Four weren’t the first group to make LPs. But during their brief but ridiculously prolific tenure, they arguably did more for the format than anyone. Not only did they pioneer the notion that a vinyl record could be an artistic entity unto itself — as opposed to just a cobbled-together catch-all of singles — but they effectively epitomized the medium with unprecedented creations like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Even to this day, they remain leaders of the pack: Abbey Road was supposedly the best-selling LP in the U.S. in 2011.
So naturally, there’s plenty of fanfare surrounding the release this week of the lavish Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box. The 20-pound behemoth — roughly the size of a small desktop computer tower — includes remastered LPs of their entire core catalog, pressed on 180-gram audiophile-quality vinyl and encased in replicated packaging complete with original posters, photos, cutouts and inserts. It comes with an exclusive, magnificently designed 252-page hardback coffee-table book brimming with photos and essays about the creation of each album. Of course, as with all things involving John, Paul, George and Ringo, it also arrives accompanied by grousing and griping from the purists and audiophiles.
Before you invest big bucks — and a day in your life — on the box, here’s what you need to know:

DISCS: 16 LPs containing The Beatles’ 12 original U.K. releases from 1963 - ’70 — Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (White Album), Yellow Submarine, Let It Be and Abbey Road — along with the U.S.-originated Magical Mystery Tour and the Past Masters rarities set. The first four albums are making their North American stereo vinyl debut. Cause, you know, better four decades late than never.

DETAILS: If you believe liner notes — which, admittedly, should always be read with a grain of salt — this project was only slightly less complex than the Moon landing. Armed with the digital mixes from the 2009 Beatles CD remasters, experts at Abbey Road Studios put themselves through umpteen quality-control hoops — blind listening tests to decide between metal or lacquer masters; subtle tweaks and ‘surgical EQing’ to fix minor sonic issues; mechanical and electrical tests to ensure various machinery was properly calibrated; and multiple test pressings to spot last-minute defects. If that’s not enough, they even recreated the gobbledygook on the inner locked-groove at the end of Sgt. Pepper. Guess love isn’t all you need.

DISPUTES: Speaking of love, you’d think all the above would make Beatlemaniacs universally and unconditionally delirious. But no. As always, purists are ticked. Mainly, they seem unhappy the albums were cut from the 2009 digital mixes instead of original master tapes. Near as I can tell, they aren’t quibbling about creative choices but sonic reproduction. Are they right? Well, yes and no. I randomly compared the vinyl side-by-side with CDs. As you’d expect, the latter deliver far greater clarity, separation and frequency range, while the LPs sound warmer, blended and more like a real band. So yeah, they sound different. But better is in the ear of the beholder.

DECISION: Obviously, the box is aimed at collectors and Fab Four fanatics — ironically, the same people most likely to quibble. But here’s the deal: If you’re a person who memorizes the specs of audio equipment and nitpicks every recording, you’ll probably be disappointed (as you likely are with most contemporary music). But if you’re a fan who just wants to enjoy the tactile sensation of putting LPs onto the turntable and listening to The Beatles the way they were originally heard, you’ll likely see this as money well spent — especially when you get your paws on that awesome book, which is almost worth the price on its own.

DAMAGE: The Beatles don’t come cheap; the box goes for a hefty $319 at one major online retailer. For those on a tighter budget, the albums are also available individually for about $24 (the 2-LP White Album and Past Masters are $33). Finally, for those who prefer their Fabs in mono, that vinyl box is due next year. The long and winding reissue road continues.

RATING: 4.5 (out of 5)

One Direction
Take Me Home


just cut to the chase, OK? The U.K. heartthrobs’ sophomore disc is everything you expect: The usual teen-romance cliches, delivered in lush harmonies and wrapped in slick pop that’s as infectious as it is soulless. To the slumber-party set, it’s totally the Best. Album. Ever. For those old enough to drive — and cringe at the Clash and Queen nods on some tracks — not so much.

Download: Live While We’re Young; Kiss You

RATING: 2.5 (out of 5)

Pitbull
Global Warming


Think globally, act conventionally. Mr. Worldwide lives up to his handle on his seventh CD, sampling Spain’s Macarena, the Maytals’ Jamaican dancehall, a-ha’s Norwegian pop and much more. Sadly, the raspy cueball squanders that exotic palette by anchoring it to the usual relentless hip-house whompa-whompa, VIP cameos and braggadocious D-bag drivel. It’s a small world after all.

