Category Archives: Bluray

John Lennon • Imagine (The Ultimate Edition) [2BD/4CD Box Set]

JOHN LENNON’s first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, was a raw slab of rock ’n’ roll, primal and painful and pretty near perfect. The followup, 1971’s Imagine, was a much more elegant affair… at least, that’s how it came off at the time. But, you’ll find when dipping into The Ultimate Edition, there is a vast sky of treasures that went into its creation. This substantial 2 Blu-ray/4 CD set gives us so much of it that it’s hard to know where to begin.

What strikes me hardest is just that: There is so much in this compact box set, it may just set a new standard for physical audio formats. Imagine: The Ultimate Edition starts with a newly remixed version of the original album, its ten songs ranging from the title track (which needs no introduction) to the folk-blues of “Crippled Inside” to the hauntingly beautiful and personal “Jealous Guy” to the densely hard politics of “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier, Mama, I Don’t Wanna Die.” The remixes, in both stereo and 5.1 surround sound, make it easier to appreciate this deep album; its original release’s mixes were murky and muddled – that has been resolved here in an amazingly coherent way. If you already know the album well you’ll be able to tell what’s changed, yet you’ll be pleased with this new mix. And if you’re new to Lennon’s second classic album you’ll dig what he did, too.

Next up, various singles from the era (remember, back then, many singles weren’t attached to an album), also in newly mixed stereo and 5.1. If you’re old enough you’ll remember something called quadrophonic, and the ’71 quad mix of Imagine is also included. (It was released only on vinyl in the UK and on 8-track tape [!].) There is also a set of out-takes, also mixed in stereo and 5.1, and these make you feel like you were right there in the studio with Lennon & Co. as they were sorting out their arrangements in prep for the final takes. Sheesh! That’s only BD disc one. The second Blu-ray gives us another, further set of raw mixes, another set of out-takes, a set of elements (for instance, just the strings from “Imagine”  or a solely acoustic take of “Oh Yoko”), and what they call “The Evolution Documentary” (which I haven’t gotten to yet). Are you lost? Because it’s easy to feel that way among all of this audio.

Unlike many “super deluxe editions” that have come out, Imagine is so exhaustive, it’ll take you many sit-downs to get through it. Most of today’s big bucks box sets just give us a bland stereo version/mono version/live renditions combination that practically wears out its welcome upon arrival. This one won’t be doing that anytime soon. Did I mention it comes in a nice, 9″ x 9″ slipcase? (Lennon had a thing about the number nine.) Considering what work went into preparing a release of this scope, Imagine: The Ultimate Edition is well worth its price. Don’t worry, though. If you’re not willing to go this far, there are lesser editions to check out, including slimmed down 2CD and 1CD editions and a 2LP version (which was available for preorder in a clear vinyl edition). For more on this huge undertaking and its various components, visit Paul Sinclair’s Super Deluxe Edition.

5/5 (Calderstone/Universal 0602567671268, 2018)

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The US Festival: 1982 The US Generation [DVD, BD]

The Woodstock of the ’80s? In a way. The US Festival was Steve Wozniak’s “brainchild,” in quotes because the Woz didn’t quite know what he was doing when he decided he wanted to put on a bigger-than-Woodstock festival to “unite us in song.” But somehow he put together a crew that was able to avoid most of the issues that plagued the iconic ’60s rock fest. The US Festival: 1982 The US Generation is a documentary film that tells the story of the ’80s event, which was attended by some 400,000 people over three days. The doc also features a few artists performing complete songs, including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (“Refugee”), The B-52’s (“Strobe Light”), The Police (“Can’t Stand Losing You”), The Cars (“Bye Bye Love”), Santana and Fleetwood Mac.

Benefiting from the participation of a number of the people who helped put the festival on, like Wozniak, Bill Graham and associates, and numerous members of bands who played at US, this documentary is a complete look at everything and everyone that made it a one of a kind event. Performers like Stewart Copeland of The Police, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Mick Fleetwood and Eddie Money are included in recent interviews, and many more of the musicians and event coordinators are featured in contemporary interviews shot during the festival.

