Imagine is one of those must-own albums whereby a collection cannot be complete without it. It is, in my opinion, a representation of Lennon’s greatest work. While I acknowledge this isn’t a greatest hits release, and therefore only presents an era of his work, I’ve yet to come across another album by Lennon that offers such polish and perfect song placement. I honestly wish I could say the same about Double Fantasy, but the switching between Lennon and Ono is maddening. I personally never feel connected to that album and I believe it would have been more appropriate to have Lennon on side A, with Ono on side B. That said, I can understand the concept and artistry of the album, I just choose to listen to it differently and therefore I don’t foresee ever owning Double Fantasy on vinyl.
Imagine, however, is an album that I’m sure many people own on multiple formats and while I currently only have the High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray (HFPA) release, I would love to own the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) edition from 2000. The MFSL edition is quite rare and those who own it would certainly not be looking to get rid of it; unless I was prepared to pay a small fortune. For the moment, I will have to be content with my HFPA Blu-ray release that scores an average dynamic range of 12, compared to the MFSL edition which is a 13 out of 20. Dynamic range scores, especially this close, are nothing to be too concerned over, but I have consistently found MFSL releases to be superior when compared to the original record industry release.
Thankfully, despite the less than stellar success and support for the HFPA format, the HFPA edition is still available. While I highly recommend it, if you prefer buying digital music, the exact same mastering (Abbey Road Studios, 2010) is available on HDtracks. The HFPA release does come with an MP3 download code for the album and while I appreciate this added extra, it is somewhat pointless. Record labels need to remember who they are targeting their products to and while an MP3 is essential, the option for additional audiophile formats would have garnered more interest amongst buyers. That said, in a modern society where TIDAL Hi-Fi’s CD-quality stream surpasses the quality of an included MP3, this inclusion and subsequent exclusion of higher resolution downloads is somewhat moot. Yes, I acknowledge TIDAL Hi-Fi is not currently offering better than CD-quality, but I have to be completely honest and say that it is good enough. It is important to mention that the edition of Imagine, on TIDAL et al, is also from the same 2010 mastering sessions. Therefore, perceivable differences in audio quality can be attributed to the unique artefacts of the varied compression formats.
The HFPA Blu-ray release presents the album, with no video content, in LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation), DTS HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD formats. Subjectively, I like the additional low-end that is present with the DTS HD Master Audio format, so that is my go to option, with Linear PCM (LPCM) being the default. While there is no video content on the disc, listeners are able to enjoy the iconic photograph with Lennon at the piano. I generally choose to listen to my HFPA collection in headless mode, whereby the video aspect is completely disabled. That said, it is nice to occasionally sit back and watch the tracks highlight as the album progresses.
The disc design sees Lennon looking up at the clouds. While many would say that digital formats are not as collectable as the vinyl equivalent, it is good to see the music industry not skimping on disc design. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the film industry with their generic blue, grey, or black Blu-ray coloured discs. Let’s just hope that the music industry maintains certain qualities and expectations. That said, I am concerned given Paul McCartney’s Flowers In The Dirt Deluxe Edition will feature a digital download, upon release in March 2017, instead of a physical disc for a considerable portion of the b-side tracks. Digital music is wonderful for convenience, but I’d even have to question if high-res digital downloads can truly replace a physical collection. Perhaps it would have been a different story if technologies, such as iTunes LP, had become more mainstream. The music industry and Apple clearly lost interest in the format and while it isn’t touted as a reason for the vinyl resurgence, it can’t be denied either.
While I acknowledge my digression, it is for good reason as I feel too many releases are rushed to market in order to generate sales, without offering appropriate value. Thankfully, Imagine is one of the better designed HFPA’s releases.
It is encouraging to see production credits for the 2010 remastering project, but they have not included any technical information relating to the original sources used. While the majority of fans won’t care about this information, those purchasing audiophile formats certainly do.
Overall, the HFPA album is superbly crafted and I absolutely love the white bar, on the left hand side, of this re-issue series. This similar design element has been used on many of The Beatles and Paul McCartney re-issues as well. It is simple, yet classy, while not being detrimental to the original artwork. The included booklet does include photographs from the era, lyrics, and a short background story related to the album. It also still contains the much talked about parody photograph in which Lennon is holding a pig by the ears, mimicking McCartney’s RAM cover. Of course, this wasn’t the only stab Lennon had towards McCartney on Imagine, as How Do You Sleep? was inspired by the bitterness between, arguably, the world’s greatest songwriting duo. Of course, there is no need to feel sorry for McCartney as he gave as good as he got with the song Too Many People. While some may disapprove of artists airing their differences in this manner, I’m glad both musicians took this path as I feel these songs have added significantly to their catalogues.