Download: Don’t Stop the Party; Drinks for You (Ladies Anthem)

RATING: 2 (out of 5)

Serena Ryder
Harmony


You can always count on Ryder — to change. The Juno-winning singer-songwriter refuses to be pigeonholed on her long-awaited fourth disc (and followup to her 2008 hit Is It O.K.). One minute she’s drawing on ’50s gospel-blues; the next ’60s girl-group pop, ’70s folk-rock, ’90s folk-hop and more — all while keeping one foot in the present. Unfocused it may be; unimpressive it is not.

Download: For You; Stompa

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Aaron Lewis
The Road


Just what we need: Another rocker going country. Following in the calculated bootsteps of Hootie, Bon Jovi and umpteen others, Staind screamer Lewis gruffly croons about the joys of whiskey, fishing holes, diesel fuel, granddaddy and Amurrica against a generic landscape of twangy Telecasters and shimmering steel guitars. On the plus side, it’s not nearly as annoying as his day job.

Download: Endless Summer; State Lines

RATING: 2 (out of 5)

Kris Kristofferson
Feeling Mortal


“I never really stopped recording,” Kristofferson told me recently. “It was just some people stopped paying attention.” It’s time they started again. The 76-year-old icon’s latest rustic work offers more moving reflections on life, aging and death, its frank sentiments voiced in Kristofferson’s weathered growl and decorated with no-frills performances produced by Don Was. Immortal stuff.

Download: Feeling Mortal; Stairway to the Bottom

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Guided By Voices
The Bears for Lunch


And then there were three. Prolific Ohio indie-rocker Robert Pollard and his reconvened crew of drinking buds are back with their third album of 2012. And as always, the proceedings are divided between fuzzy garage-rock nuggets, British Invasion prog-pop, half-baked notions and failed experiments. Sure, they could have just put out one disc of highlights — but where’s the fun in that?

Download: King Arthur the Red; Smoggy Boy

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Holly Cole
Night


Concept and execution. Canadian chanteuse Cole varies the former; she’s done albums about summer, romance, Christmas and Tom Waits. But on this set dedicated to the night, her approach remains reassuringly familiar, as she converts everything from Bond balladry and Beefheart to Lightfoot and Terry Jacks into late-night torch ballads and country-tinged laments. Dim the lights.

Download: Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues; Viva Las Vegas

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Have Not Been the Same
Various Artists


And they have not been forgotten. This compilation — another companion album to the definitive Canadian indie-rock tome first published back in 1991 — unearths buried treasures and rarities from long-beloved (or long-forgotten) artists like Poisoned, The Nils, Doughboys, Sloan, Pursuit of Happiness and many more. Even better: Proceeds benefit Kids Help Phone. You can’t lose.

Download: Slow’s Have Not Been the Same; NoMeansNo’s Dad

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Tame Impala
Lonerism


One is the onliest number for Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. The Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist penned and played nearly every note on this sophomore release in splendid isolation — all the better to craft his superbly soaring, imaginatively idiosyncratic synthesis of pristine pop melody and multi-textured lysergic audio quirkiness. One for the Flaming Lips heads.

Download: Apocalypse Dreams; Elephant

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Bad Brains
Into the Future


Their future is their past. And their past is their present. Three decades after redefining punk, these influential African-American mavericks and unlikely survivors continue to produce their own potent potion of hardcore propulsion, sludge-metal power and dubby reggae spirituality. Granted, they’ve slowed and softened over the years. But ultimately, they’re still rocking for light. Praise.

Download: Youth of Today; Yes I

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

DVDs

MusiCares Tribute to Barbara Streisand
Various Artists


They may not bring her flowers anymore, but the music biz gave Streisand a bigger and better gift in 2011: A star-studded Grammy tribute. Everyone from Nikki Yanofsky and Diana Krall to Jeff Beck and Faith Hill drops in to lovingly rework Streisand’s hits on this hour-long DVD, which wraps with two songs from the guest of honour. After all, who better to celebrate Babs than Babs?

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Tony Bennett
The Zen of Bennett


Quality. Simplicity. Honesty. They are the defining qualities of Bennett’s long career — and the hallmarks of this fly-on-the-wall doc by son Danny. The 90-minute film follows the indefatigable octogenarian around the world as he records with the likes of Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, reminisces about the old days and old ways, and shares his philosophy on life and love. Superb.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)
 


Photos