Mo-Fi Reissues Lennon's Pain Album as Gain 2 Remastered 180g LP
Lennon's primal scream of a first solo album was, in addition to being a personal catharsis caught on tape, a grow up call to a generation of Beatles fans.
McCartney's first excursion without Lennon produced bouncy, catchy, sugar-coated ditties and lots of puppy dog sincerity—a great album, don't get me wrong. Lennon minus McCartney yielded a painfully raw outing, whose dream-shattering messages left many fans feeling betrayed, or cheated, or worse, abandoned.
I remember conversations with friends who literally felt they'd been cast adrift after their first listen.
“What does he mean 'the dream is over?' "I remember one friend blurting out. He wanted more Beatles, damn it and what's more, he still believed in Beatles and what was wrong with John Lennon? Once he calmed down, he came to his senses and blamed Yoko for everything.
Once past listening selfishly, fans back then heard a guy who had grown weary and probably afraid of looking down from the dizzying heights of that level of stardom. They also heard a sensitive artist wallowing in plenty of self-pity and self-importance even as he sought to dim his star's flame in the lyrics.
The album's opening line “Mother you had me, but I never had you,” even if was about emotional, not sexual maternal rejection, was a ride for which yellow submariners were hardly prepared! Though if you think that's rough: I once got to read galleys of rock critic Richard Meltzer's autobiography, the opening line of which was "I wouldn't fuck my mother with a ten foot pole." Had to share.
We eavesdrop on Lennon reassuring Yoko that “It's gonna be alright” and to “Hold On.” Then Lennon delivers a one two punch: “I Found Out,” a hard-edged, one chord, world shattering chant, in which Lennon belittles his acolytes before sloughing off the previous decade and ripping it to pieces with his guitar, and “Working Class Hero,” a powerful exercise in self-pity weaker artists would be too shy to parade around in public.
On “Look at Me,” which is reminiscent of “Julia,” from The Beatles, Lennon stands naked before his wife and the world, and by implication so are the fans. He puts the nails in the coffin of his legend by announcing that “the dream is over,” that he's “reborn,” and while he was “the Walrus,” now “he's John.”
A generation had to deal with that and with a long list of people, groups and deities he no longer believed in, including “Zimmerman,” Kennedy (not even Kennedy?), Elvis…and even The Beatles.
And if you're considering buying Mo-Fi's 180g reissue, you'll have to deal with the fact that the source was a 96K/24 digital re-mix supervised by YOKO ONO at Abbey Road Studios, back in 2000.
Look, I don't know why she did it, why the original mix wasn't good enough, why she had to revise history, or why she had to break up The Beatles (just kidding).
The original American pressing was nothing special, but if you've got an original British Apple (PCS 7124), you'll be disappointed with what happened to Ringo's drums—it's one of his most powerful and sympathetic performances, with every cymbal hit on “I Found Out,” for instance, having subtly different weight and color, yet on the reissue, those differences get obscured, while the cymbal's ring, so beautifully captured on the original, gets muted and softened.
Elsewhere, the picture has been “cleaned up,” like a “restored” fresco that's been brightened beyond the bounds of the original when first painted (I'm not saying this “clean up” is bright). When Lennon repeatedly screams “Mama don't go, Daddy Come Home” on the original, there's a strange, phasey tremelo effect in the background that helps create both an odd sensation in the ear, and a 3D space. I don't hear it on the remix.
You don't have to worry about the record sounding bright and “digital,” because it doesn't, nor have they lopped off the hiss on top, because it's there, and one could argue dynamics are more extended along with the bottom end, which they are.
The problems are a subtle lack of “believability,” caused by a tamping down of upper level harmonics, and a shortage of air and space, combined with a flattened soundstage. Lennon just doesn't sound as much “in the room,” which is a major problem. Plus while there's more “bass,” to the kickdrum, it sounds less like a real kickdrum, for instance. Stripped of context, the picture doesn't hold together.
But all of that pales in comparison to the big conceptual problem, which is that the music's meaning just gets shortchanged in the process, and you're listening once removed from the event compared to a good original, even though the re-mixer tried to remain true to the spirit of the original in most respects.
Listening to nothing more than Ringo's drumming throughout will tell you the story. On an original, you'll recognize the sound of his kit in a space in context of Beatles albums. Here, you won't. On an original you'll hear an endless variety of stick hits on the ride cymbal as Ringo modulates the pedal. On the reissue it's pretty much one hit repeated. That drab sameness is what makes you lose interest listening to most digital reductions.
No point in continuing here except to say good luck finding an original UK copy or the UK Lennon box set issued after he was murdered. Except for those this is probably your best choice, though if you want the original mix, you might prefer the original American Apple, which is fairly plentiful, or a second or third UK press, though I haven't heard either. You'll get something and give something compared to the remixed Mo-Fi.
Oh, and you get two remixed bonus tracks here, ”Power to the People,” and “Do the Oz,” that necessitated changing the original side breaks. Bonus tracks are usually so because they weren't good enough to be included in the original. In this case, as far as I know, these weren't even considered for the album and had they been, they would've been rejected.
Funny thing: my girlfriend at the time, reminded me recently that when we found out Lennon had been shot, we were having dinner with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Schriever and another couple. You'd think I would have remembered something like that.