Besides the music, technology was a big part of the event, too. Remember, in 1982 big overhead DiamondVision screens were still new to rock shows. A satellite linkup to bring the show to Russia was also a new thing, though Bill Graham – who helped get the bands onto the bill and stage manage it – thought it was “bullshit,” that the video put up on that big screen was originating not from the USSR but some studio somewhere in California. (I guess he didn’t believe man had walked on the moon, either.) Some of what they did for US has been incorporated into today’s Bonnaroos and Coachellas.

Regarding the complete band performances, The Cars and Tom Petty do solid versions of the songs already mentioned in this review. But, it’s kind of a bummer that Fleetwood Mac’s take on their own great “The Chain” includes flubs by bassist John McVie (during the iconic bass riff, no less). And it should be noted that Stevie Nicks seems to be streaming Yoko Ono during some of her vocals. To be fair, Fleetwood Mac probably performed in the middle of the night and who knows what drugs the band were on.

If you’re looking for the concerts themselves, you’ll have to go elsewhere. But if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of how it got put together, The US Festival documentary is worth checking out. I’m not sure why it comes in a combo Blu-ray/DVD pack (maybe it’s cheaper to just produce one set instead of having two separate SKUs?), but that’s the way it comes and it appears to be reasonably priced, so give it a go. The handful of complete performances certainly adds a little frosting to the cake.

3/5 (MVD Visual ICONTVMUSIC 3, 2018)

 

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XTC • Black Sea (The Surround Sound Series) [BD/CD]

Late Christmas gift or early birthday present to myself? Who cares. It finally arrived, just seven weeks after they shipped it from the UK… and I’ve been listening to it practically non-stop ever since. XTC’s Black Sea is the 1980 album by these British heroes of the new wave, and it was an amazing slab of wax: muscular power pop, thinking man’s rock, whatever you wanted to call it, it was an album like no other in their catalogue, past or present.

This November 2017 reissue of Black Sea is the latest in a series of surround sound spectaculars released by XTC’s Andy Partridge’s Ape House label. With new 5.1 and stereo mixes of the album by celebrated remixer Steven Wilson (he’d already done the same thing to Drums and Wires, Skylarking, Oranges & Lemons and Nonsuch), along with a big ol’ bucket of bonus tracks (single mixes, soundtrack tunes, demos, instrumentals), this Blu-ray/CD set is a big deal for us XTC fans. Wilson’s new mixes add additional in your face sonics to what was already a big, brash production by Steve Lillywhite (with Hugh Padgham), at least in their stereo guise. [Once again, like with last year’s Skylarking, my surround system’s not set up so I can’t speak for the 5.1 mixes.] I’m sure Wilson’s lost none of his understanding of what makes a good production or mix, so the surround mixes are likely to be just as mesmerizing. And when I say that, I mean, songs like “No Language in Our Lungs” and “Travels in Nihilon,” both extended grooves that build and build, stand out as so much better than they did in 1980. Perhaps that’s a bit of my maturity speaking; I was naturally drawn to singles “Respectable Street,” “Generals and Majors,” “Towers of London” and “Sgt. Rock” as a young man. Those songs still excite me — I never get tired of ’em! — but the side enders “Language” and “Travels” are pure pummel now, with both their lyrics and their gargantuan grooves coming through loud and clear!

What is also crystal is that Black Sea stands as the first great XTC album, bridging the gap between their own youthful material and the mature stuff that followed: English Settlement, Skylarking, etc. It spawned four great singles (noted above), was presented in a nice green bag (my US copy pictured at right), and showcased two songwriters (Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding) who could write with equal amounts of humor and politically savvy satire. Whether it’s the comic book hero/mentor in “Sgt. Rock,” the imagined nostalgia for simpler, more grateful times (“Towers of London”), or the silly warmongering of “Generals and Majors,” Partridge and Moulding, with XTC guitarist Dave Gregory and drummer Terry Chambers, crafted an album that at the time could’ve been considered New Wave’s Sgt. Pepper. That is, until 1986 when they gave us the magnificent Skylarking.

