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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