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Capitol/UMe (6 CD/2 Blu-ray)

5 Stars

By Gillian G. Gaar

After three experimental albums with his wife, Yoko Ono, and a live album with the impromptu Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band finally established John Lennon as a solo artist. It’s an uncompromising work that has Lennon stripping himself to his emotional core, and is rightly regarded as one of his finest albums. This latest reissue offers a deep dive into the creation of a masterwork.

With over six hours of music on the CDs, and 11 hours of music on the Blu-rays, there’s a lot to take in. All the music has been remixed from a new 192/24 Hi-Res transfer. “Yoko’s very clear directive to everything about this set was to bring Lennon’s voice out and make it more prominent,” says Simon Hilton, the set’s production manager. That’s certainly what you’ll notice the most in comparing the Ultimate mix of the album and singles with previous reissues, though given the sparse sound to begin with, the difference isn’t as pronounced as on the Imagine Ultimate mixes. What really comes through is the clarity; the music’s never before been presented in such a pristine condition (the Ultimate mixes are available in stereo, 5.1 Surround and Dolby Atmos).

The outtakes include some remarkable stuff, like the first take of “Cold Turkey,” still searing even before the added effects that made the song roar, and “Love,” with Lennon on guitar as opposed to the final version with Phil Spector on piano.

Read the 'making of' the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and more on its recent box set variations

The Raw mixes are even more exciting. “I wanted to know what everything sounded like without anything on it, because that’s what interested me,” says Rob Stevens, who mixed these tracks. “If you pull back the curtain and you hear what was really done, then you get a much better sense of what the room felt like.” The intake of breath you hear in “Isolation,” the surprisingly relaxed first take of “God,” and the outtake of “I Found Out” that powers on for nearly eight minutes are among the many thrilling Raw listening experiences.

The Elements mixes highlight parts of a song, free from effects like reverb. Hearing the isolated vocal for “Mother” is spine-tingling. “Love” becomes even dreamier with a double-tracked vocal. “Instant Karma” without reverb or echo really pushes Lennon’s vocal to the forefront.

The Evolution mixes are a creative way of tracing a song’s development, without simply presenting outtake after outtake. Hearing the musicians talking between takes as they put a song together (Should Lennon play piano or guitar on “Mother”? Should the full band be used on “Look at Me”?) gives you a firsthand look at the creative process.

The demos take you even further back in a song’s creation. The seven demos for the album Lennon recorded in the summer of 1970 are all included, and feature some intriguing variations: The demos for “Mother,” “I Found Out” and “Love” have an amplified guitar with an unusual tremolo effect; “God” sounds decidedly folky played on guitar instead of piano.

The jams are as varied (and more upbeat) than the jams of The Beatles’ “Get Back” sessions; there’s even a sneak peak of “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier,” later recorded for Imagine. The jams also produced the music for Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. While the original album was 40 minutes, this reissue features around an hour and 50 minutes, and that’s still only a fraction of the total. There was extensive post-production work on Ono’s music; the unvarnished music has a tougher, bluesier feel.

The set’s excellent booklet provides further detail and information, and it is also beautifully illustrated; you’ll want to have it handy when you first listen to the set.

A great upgrade of a classic album; there’s even more to love.

(Also available in 1-CD, 2-CD, and 2-LP editions.)

Get the 2-LP edition now!

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