For the price (less than $30 USD), this combo Blu-ray/CD package is an excellent presentation of XTC’s fourth album. Sure, they could go all 12″x12″ and give us a deluxe book, super lengthy liner notes, a vinyl pressing and more – and charge sixty or seventy bucks for it – but you get so much Black Sea in this lil’ treasure chest (including some fun videos), I can find no fault here.  I’m sure we’ll get a nice vinyl reissue one of these days [c’mon, Andy, you know you should!], so for now this high value XTC package is a superb way to wade into Black Sea.

5/5 (Ape House APEBD104, 2017)

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Ron Howard, The Beatles • Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years [Blu-ray/DVD]

In 1995 The Beatles created or at least oversaw Anthology, a three part, six hour documentary that aired on television to edify the world on the band’s story. The three surviving members of the band were interviewed specifically for the project, except John Lennon, who had passed away in 1980. Sure, since the documentary was funded and curated by the band, there were probably some subjects that were cleansed or completely avoided in order to show the band in a better light, but over three nights you got a very good examination of their story without any obvious revisionism. When it came out on DVD, VHS and Laserdisc, there was an additional chapter included that didn’t make the final cut. That’s not to mention the three volumes of Anthology on CD and LP that came out, loaded with unreleased outtakes, live versions and more, and a coffee table book with tons of photos. It was a Beatles bonanza.

Eight Days a Week BD/DVDFast forward twenty years to 2016 and Ron Howard‘s Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years. Here we get a 105 minute documentary that covers only three to four years of the band’s history and uncovers hardly anything new or revelatory. (There’s both a standard one disc version and a “Special Edition,” both on Blu-ray or DVD, with an extra disc of bonus material.) The fact that the project started out as a highly publicized idea to examine the band as a live act is interesting. Either Howard and his pals were unable to come up with a good story (hard to believe, given: The Beatles!), even enlisting the public to share their stories and/or audio or video, or for some other reason they changed horses midstream and scrubbed the original plot. Well, you may have guessed that I think they botched it up, big time.

In order to keep this short, I’m just going to bullet-point what I didn’t like here:

  • The subtitle to this documentary shows that the filmmakers were hedging their bets after changing the concept for the film – they end up telling a very disjointed story with no clear mandate or viewpoint;
  • Only the two remaining Beatles were able to contribute, and those contributions don’t really add anything that existing interviews already covered;
  • Consistency! Howard covers the subject from a very U.S.-centric standpoint, yet uses The Beatles’ U.K. album releases as timestamps throughout;
  • Audio and video don’t sync up properly. At the beginning it seemed like the live footage was synced but the talking-head footage wasn’t; by the end it seemed like nothing was synced (not sure if this may in part be due to problems with Blu-ray vs. DVD, as I’ve encountered in the past);
  • Colorization of some of the footage looked unnatural. The Beatles were the most photographed, filmed pop group of all time. People know what they’re supposed to look like! So if you’re going to colorize these guys, don’t make them look like Donald Trumps in nehru jackets.

I’ve already reviewed the “accompanying” reissue of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl and how that was riddled with problems, so it’s real disheartening to see that Imagine Entertainment, White Horse Pictures and Apple Corps itself let things get so out of hand. I seem to remember some words to live by uttered to me as a kid and over the years to the tune of if you’re gonna do something, do it right. That tune apparently wasn’t in Ron Howard and Company’s hit parade, and that’s too bad. They had a great opportunity to bring something unique to the story of The Beatles and they blew it.

At least you can still pick up a copy of Anthology on DVD to try and put this one out of its misery and out of your mind.