Perhaps the only aspect that will leave fans question the validity of this release is the absence of Lennon’s quad mix, along with a 5.1 remix of the album. To my knowledge, the last time Imagine was released with the quadraphonic mix was in 1974. Other than the obscurity of the quadraphonic format, I see no reason as to why the quad mix was not included as modern technologies can handle the 4.0 surround sound protocol. Even DVD-Audio and SACD can easily reproduce quadraphonic masterings. While I don’t have any answers for you, regarding these omissions, I would much prefer to have an exceptional 2.0 mix, rather than a plethora of different mixes. That said, I’d love to hear the quadraphonic edition of the album.
Imagine is iconic and is easily one of the most recognisable songs in the world. Despite the popularity of the song, I don’t feel it has ever reached a state of dislike by listeners. Some of you may disagree, but I truly feel Imagine is timeless.
Crippled Inside is pure twang and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it works extremely well with Lennon’s style. While it isn’t amongst my favourite songs, I don’t dislike it either. I find that it is perfectly suited in the album format, but I personally wouldn’t seek it out on its own.
Jealous Guy offers a switch of pace that is closer in musicality to Imagine than Crippled Inside. I personally enjoy this song as it continues to build musically as the song progresses. There is reverb throughout that I would generally dislike, but I thoroughly enjoy it on this track.
It’s So Hard offers blues/jazz/country/pop and rock influences in a single song. I love it!
I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die is a song I find to be somewhat repetitive and is the only song on their entire album that doesn’t resonate with me. It just doesn’t develop beyond the introduction in both musicality and lyrical expression. I enjoy the groove, but I find it to be about 3 minutes too long. Truth be told, it could have been an excellent radio-length song.
Gimme Some Truth is an intriguing song that is raw, yet highly evolved. The almost spoken word lyrical delivery, with a harmonising background instrumental is exceptional. While my brain doesn’t want to match the beat of the music, I find that my mind connects with Lennon’s vocal delivery. The truth is, I really don’t know why I enjoy this song, but I do.
I absolutely adore Oh My Love.
How Do You Sleep? is Lennon’s opus to McCartney. Despite the controversy, the song is one of the best in Lennon’s catalogue, with one of the greatest guitar recordings available on any record of the era. Perhaps my only dislike is the drum beat. It sounds too perfect, as if it were played on a drum machine, or to a click track. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but I feel the drum track is somewhat lifeless as a result. While it does amplify the performance of Lennon’s vocal and associated musical elements, I would have liked to see a livelier drum beat. That said, I couldn’t imagine listening to the song with another drumming style.
How? is simply gorgeous from the first note.
Oh Yoko! is an excellent song to finish the album on. It is fun, upbeat, and the ultimate homage to Lennon’s muse. I love Phil Spector’s harmony backing vocal as it gives the song a unique dimension. Oh Yoko! is so well suited to close Imagine that I always feel compelled to play the album again, or stay within Lennon’s catalogue.
Imagine is arguably Lennon’s greatest work. While you could point to a number of exceptional songs, such as Woman, Happy Xmas (War Is Over), and Working Class Hero, that were not part of the Imagine era, as a body of work Imagine is perfect. While I own a copy of Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon, I don’t recommend it as I have always been disappointed by the mastering of the compilation. That said, it is a wonderful collection of his best works, but I would still personally recommend starting with Imagine and then expanding to his other works if you have yet to be drawn in by the legend that is John Lennon.
From a sonic perspective, the HFPA release is my idea of perfection. However, as I mentioned earlier, the mastering of Imagine is uniform across all post-2010 releases and therefore I can attest that TIDAL Hi-Fi is equally enjoyable, as is Spotify Premium, when compared to the HFPA release. The true difference is now down to how resolving your audio playback equipment is and the compression formats used. While this consistency may not appear to be significant to the non-audiophile, it is encouraging to see the music industry, at times, adopting consistency with regards to mastering. Despite this, I have no doubt that fans of the album will compare the 2010 mastering session to various past masters, including the often touted superior quad release. While I can’t directly compare the HFPA release, to an earlier mastering of the album, I can say that I am extremely happy to have this edition in my collection.