Too Late to Stop Now
Rolling Stones in Mono (ABKCO)
Reviewed by Tim Stegall, Fri., Dec. 16, 2016
God intended man to hear early rock & roll in mono. Box sets from the Beatles and Bob Dylan prove that all of their recordings until 1968 saw far more care and attention paid to the mono mix, with stereo basically considered a gimmicky afterthought. In the Rolling Stones' case, prior to Beggars Banquet, the latter designation means the former plays in both the left and right channels, slightly unsynchronized and swimming in reverb. The result was cavernous, hollow. As David Fricke notes in expert liners, "There are no more distressing words on the front of a London-label Stones LP from the mid-Sixties than 'Stereo – Electronically re-processed.'" The restoration of the band's initial catalog, in both U.S. and UK editions where necessary, to its original glory thus proves heroic and crucial. Take your pick, 16 records or 15 CDs, ranging from the initial blues hounds' eponymous 1964 debut to their drug-addled answer to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper three years later, cult favorite Their Satanic Majesties Request. Newly commissioned mono editions of Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, plus a companion collection of non-LP singles box up with a thick booklet. Trace the quintet's development from Britain's finest interpreters of American roots music to rock & roll's definitive band, incorporating English folk elements and Keith Richards' open-G riffing that most teenagers first heard in a car or on a transistor radio. Never has "19th Nervous Breakdown" sounded so focused and natural – propulsive – now sans the speed discrepancy reissues have featured since the late Eighties. In fact, everything plays punchier now: Charlie Watts' drums hit harder; Bill Wyman's bass thrums fatter; Richards' fuzz bursts on "Satisfaction," "Please Go Home," and "Citadel" now spit and curse; and Mick Jagger's petulant snarl gets all up in your mug. Definitive.