2/5 (UMe/Capitol)

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The Damned • Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (Documentary)

damned_dontyouwish-DVDWes Orshoski‘s latest documentary, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, has just come out on DVD/Blu-ray – finally allowing über fans like me to get a look at it beyond the compelling trailer that’s been out for over a year. (You can view that below.) First seen at various film festivals and even in some theaters in the larger bergs, the documentary details the rise, fall, rise and plateau that The Damned has been through since they first formed in the mid 1970s. Unlike other bands in UK punk’s first graduating class, these guys weren’t fronted by a headline-grabbing, snot-nosed git, didn’t blow up in the press, weren’t managed by an egotistical svengali, and somehow missed the boats promising stardom, money, infamy or anything like it. What The Damned did do is legendary: they were the first punk band to put out a record, the first to tour the USA, and one of only a few that are still playing today. They were also one of the very few bands that actually looked like they were having fun playing their music, playing the press, or just generally sticking it to whoever needed sticking to.

Orshoski filmed the band for three years, with apparent carte blanche to document anything going on. Along with current interviews of the original band members (Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Brian James and Rat Scabies), there are appearances by most of the rest of The Damned’s roster (though for some reason Patricia Morrison is missing), as well as colleagues from the UK scene like Mick Jones (The Clash), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Chrissie Hynde, Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks), Lemmy (subject of Orshoski’s other great documentary) and Don Letts (DJ, filmmaker), and modern scenesters and US punkers like Dexter Holland (The Offspring), Jack Grisham (TSOL), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) and more. The band didn’t always get along (really?) and to this day there are rifts in their friendships. Saddening, but not unexpected. Combining his own enlightening interview footage with archival footage from around the world, Orshoski has put together a highly watchable documentary.

damned-clowning-duoThe characters that make up The Damned, both past and present, are to the fore in Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead. You get a great sense of the enigma that is Vanian, the cutup clown that is Sensible, the real live punk that is Scabies, et al. You also see and hear for yourself that the reason The Damned never “made it” is because they steadfastly held to their belief that punk was about doing things your own way, regardless of what the press, the record label, or even Malcolm effing McLaren wanted them to do. So The Damned are rarely mentioned in the corporate/network/big business “celebrations” of punk… so what?! They did what they wanted to do, didn’t suck up to the press or major record labels or do anything just to get publicity, just to get a big paycheck, or just to impress whoever it was that needed impressing. And that is what impresses me. Sticking to your guns sometimes means that you don’t get to partake in the bounty of riches that others do, and that, unfortunately for The Damned, is the breaks. All of this makes for a story that is compelling even if you don’t give a, errrr, damn about them.

The film, which premiered at SXSW in 2015, is now available (at least in the US) as a combo Blu-ray/DVD pack that gives you the movie and a handful of extras that didn’t make the final cut. I’ve read interviews with Orshoski where he indicated there were tons of extra footage, so I’m surprised that there really isn’t that much included here. (I’m saying this without having access to playing the Blu-ray in the pack, so there may be more on that disc than on the DVD.) Yet, considering the film showed only once where I was living when it did play my town and likely only once (if at all) in your area, you can now see it for yourself. I’m frankly glad they aren’t dead, and you may end up feeling the same way.

4/5 (Cleopatra/MVD Visual)

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THE BEATLES • 1 & 1+ (CD, Bluray, DVD, Vinyl)

Beatles-1-DVDBluraysThe Fab 2+2 don’t miss a chance to pry as much Beatle money out of our pockets as they can, do they? Now, the 2 surviving Beatles and the other 2’s ladies have announced the new DVD and Bluray video compilations, 1 and 1+, which will ship the first week of November… just in time for another Beatles Christmas! You’ll get all 27 of their #1 hits in video format – either the original “promotional film” (as videos were called back then) or live footage of one origin or another that has made it this far down the line without being tossed into the proverbial rubbish bin. And if you plunk down the extra dinero for 1+, you’ll get a second disc with even more of the promotional films and live footage. AND… there’ll be NEW stereo and 5.1 mixes! Yippee!

Oh, uh, If you missed it on CD or vinyl the last two times it was released or reissued, have no fear. Those Beatle people, they don’t miss a… errr… beat. (Ugh.)

If only I were cynical enough to exclaim, “Bah! I don’t need this shite!” But I’m not. As a matter of fact, I think there are some 19 or 20 different configurations of this thing (that ain’t cynicism, bud, that’s sarcasm!), so once I figure out which version to get and can afford the most expensive one – naturally! – expect my review in this very blog.

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