Imagine: The Ultimate Collection
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On October 5, Universal Music celebrates the apex of John Lennon’s solo career with a six-disc box set (plus 120 page book), Imagine – The Ultimate Collection. This historical, remixed and remastered 140-track collection is fully authorised by Yoko Ono Lennon who oversaw the production and creative direction. Spread across four CDs and two Blu-ray discs, this truly unique expanded edition offers a variety of listening experiences that are at once immersive and intimate, ranging from the brand new Ultimate Mixes of the iconic album, which reveal whole new levels of sonic depth, definition and clarity to these timeless songs, to the Raw Studio Mixes that allow listeners to hear Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s original, unadorned performances, to enveloping 5.1 surround sound mixes, and a Quadrasonic Album Mix, presenting the original four speaker mix remastered in Quadrasonic sound for the first time in nearly fifty years. This ultimate deep listening experience, which features scores of previously unheard demos, rare outtakes and isolated track elements, also includes The Evolution Documentary, a unique track-by-track audio montage that details the journey of each song from demo to master recording via instructions, rehearsals, recordings, multitrack exploration and studio chatter. The comprehensive nature of the full Imagine – The Ultimate Collection is the absolute best representation of a career artist working at the top of his creative game. imagine - the ultimate deep listening experience
Imagine will also be released in concurrent multiple physical and digital configurations including as a 2CD Deluxe Edition, 1CD remaster, and 2LP 180 gram heavyweight black vinyl edition.
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The strange thing about the different takes included here is that to my ears there’s nothing wrong with any of them; Lennon obviously heard something he didn’t much care for. Mind you, whilst I expected the solo to come in on ‘Gimme Some Truth’, the elements mix of piano, drums and bass only on ‘Jealous Guy’ is magnificent. The alternate take of ‘Power To The People’ is jazzier but nowhere near as heavy and well worth a listen. The vocal only version of 'Oh My Love' is outstanding and strangely, take 3 of ‘Do The Oz’ has vocals by someone called Michael Ramsden
By wandering around your room, the unadorned mixes (‘Imagine’ stripped, if you like) sound even better in 5.1. Want to hear George’s guitar on ‘Oh My Love’? Stand front right. There’s plenty of chat before and after these raw mixes, though the first take of ‘Imagine’ was included in his ‘Anthology’ collection 20 years ago. However, if you don't have a 5.1 system, you are paying for two discs that you won't be able to get the full benefit from.
The 120 page hardback book is a terrific read. With plenty of previously unseen photos, it gives an over view of the album before giving a detailed insight into each track, as well as the five extra songs. And some of the lyrics of 'Imagine' itself don't mean what you might think. There’s also information on the elements mixes, raw mixes, etc. and a handy 5.1 surround sound map. This insight helps you hear things in the songs you would certainly have missed - the stand up base on 'Crippled Inside', for instance, is played by someone hitting the strings with drumsticks to make it sound like a tin can. Lennon's interview with Elliot Mintz is reproduced in full.
As the casual listener won't care for hearing multiple versions of the songs, and the whole album was recorded in just 146 takes, this six CD set is for the die-hard Lennon fan (and for the overall package is good value) but there’s also a double CD that has a collection of outakes and demos on the second disc, a single CD of the original LP, a double album incorporating a dozen different takes, and a heavyweight vinyl version. This is the way all deluxe box sets should be, but the material has to be strong and familiar enough in the first place; and this album always was.
A highpoint should be the new 5.1 mix – “expansion to the 5.1 Surround Sound soundstage” is how it is described. Unfortunately the mix is so subtle that there is no proper surround. What we get is a waste of effort as it is little better than playing the stereo version with the amp’s Dolby pro-logic or DTS decoder on. The original quadraphonic mix (or quadrasonic as they bizarrely call it) was never that wonderful but it is at least it was an attempt at surround, though marred by its 1970s technology with no centre channel to anchor the vocals. Ironically the best surround mixes are the rough cuts on the second blu ray disc that sound like a 1970s quadraphonic album.
There is a massive amount of material on these discs that significantly help understand the creative process and allow us different perspectives on the album. The most bizarre part is the elements mix that plays each track but with only a few key instruments. It’s not a conventional instrumental version of each track and I found it difficult to get through: I would have preferred edited sections rather than whole tracks. There is a fun audio documentary that is a very much behind the scenes addition and an insight into Lennon’s personality and creative process.
The hardback book is an excellent accompaniment to the package.
I’m giving this 5 stars - though it really should be 4+ because of the duff 5.1 mix – as it is such good value for money.
The price is fairly reasonable considering that a lot of these super deluxe things go for stupid money, so well done to the powers that be for thinking of the fans’ wallets in a nice way.
My only criticism is the inclusion of two audio only BluRay discs. Some of this repeats what’s on the CDs, but there is also added stuff too. Is there any reason why they could not have been just normal CDs? Without duplications? What’s the point of an audio only dvd or Blu-ray anyway!
Now I’ll admit I’m a massive Lennon fan, I’ve seen where he was born, where he lived & where he died so maybe I’m a bit biased but this collection gives you a great insight into the making of this iconic album.
I’ve in particular found the Elements tracks both Beautiful & quite Haunting, but it gives a different perspective on some of the tracks.
I could waffle on for ages about how good I think this Ultimate Collection is but I won’t.
If like me you’re a Big Lennon fan, just get it you won’t be disappointed.