The third and final album from the Jimi Hendrix Experience masterfully combined funk and psychedelic sounds with blues as its adhesive. This created one of the best rock albums of the era, sending him on to become the legendary maker of the hippest dope music. “Electric Ladyland” cranks up his genius with songs that far surpass as a mere backdrop for chemical intake. Audio engineer Eddie Kramer took Hendrix's auditory visions by giving it the wildest of context, employing odd recording techniques that incorporated echo, backward tapes, flanging, and chorusing, all which were new in that era, specifically in the way they're used here.
Now, 50 years on, we find a truly engaging deluxe edition that brings Electric Ladyland into the 21st century. Eddie Kramer has once again taken the helm and remixed the album in its entirety in 5.1 surround sound. These all new mixes are presented on a Blu-ray disc, which is part of a four-disc deluxe edition which was released in early November 2018. High resolution listeners will be pleased to know that both a DTS HD Master Audio and LPCM 5.1 are available in96kHz / 24-bit digital audio. Likewise, the newly remastered original stereo mix is also available as a hi-res LPCM 96kHz / 24-bit codec. Everything is packaged in a large hardcover 12x 11 inch 48 page book which features rare and never before seen photos, copies of Hendrix’s hand written lyrics, along with several writeups. Also, the 50th anniversary edition features a revised cover photo which apparently Hendrix had requested be used on the initial release.
As an audiophile enthusiast, it is the quality of the remaster and remixes that holds value for me, and the new 5.1 surround mix shines through as the main reason to plug in and turn up the volume. Kramer has taken the original multi-tracks and run them through a psychedelic rainbow, once again creating one of the most engaging multi-channel mixes, this time stretching beyond the bounds of stereo and using some serious aural ecstasy to extend the mix to all 5.1 channels.
The large drum which starts off the album on the opening track “...And the Gods Made Love,” stretches from the front to rear channels while the sizzling and whining sound effects zip around the room, phasing in and out before fading directly into “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland).” There is unquestionably a fantastic improvement in clarity, which also has led me to feel the guitar as sounding a bit to zippy. Yet, the extended surround mix absolutely opens up the soundstage, allowing for each part to be easily heard and breathe from all corners. Dig the backing vocals falling in the rear, and Hendrix guitar permeating across the front speakers.
There is an airiness to the drum kit that was buried a bit on the stereo mix, and while some listeners may find it to be too much of the lead vocals, Hendrix is heard from every channel with the wall of his singing falling primarily across the front three channels mostly pegged in the center.
I was astonished at the richness of the guitar on the fourth trac “Voodoo Chile,” which was taken from a live recording and spans over 14 minutes on the album. Kramer has maintained a live performance feel, adding ambience and echo delays into the rear while the band is spread widely across the front channels. I have a real sense of being in the hall, and disagree with the audience member’s comment in the middle saying “Turn that damn guitar down!”
The bass guitar finds some true richness at the bottom throughout the album, grumbling along and drilling deeply into the ground. I love the electrified buzzing of the guitar amp, which is so very present on “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll).” These truly electrifying crank it to 11 sessions really show the characteristics and nuances of Hendrix’s guitar work, effects and tone of the amps.
I generally feel the integrity and balance of the original mix has been maintained on this all new surround mix. Of course, the expanded soundstage has given Kramer the artistic liberty to take the mix further, which I believe he has playfully done with great artistic talent. I didn’t notice any difference between the DTS HD MA and LPCM 5.1 versions, which thankfully has become more of the norm on other recent releases too.
There has always been something very special about the stereo mixes of Electric Ladyland, and for those, like myself, who continue to seek out the best remastered version, this may be the one. While the CD remaster is not a remarkable improvement, I do feel the 96/24 LPCM stereo codec found on the Blu-ray provides good dynamics and presents the original mix with better overall tonality. There is a bit more zest at the top and the low end is rounder. Yet, I have not collected any of the many remasters that exist, and can not recommend this release specifically for this version, it is still all about the multi-channel mix from my perspective.
The second CD is best suited for Hendrix-holics, containing stripped down versions of several tracks featuring his vocals and raw guitar work. I can here some John Lee Hooker and other blues masters embedded into these recordings, and find them to be an enticing listen to hear the underlying genius of his masterful playing.
The third CD in the box contains a previously unreleased show from the Hollywood Bowl, recorded on September 14, 1968, This mono recording is rather problematic and thin, leaning toward something I may have recorded as an amateur on cassette a decade later had Hendrix still been around then in my teenage years. Mitch Mitchell’s drums sound as if they were recorded using a tin can with a string, and you’ll occasionally hear Hendrix’s vocals painfully distorting, plus the Experience only plays one track from this then upcoming album Electric Ladyland, sadly making this a substandard vault performance from the Hendrix archives.
Back on the Blu-ray, the 90-minute documentary about the making of Electric Ladyland has already been around in various forms for the past decade, bringing very little new to Hendrix lovers excepting some short additional parts. For those who have not yet seen this, the video provides a detailed exploration of almost every track by longtime Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer. The stories are enlightening, opening a new dimension as his interviews those who played on the sessions.
Hendrix stil remains one of the most talked about guitarists, with his fan base endlessly wishing for more. This deluxe edition really only provides one very special attribute which is the lavish surround mix, it is very cool, bringing Electric Ladyland into the modern age with a fresh take on a classic album. I can only recommend this release for surround sound enthusiasts, and of course Hendrix completists. While this is an incredible release, it probably isn’t the place to start, unless your pockets are heavy and need to be lightened. Still, the greatest enjoyment will come from the all new multi-channel mix, so power up the home theater amp and let your neighbors know that Jimi is back in town.